Creative Lives Q&A – Kaylene Milner
Term: 2 Year: 2022
Kaylene Milner is a designer based in Sydney. She has been in love with and inspired by punk rock record covers, gig posters and old-school comics ever since she was a teenager. Now, through her creative clothing business, WAH-WAH, Kaylene reimagines her inspirations as wearable art.
WAH-WAH collaborates with bands and artists both local and international to create a marriage of the elements of pop culture that is bright, loud and proudly tongue-in-cheek.
Zart’s Education Manager Nic Plowman talked to Kaylene about her creative business and life.
As a child, how did art first manifest itself to you? And can you recall a particular artwork/artist that you connected with first?
In early primary school, I was helping clear out a storage area in the classroom and I came across a rolled-up print of an Arthur Rackham artwork from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It was the scene where Alice is getting advice from the Caterpillar who is sitting on a toadstool, smoking a hookah pipe. I felt like I had found a secret treasure! I loved the whimsical escapism of his illustrations and I used to try and replicate them in my own hand just for fun.
What did art mean to you as a child/young person – and did it help you with a sense of identity/purpose?
My high school years were particularly formative for me. I became obsessed with discovering underground music and part of that appeal was the artwork that accompanied the album covers and gig posters. As a teenager I was particularly taken by 60s psychedelic music and the bold colour palettes and art nouveau-influenced motifs that you would see in the borders and lettering of posters. I would sit in my bedroom listening to the music and would paint my own DIY psychedelic T-shirts with fabric paint. This also fed into an interest in textiles and making my own clothing from scratch. I couldn’t afford to buy fabric by the metre but I discovered there was always a surplus of 60s and 70s paisley bedsheets going cheap at the op-shops. I’d cut and sew my own take on swinging 60s fashion that suited my body shape.
What was your experience of art/design at school? Do you have a particular teacher or a teacher moment that encouraged you as a creative person?
I had the most brilliant art teacher in high school. I always thought she was really cool because she had good taste in music and used to work at a screen-printing factory in Wollongong that made really iconic protest posters. When we graduated, she hand painted each student a coffee mug featuring an artist that was special to them. Mine had a brilliant recreation of an R. Crumb self-portrait, who I was obsessed with and wrote about for my HSC art essays. 10 years later I would go on to create a Robert Crumb knit jumper for one of the very early WAH-WAH designs.
How do you begin: Process of making of a body of work/sourcing artist, musician, causes to work with?
Each design has had a unique background story and process. In a few cases the artist or band have reached out to me, but usually I’m the one to make contact. It kind of feels a little like loosely themed curation. The process always varies depending on who I’m collaborating with. In some cases, there is a lot of back and forth with ideas and tweaking designs. Other times it has been a case of, “here is my catalogue… go forth and create a woolly winter knit”.
What is ‘design’ to you?
Design is creative problem solving. It’s about researching, testing and experimenting to create something beautiful that has a positive impact.
Are you interested in how the audience reads your work?
I want the audience to feel a connection to the garment. My whole business is based on that premise. I don’t want to just make clothes for the purpose of warmth. I want the garment to be more than that, whether it’s a talking point or showing allegiance to a band you love or knowing that a percentage of the profits are going back to the artist or a charity. This is a large part of what makes up sustainability in my practice, in conjunction with using renewable and biodegradable fibres, responsible packaging and construction techniques that reduce waste.