Shabd Simon-Alexander: The Long, Secret History of Tie-Dye

The morning we meet designer and artist Shabd Simon-Alexander at the Williamsburg coffee shop The West, we realize we don’t know exactly what she looks like, nor she us. After a few cases of mistaken identity, we finally connect. Shabd laughs, saying, “I thought I could just wear tie-dye and you’d find me!” And while that might seem to make sense, Shabd’s tie-dye style is so unique and unexpected and so far from any preconceptions we might have held that her delicate tie-dye dress didn’t register immediately.

Shabd is perhaps best known for her eponymous clothing line, but she also published her first book in June, which is what we really wanted to talk to her about. Tie-Dye: Dye It, Wear It, Share It is about the centuries-old art form, both a look back at the history of tie-dye and an instructional guide designed to help even a beginner create beautiful things. “There’s nothing else like it out there,” Shabd tells us, “this is it. This is the book about tie-dye. I wanted everything to be in this one book. People have this notion of tie-dye as this 60s hippie thing, but it has a 2,000-year-old history, and I wanted people to understand the breadth of all that.” The result is a text that’s not only a practical manual but also incredibly beautiful. It reflects the fact, Shabd tells us, that making the book became a collaborative process. “For a year and a half I was working just with my friends on this project, and we were always exchanging ideas.” Visually stunning as Tie-Dye is, though, it’s no mere coffee table book. Instead it’s the kind of book that inspires you to try your hand at creating something. Shabd says that, as a kid, “I was always making stuff. And I still get a kick out of touching everything; I’m always getting kicked out of museums for touching things. And so I’m always making interactive stuff in my art.” This impulse to touch and create comes through in Tie-Dye, making every reader want to drop what they’re doing, go out and get their hands dirty, and make some wearable art.

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