Channelling the Frida Kahlo mantra ‘dress every day like it is a fiesta’, Suzi believes that fashion has great transformative power and that every woman should adorn herself as a means of self-expression. ‘I dress up every day’ she says. ‘I try to make myself a work of art because it really expresses who I am.’
It was back in 2012 that Suzi’s head-turning style first caught the attention of photographer and creator of the globally celebrated Advanced Style movement, Ari Seth Cohen at a book signing in Pasadena. Known for his pioneering skill in spotting the ‘sartorial savvy of the senior set’, Ari immediately took photographs of Suzi and dear friend, jewellery designer and kindred spirit Gretchen Schields, that very day. The fortuitous shoot not only earning Suzi a selection for the author’s second book, Advanced Style — Older and Wiser, but marking the start of a deep, creative friendship between the three. ‘What I love about Ari is how he has really embraced older women and men who have their own unique style, his work has shown the world how creatively fulfilling it can be.’
Suzi may not have felt a great sense of belonging growing up in small towns in Texas, but it was here that she was introduced to the art of dressing up. ‘Everyone got really dressed up to go to church and Sunday School, especially at Easter’ she recalls. ‘Putting together my outfit was really important — the dress, hat, shoes, frilly socks, and my little bag. I was a little shy at the time but realized that I could be noticed with the clothes I wore and I began to use this as a way to express myself.’
‘My Mom had this fabulous jacket which I played dress-up in because she didn’t wear it’, recalls Suzi. ‘Dad had bought it for her at a bazaar in Cairo, Egypt when he was there during the war. It was a taqsireh jacket of beautiful Palestinian metallic gold couching stitching on black velvet’ she delights. ‘I love it and still have it and wear it. I really think that jacket first got me interested in exotic tribal styles and fabrics.’
It was during family vacations to Colorado in the summer months that Suzi started to develop her admiration for Navajo crafts and silver and turquoise jewellery, rugs, beaded moccasins and fringed deerskin jackets as she perused wide-eyed through the Southwest’s many souvenir shops. This curiosity in tribal cultures and their unique boldly patterned costumes has not only been a key influence in the development of Suzi’s own signature style, but also the catalyst for her interest in collecting distinctive textiles and ornamental trims from around the world to use in the creation of her own wearable art pieces.
After earning college degrees in Clothing and Textiles, and Fashion Design from Texas Tech University, Suzi began her career in Atlanta, Georgia as a director of the Fashion Design department of Art Institute of Atlanta, then designing a boutique womenswear line called Pollipop in the early 70’s. She moved to New York City in the 80’s and designed young men’s jeans for Wrangler. It was here in New York that she hungrily absorbed the city’s arts and culture scene. ‘Even though I was working for a mass-market company at the time, I would spend almost every weekend going to all the museums and galleries there as well as the designer shops — talk about inspiration! 10 years in New York City gave me an art education that I still draw upon to this day.’
‘Because I had gained a reputation as a jeanswear designer I was recruited by Levi-Strauss in San Francisco in the late 80’s and made another move. The city was also very creative and full of inspiration but four years later in 1992, a move to Los Angeles was the place where I found my true creative inspiration,’ recalls Suzi. ‘LA, San Francisco, and New York are all great cities to live and work in but I find LA to be the most diverse, which is very inspirational. You can be whomever you want to be so easily here. So in 2001, after having spent 30 years working for others I finally closed the door to the commercial apparel industry and started my own line — Suzi Click Artisan Apparel and Accessories.’
Initially, the line was composed of scarves and shawls with sari borders and vintage trims, before expanding to include bags and jackets. Suzi applies her skill to create vivid, collaged, one-of-a-kind apparel for women who want to be noticed for their style, and to realise the creative, transformative potential within their own wardrobes — something she as a personal calling.
She refers to her trademark design style as an eclectic cross-cultural style with a touch of luxe nouveau boho, and sees it as a personal calling to encourage women of all ages, sizes and tastes to realise the creative potential with their wardrobes, urging them to be more adventurous with their style, while working with whatever they may have on hand in their closets or drawers.
To this end Suzi and close friend Gretchen Schields, collaborate on the blog site and panel discussion series The Power of Adornment, discussing the use of style as a creative outlet, sharing ideas on where and how to shop, on coordinating outfits and accessories, and general advice for women who are seeking inspiration in the development their own personal style.
Driven by a long-held wanderlust, Suzi is a passionate supporter of the textile industries of the countries she travels to. By repurposing these exotic materials into her contemporary designs, each cut and tailored in her Los Angeles studio, she feels she is both honouring their craft and carrying forward the enduring spirit of its makers. ‘I try to use textiles that I buy from the weavers on my textile tours because I want to encourage them to continue, to maintain their ancient crafts,’ explains Suzi. ‘Travel is my other passion and I am drawn to places with the textiles that I like. India and Mexico are favourites because of their colour and patterns. But Morocco, China, Egypt, Thailand, Burma, Uzbekistan, Peru and Indonesia have also been great places to travel for me,’ she remarks. ‘I love every place I go actually!’
Suzi also credits a number of icons and important periods in fashion for the development of her eclectic-boho style. ‘Back in the 60’s it was Carnaby Street, then in the 70’s it was a bit more hippie style, I really admired rockers like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin (a fellow Texan) and Stevie Nicks,’ she recalls. Even couture designers like Paul Poiret, the symbol of Parisian deco fashion with his flowing dapper silhouettes and cloche hats, Italian fashion house Etro, and haute legend Jean Paul Gaultier add to her diverse array of aesthetic influences.
Suzi also cites style influences from the likes of 96-year-old, bespectacled style maven Iris Apfel, known for her bold combinations of tribal and couture, high and low and wearing items collected from the world’s bazaars, souks and thrift shops; and of course, Frida Kahlo for her wearing of indigenous Mexican clothing to proudly express her roots while she travelled in New York and Paris.
Now approaching 70, Suzi is thankful for her age, and the freedom it affords her. ‘I plan to keep travelling and collecting textiles and making wearable art with them and selling them to kindred spirits,’ she beams. ‘I am just very thankful and extremely happy as I approach age 70. I am healthy, and I have many wonderful friends with common interests in art and fashion, and a wonderful husband (artist David B Lewis) who has been with me on this journey since we married in 1970. I have learned a lot from him and we had grown together and had fun expressing ourselves with our house full of colour and art’.
‘Getting older for me has been great. It has allowed me to really be the artist I wanted to be. I plan to keep travelling and collecting textiles and making wearable art with them and selling them to kindred spirits. I really just feel like the luckiest person there is’.
‘The bonus is that with age you can have that attitude – just be you – everyone else is already taken. As Oscar Wilde said — either be a work of art or wear work of art and I try to do both by making myself a work of art every day.
Suzi Click designs and makes her high-end one-of-a-kind art to wear pieces in her Los Angeles studio. Her admiration for women who appreciate their unique quality motivates her desire to create, as does inspiring women to adorn themselves and live an artful life.
Suzi’s jackets, scarves, blouses, shawls and bags can be found in specialty, designer boutiques across the US, and in Toronto and London, and a small collection of items can be purchased online at www.suziclick.com
Follow Suzi’s adventures, collections and new pieces at www.instagram.com/suziclick