Her latest solo show “Bright Wild Things” is up at New York’s Galerie Dumonteil through April 30. Along with her jewelry design, Solow has designed fashion for herself — and for a 10-year stretch in Paris with Vicky Tiel. Her artistic life started young due largely to her mother Lisa, whose second marriage was to Irving Penn.
“I learned how to sew at age 12, because that was what was expected of me — sewing, cooking, cleaning, emptying the horse stalls, feeding the animals at night. We had a farm in Huntington and I had all these chores. I knew how to work very early in my life,” Solow said.
Her robotlike animals actually sprang from recycling. Starting with empty yogurt containers, Tide bottles and other plastics, she builds the robots with an assortment of recyclables placed on wooden feet. Once covered with paper, the designs are sent to the foundry where a lost wax process is blown out from the molten bronze or aluminum that is poured in, she said.
At work in the foundries in Long Island City, the artist wound up making 30 fembot paintings with silver leaf. “I can’t stop. I go up to the country on the weekends. If I’m not sewing, then I’m painting or building something.” Solow said. “My Swedish aunt, who lived to be 99 and 3/4, wanted to get to 100 because the King of Sweden calls you up to congratulate you. She didn’t make it but she lived alone on an island. She would get up every morning, look in the mirror and scream, ‘Live or die.’ And then she would go out and walk around the island. I love that whole thing of ‘Keep moving.’”
In the past few years she redesigned a “huge” Prada raincoat, making it double-breasted with “marvelous old-fashioned gold buttons down the side,” adding a Mao collar with black velvet trim and making the coat skinny down the arms for a slimming effect. “Whatever it is I buy I can’t not love implanting my feeling of how things should look. I hope Prada doesn’t get mad or Missoni. I’ve done it for years. I’ve always transformed it into my look. I have a sewing machine in several places in my kitchens. I just always end up sewing once a month for some reason. I have four things in my bag going up to Greenwich today. It’s weird,” Solow said.
In the Sixties, Solow and Tiel built a clothing business In Paris. With $200 each, they started by making clothes for Woody Allen’s first movie, “What’s New Pussycat?” “We met the Burtons and they loved our clothes so we made some clothes for Elizabeth [Taylor.]” she said. “We happened to sell our life story to Paramount [Pictures] at age 22. That really gave us the footprint of money we needed to have a boutique in Paris. And the Burtons offered to finance part of it, so we accepted and paid them back in one year.”
The film, which was to star Blake Edwards and Ann Margaret, “was a lot of fun but it never got made,” she said. While Tiel handled the boutique’s velvet pillows, mirrors and other soft touches, Solow did “the heavy labor helping the undeclared workers, giving them soup, coffee or band-aids in case anyone got hurt. The heavy construction was my department,” she said. “It was perfect. We had the most incredible 10 years together.”
Her 10-year marriage to Louis Féraud had also run its course. Remembering their time in Paris, she said, “Being in your 20s is the most exciting time to learn. There were all these incredible intellectual people who were hanging out at Castel. I had the time of my life, expanding my brain, listening to Lucien Bodard talk about the Vietnam War from the French perspective. I was just big, big ears soaking it all up. It was an education. Then I learned to speak French, Swedish and Italian. It was incredible.”
Féraud, however, never taught her anything about design. “No, no — the thing he loved about me was being so courageous, leaving America and coming to Paris to sell American-designed clothes in Paris to American women. American women only wanted labels from France in those days. So we thought, OK, we’ll go there and sell it back. People were starting out here — Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren. We had all the windows in Bloomingdale’s. That was our dream. It was a reasonable aspiration. To this day, I love Bloomingdale’s.”
Should anyone ask her to design a collection for women 50 and over, she would in a heartbeat. Solow would be well-prepared, having designed a lie of clothes for herself that are basically skinny-legged pants and tunic dresses. “I wouldn’t put on a dress at this age in a million years. But if I see one I like, I will cut it off into a tunic, throw my robots around my neck and it will look cool.” she said. “Meanwhile, I am dying to do robots in [store] windows so that other designers might enjoy them.”
Over the years Solow created a few window displays at Bergdorf Goodman, Asprey and Cartier. Mesmerized by the Hood By Air windows at Barneys New York’s Madison Avenue store in 2016, Solow pitched Dennis Freedman. “I just stood in front of the windows for days loving it. Finally, I worked up the nerve to call and say. ‘Hello, do you think you might need robots?’ He said, ’Not at this time.’” she recalled with a laugh. “You know, ‘You don’t ask, you don’t get.’ as they say in New York. So I tried.”
Her Swedish mother, who came of age during challenging times, advised, “You have to be ready for the revolution.” Swedish Socialist prime minister Tage Erlander’s administration had taken “90 percent” of what the family had, and those changes left her mother always “a little fearful. In turn, Solow was “taught to cook, clean, iron, sew, change a tire, care for horses — anything that would be useful if there was a revolution. So I’m ready — I do stuff. I build things out of wood that a carpenter would build. I can make a chest of drawers with drawers that open. But I don’t. I make big horses and animals out of wood instead.”