Artist and fashion designer Chloe Trujillo is one of the most fascinating people we’ve ever met…
By Chere Di Boscio
Parisian born, LA based artist/designer Chloe Trujillo is not your usual sustainable fashion creator. For one, her fierce yet bubbly personality is so large, it almost overshadows her work. For another, she wears many hats: in addition to being an artist and fashion designer, she’s also a musician and mathematician. And if that weren’t enough, she also happens to be married to the bass player for one of the world’s most famous bands, Metallica (Robert Trujillo).
So how could we resist wanting to interview this unique, Rapunzel-locked wonder woman?
Chloe first came to my attention when I noticed her work at LA’s Vegan Fashion Week, where her hand-painted, camel-coloured, vegan leather trench coat stood out in a sea of street-chic vegan fashions. I did a quick search to see more of her work, and though it wasn’t all vegan (her scarves are made of 100% silk), it was all sustainable – and absolutely stunning in its originality – just like Chloe herself.
Here in this exclusive interview, we talk about that, dream states, mysticism, the meaning of long hair, and much more.
E: I wondered how you first became interested in sustainability. For example, your bikinis are made from recycled plastic bottles….
C: When you spend time in nature anywhere in the world, I think you realize how important nature is, how it’s a part of our lives; nature is how we actually live. It’s always been in my awareness, how much waste is created, how much pollution there is, and I try to do my little part. But it’s really that connection with nature that made me see how important it is to be eco-friendly and sustainable
E: When you became a mum, did that change anything?
C: It emphasized it, because I want to teach my children to be responsible humans. For their first 6 years of schooling they went to a school in Los Angeles called MUSE, and that school is completely sustainable with solar panels providing all their electricity, everything is recycled, they removed anything toxic from the site.
They have a vegan chef who serves meals family style so they all sit together at a big table. You’re not allowed to bring any plastic – no bottles or straws – you have to give your kids stainless steel bottles for their water and they have water fountains with filters. They have a compost on the school site and teach the kids how to compost their food, so even having children made me realize we are here on this planet and we can’t trash it any more than it is. We have to reverse this.
E: The MUSE school sounds like the Green School in Bali…
C: Yes they’re actually connected! You have to start with the kids. My parents were fashion designers and back in those days there weren’t really all these issues we have today, but they were making clothes very consciously. They were based in Paris so they were using pure fabrics from France and Italy, cottons and wools, and were very aware of the quality.
Also, they were always dressing us and furnishing the house with flea-market reused stuff. I used to do that when I lived in New York and didn’t have much money, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I would spot people dumping their furniture and call my friends like “hey can you meet me at the corner of this-and-this street?” And we would pick up junk furniture and I would clean it up, sand it down, paint it and make it my own, so it would be cool but it’s also a way to re-purpose. I would do that a lot, and I actually like it better because it’s more creative than buying something from Ikea.
E: Yeah and it’s also unique that way, too! You yourself are not vegan, right?
C: I’m mostly vegan, I will eat some cheese when I know exactly where it comes from. Where we live, my kids have these friends and their mum is taking care of a bunch of animals. She has goats and she milks the goats herself and makes cheese, and sometimes she gives me some goat cheese. That kind of stuff, when I know where it comes from and I know the animals are being treated right. Sometimes I’ll have some fish if it is wild caught, but it’s really rare, I would say I’m probably 95% vegan.
E: Me too, I do still advocate for peace silk and ethically sourced wool because I think they’re usually better than the alternatives like polyester.
C: It’s hard because of the waste too when everything is synthetic, that’s why I still make my silk scarves. I visited the factories in Italy, they’re all handmade, hand stitched, everything is conscious. I’m not trying to do something cheap in China where you don’t know where anything comes from.
E: Same with wool, it can be an abusive industry, but here I’m surrounded by alpaca and sheep and I know they’re having a nice life outside, and if the farmers shear them fairly gently, I don’t mind that.
How did you get involved in vegan fashion week?
C: Well it’s actually my friend who organizes it, she just started being vegan a few years ago. We’d done some stuff together in the fashion business in the past and then she had an awakening and became vegan and became very involved in sustainability and she’s really wanting to make a change.
She started approaching me about this project because she knew I make swimsuits with recycled plastic bottles I take vintage stuff and paint on them, customize them and give them new life, like on little bags and jackets.
She slowly got more and more involved with different vegan brands and then she put this LA Vegan fashion week together, and she was insisting that I create a piece and I already had a hand-painted kimono and then I made a vegan leather coat especially for the show.
E: I really want to get more involved in Vegan Fashion Week, we’ve covered it and I think it’s a great idea…
C: She wants to spread it in major cities throughout the world!
E: Maybe London would be a great place to do it, there is a huge vegan community there. I’m really into the vegan thing. When I started the magazine I was in Paris, and wasn’t really vegan at the time, because it’s really hard to be vegan in Paris as you know, because that’s where you come from.
C: Yeah I know! It’s easier now, but at the beginning when I really started not eating meat and all the creamy stuff, when you go to a cafe you can’t ask: “can I have this without the cheese and without the ham and without the…”
E: But LA is a different vibe completely. The vegan thing is really growing, and I think also getting more eco-friendly. Because initially it was just plasticky crap, but now there are a lot of materials out there like Ramie and Pinatex that are really cool!
But let’s move on a little bit to your art, because I told you it kind of blew my mind a little bit – it’s kind of like ayahuasca, a little bit mystical and rock ‘n’ roll too. So it must reflect what you really believe deep inside. How does your art reflect your spiritual beliefs?
C: Well when I paint, if I’m in front of a blank canvas, or whatever piece I’m painting on, it’s sort of a spiritual experience. I have visions and then I’m compelled to paint them. I never really have a plan before, it just comes to me. For me it’s a mystical experience, letting myself tune in and seeing what needs to be painted.
Often, I don’t realize the meaning of my painting until it’s almost done. It’s almost like a dream-state, when you’re dreaming the dreams don’t often make sense, but when you analyze them every symbol does make sense and has a meaning. That’s my process, it has to reflect what’s going on inside me and what’s going on around me too.
E: That is an interesting element of it, because you grew up in Paris and your artwork looks so non-French!
C: You’re not the first one to tell me this! Even though I grew up around Paris, around all the art in the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay and all these museums… I spent a lot of time in the Louvre because I didn’t live too far from there, my parents’ business was around that area. When I was born my parents had a place in Saint Germain, so the whole neighborhood was surrounded by art… I had a free pass to the Louvre so I could go there even on Sundays and spend my days sketching or looking at art. I just loved it so I’m sure that part is inside me. I always loved Gothic artwork and also Flemish art, you know there was always the dark art too, even though my art is very colorful…
E: It looks a little bit Mexican too! But it makes sense now, I can see now the Flemish…
C: The Chiaroscuro art too. I love Rembrandt, even Da Vinci was amazing to me. I’m just saying this because everyone talks about Da Vinci, but coming from a scientific background – because I studied science and was always amazed at Da Vinci’s work just from a scientific approach. But I loved Hieronymus Bosch; he was very intriguing to me with all his little characters he would paint. There’s Caravaggio too…so many artists, but less of the contemporary. I was always more attracted to the Classics.
E: But it’s funny as well, because you seem to be a very fun, energetic, light person. Yet sometimes your art can be a bit dark, so maybe you take out that expression through your art, because we all have it inside us somewhere right?
C: I think now I’m maybe happier but I used to be darker, in high-school even in my music choices, listening to death metal. I still love it, there’s this darkness and it’s in all of us and the minute you express it, it is kind of liberated. But there’s that very serious ‘about life and death’ kind of thing. I’ve always been intrigued too about the mystery of life and the meaning of life, what are we here to do, just like the more intense questions and I think all that is reflecting in my artwork.
E: That’s what I feel, it does seem to be deeper than just a design. I guess that’s for every person to interpret in their own way ultimately. What did you study in terms of science?
Mathematics, physics and chemistry.
My parents were fashion designers and they managed to get quite successful, but my dad’s biggest regret was that he came from a very poor family and he didn’t have money to study, so he started working right away. He’s such a good businessman and artist that he made it in life, but he has three daughters, and I’m the oldest, so I think he put a lot of pressure on me to study so I could go to a nice university and get a nice job.
I was always an artist, I knew it early on, I was always drawing and painting. My mum was also painting in her free time when she was not designing clothes or getting inspiration. She had a little room that was just for her to paint. I started being good at math when it became more abstract with the x’s and y’s and z’s. I was fascinated by it because you had to really think more and see things in a different way, so when my dad saw that I was good at math he encouraged me to follow math and scientific studies, because to him I would have a better paid job, a better and more stable career as an engineer than in arts.
So maybe that’s where some of the darkness comes from – it was like an inner conflict in me, because I wanted to be an artist, but there was no guarantee I could make it as an artist.
So I did study science and went to University in Paris, and I got the diploma, and then I decided to switch to art, and I had my father’s blessing after that. It was really hard for me, and for the longest time I lived with the question inside of me: did I make the right decision? And then finally, I was like, we have one life, am I going to be miserable? And I didn’t know, I didn’t know if I was going to be miserable or not, but why don’t I do what my passion tells me to do and try that route, and if it doesn’t work out then I have my diploma for scientific study to fall back on.
E: Did you actually work as an artist in Paris?
C: Yeah, my first show, I was still studying at the university, and I joined this little group which was an after-hours group of people who enjoyed drawing, so I started drawing with them. Then one of the guys at that group told us about this art show and we should try to submit.
So that was my first show and I was so nervous because I’d never shown my art to strangers, but not only were we accepted into the show, but they chose one of my drawings to be their invitation to all their guests. That kind of freaked me out!
It was an honor too, but I remember at the art opening I was almost hiding, because I think when you draw or paint or create any art it is so much a part of you it’s like standing naked in front of people. You’re open to criticism and to anything, and it was very scary for the first time, you’re afraid people are going to say something bad and then it will make you not want to do it anymore. But it was successful and that made me realize – wait!!
E: Was your style the same back then?
C: Not exactly, but I just received a shipment from Paris of some very old paintings of mine on paper, and I could see it is not exactly the same, but the style was already being there, and it improved with time. It’s the same thing to growing up as a human being: you’re who you are, but the more you get to know yourself, the more you can become even more who you are, because I can totally tell it’s the same style, but it’s still in the growth period.
E: Style matures, literally. I wish we could go more into math and how that might apply to your art and philosophical outlook, because I imagine you must be into cool stuff like fractal theories and holographic universes. But this is my last question and I’m going to make it a silly one – your hair is incredible! How did you grow it so long and how do you care for it?
C: Well for some reason my parents never cut my hair, even though I have two sisters and they cut theirs, for some reason. When I was a teenager, everyone wanted to fit in the group and I wanted to cut my hair and have the cute hairstyle that all the girls had, but then I never did it. I remember my dad told me “if you cut your hair it’s never going to grow that long again,” and then I went to one of my friend’s houses and she had one of the cute haircuts of those girls I thought were lucky, and she showed me in the bathroom of her apartment – she had a long braid of hair she had kept. Before, she’d had hair as long as me, and she had cut it, and she was crying because her hair never grew back.
So I never cut my hair. I do many things with it: I braid it, I enjoy playing with it, and that’s how I change my hairstyle. I actually have a friend who says I’m like a living sculpture because every time I see him my hair is in a different way!
A long time ago, I was in Brittany, France, and I had a shoulder problem had seen three doctors. Each one of them had a different explanation to what was wrong, and I refused to take the pills – by the way I try to avoid chemicals as much as I can, even if I have a headache, I remove it using natural methods. So I heard some older people talking about this guy in a little village who had cured them from arthritis, so I drove to see that guy for my shoulder, and he kept me for two hours, and he said that my long hair had a meaning and I would find out that meaning at some point in my life. That always intrigued me, and I thought: well now I can’t cut it!
E: Yes in a lot of Indian traditions like the Sikhs, they believe your hair is like an antenna…
C: Yes I believe that, it is like an antenna. Even in mythology, Samson and Delilah, once their hair is cut they lose their power or strength. In the Native American tradition too, I think they did an experiment whereby they cut some hair of an Indian and then they couldn’t feel if there was a danger coming through, they were not as aware as when they had a full-head of hair.
Transcription by Louisa Jane West
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