Interview by Maddie Sensibile
Alia Penner wearing Romance Was Born's 'Dream On' collection.
Hi Alia! Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to be an artist.
I grew up in Topanga Canyon, which is a really special place to grow up in. I’m actually third generation; my grandfather lived there and then my dad grew up there too, right next door to where I grew up. Now I live in Mount Washington which is kind of like Topanga-ish, close to Downtown L.A. I always wanted to be an artist. Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a cartoonist, I wanted to be a fashion designer, and I wanted to be anything that had to do with art. I just drew all the time, since before I can remember. I went to art school at Otis, and I’ve just been a freelance artist since I graduated.
Your work is definitely reminiscent of the 1960s and '70s. What about that time period stands out to you?
I guess just the color and freedom. I feel like the '60s and '70s were also pretty inspired by other time periods as well. So it’s kind of like when people say that my art is inspired by '60s and '70s, I feel like there’s so many different places that I’m taking inspiration from, like art nouveau, or deco. There’s just so many points are jumping off points. I love psychedelic artwork.
Other than those decades, what primarily inspires your work?
I’m a big collector of books. I think books are really important, and I think you should have as many as you can fit in your house. I love having things in my hands. I love searching for things, I love treasure hunting, I love going to flea markets and finding crazy things. I just found this insane wheel of fortune from this old carnival. I’m super into movies and I watch them all the time. My boyfriend started the movies at the Hollywood Forever cemetery, so I help program movies there, which is so inspiring. It's fun to curate and create a whole experience. I’m really excited about Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on June 21. But just being able to pick something like that…Gentlemen Prefer Blondes! The photobooth is going to be amazing!
"DVF Pop Wrap Animation for the Warhol Foundation made by me"You do a lot of collaborative work as well. What do you enjoy most about pairing fashion with art?
I love working in fashion. I think you should dress as silly and crazy as you want every day. I love dressing up and playing a role which goes back to movies, and being inspired by fashion and movies. Making clothes on my own was really exciting and hopefully I get to do more of that in the future, selling my dresses at Colette. I only made like ten of them or something. I really love working with Anna Sui, and I think we will be working together again soon. I did her backdrop for her fashion show a couple seasons ago, and she’s such a hero and so cool. I got to visit her in her studio and she had books everywhere stacked high as the ceiling.
What are your go to films that have impeccable fashion and art direction?
My favorite, favorite ones…I love Smile with Bruce Dern. That movie is one of my favorites. I love pageants and over the top fashions for that, the ‘70s rad teenage girls in that are really funny. I love musicals, all kinds of musicals. I could watch Esther Williams and all those amazing Ziegfeld Follies all day long. I just watched Witches of Eastwick again, and there’s this one scene in it that blew my mind. I’m obsessed with balloons and re-watching the scene where they’re holding thousands of pink balloons in the ballroom and then they dance through them... I mean, what beats that?
Alia Penner's Balloon Girl Performance starring Labanna Babalon.
Who would you call your style icon?
Miss Piggy, definitely, is a style icon for me. I love Miss Piggy, I love the Muppets. I have a book called Miss Piggy’s Guide to Life and there are some really important lessons.
Zandra Rhodes, another designer that I’ve met and interviewed before, she is just insanely cool. Pink hair. Like, I love how rad you can be when you’re old. You don’t have to be an insane plastic surgery lady. You can be a badass with pink hair and tons of black eyeliner and wear whatever you want. I almost can’t wait to be that.
What has been your favorite project to date?
I directed my first music video for Jena Malone this year, which was a really special experience to work with her. We covered her in flowers and glitter and nothing else. Another favorite project I did last year was painting Katy Perry’s piano. That’s probably the best. It's so special because it’s this object that you know is gonna be around forever. It's covered in red roses and ice cream colors. It was great to work on it over the course of a couple months. I feel like everything has to happen so fast nowadays, so to be able to even spend time painting something is just a pleasure. I wouldn’t mind doing that all the time.
"Katy Perry's piano in my studio"
Who is your dream artistic collaboration?
My dream artistic collaboration would be to create a DREAM Theme Park with Niki de Saint Phalle & Yayoi Kusama.