ARTIST INTERVIEW: Bianca Branaman of Sugar Candy Mountain
Company: Sugar Candy Mountain
Artist: Bianca Branaman
Sugar Candy Mountain is a Los Angeles based, ethically and sustainably made women’s clothing line and company. The name is taken from a reference to Heaven George Orwell made in his book Animal Farm. Created out of a desire for a confluence of comfort, beauty and community, owner and designer Bianca Branaman makes every effort to leave as small a footprint as possible on the environment. This includes abstaining from plastic in her production chain and sourcing the highest quality natural materials that guarantee the long life of a garment. The designs are timeless, so they can be worn and re- accessorized as styles and trends come and go. Bianca is a California native and grew up in Big Sur, San Francisco and New York City and lives in Los Angeles with her husband, artist Ivan Morley.
Describe the path that led you to the work you do now.
Originally, I started drawing and painting in my father’s studio in Big Sur. He is an artist and was apart of the whole Beatnik scene in the 50s and 60s. Through being around him, I discovered early on that I loved to make things and to be in that magical, creative space where there is no time. He’d put Coltrane on and give me some paper and pencils and I’d just draw and draw for hours.
That was in a part of Big Sur called Limekiln. Later we moved to Partington Ridge, where a more collective spirit was developing. We had shared vegetable gardens, chicken coops, goats, and horses. The men were painters, sculptors and musicians while the women, (my mother included), would get together to make sack dresses from Indian bedspreads, jewelry, and leather sandals that they’d then sell at Nepenthe, a nearby restaurant and bar that had an store annex called The Phoenix. I was a little girl then, and I just soaked it all up. That’s definitely where my interest in designing clothes began.
Did you have any mentors or important creative influences?
My mother is a huge inspiration to me, not only for her style but for her values. A lot of my sensibility comes from my her – she was always so kind to every human being and looked amazing doing it. She would wear an Oscar de la Renta linen suit with a pair of sandals and would sew her own dresses out of Indian bedspreads. She had been raised a debutante but saw the beauty in every living soul, in the 70s she taught meditation to prisoners on Rikers Island. She was so graceful and well spoken which allowed her to move in any circle, transcending social and economic structures.
Do you have a daily working routine? Can you describe it?
A typical day at work usually involves running around downtown LA overseeing production. You’d be amazed to see all that goes into making a garment! I usually wake up in the morning and give thanks for the love and abundance in my life, meditate for the well being of humanity and the environment, hug my husband, and pet the cats. Then I start thinking about what I need to get done that day which is either designing or production managing.
Did you have any artist or creative people in your family? If so, how did they influence you?
Creativity and art have always been part of who I am — I come from an arts-oriented background – I started painting with my Dad, who is an artist, in his studio, when I was five. It’s just such a part of who I am.
I was born in San Francisco, where my father was part of the Beat culture. He was originally from Wichita, Kansas and left, for obvious reasons. He moved to SF in the 50s and I was born in the early 60s. My mother was a debutante and he came from a working class, farming family in Kansas. He was ridiculed for his art – he was beaten and called names and the only community he could really relate to in Wichita was the black community – he loved jazz and the whole scene.
I think Beat culture was a response to the 50s consumer culture of “keeping up with the Joneses” and having to have all the latest stuff, they were all rebelling against that and living differently. Big Sur was a bunch of like-minded people who wanted to live differently, and they were rebelling against society’s structures and it was really utopian in a lot of ways. We had separate housing but the vegetable gardens and goats were communal and we lived off what we grew and caught and went to town once a month for beans and rice. I ran around with packs of kids all day, doing and making and building forts and coming up with stories. I didn’t watch television until I was eleven.
When we moved to New York City – it was a huge culture shock and really exciting, at least really exciting to me. I was seven and we lived there until I was eleven and then I went back on my own as a teenager. I mean it’s crazy: I have pictures of myself with Milos Forman and Mikhail Baryshnikov, all hanging out in our apartment! But really, my whole family is full of artists. My husband is an
incredible painter, my brother James is a photographer and they inspire me all the time.
What do you do, or where do you go, to seek fresh ideas or renewed creative energy?
I’ve learned that it’s not about doing or getting. It’s about emptying out so you can just BE. Being in nature does that for me, it helps me to get empty and then the ideas just start flooding in. It’s always been the streets and the kids that inform my eye and design sensibility but being in nature and taking the space to empty out is what allows my ideas to materialize. I’ll come back to LA after being away, and my eyes start seeing everything in a new way. Designing is just work, just like any other job. If I just sat around waited for the ideas to come, to be inspired, I’d be in big trouble. It’s about making a start each day and just showing up.
What criteria do you use to evaluate your own work?
It’s hard to be objective with your own work but if it has function and form, then it has value. For me, good work is when function meets form and has a timeless quality. We’re living more nomadically these days and I think I want clothes to reflect that. What I love about utilitarian and timeless clothes, (don’t get me wrong, I love some fantasy here and there), is that you’re saying: YOU ARE ENOUGH.