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~ Keeping up with Sara Rabin

We had Crush Sahara interview Sara Rabin, an artist who has created iconic imagery for brands like Sandy Liang, Heaven by Marc Jacobs, Supreme, and more.

Sara reimagined Woolrich’s iconic sheep logo for this limited edition shirt. This collaboration between Woolrich and Serving the People marks the beginning of an exciting partnership between both organizations.

Photo taken at Union Pool, Brooklyn, NY

CRUSH : Do you like giving interviews?

SARA: No, actually. I don’t really go back and read them because I trip and overthink but I don’t think I’ve said anything horrible. I just don’t think about them.

CRUSH: That’s healthy. When people search you, they might be reading about a version of you that doesn’t exist anymore, but it comes with the territory. Coming to New York to pursue a life or career—while bringing some perspective of where you come from—is quintessentially New York. Build me a 72 hour itinerary for Ohio.

SARA: I’m from Cincinnati and I think it’s the best city in Ohio. I didn’t ever really kick it there because as soon as I graduated high school I left to come to New York. I’ve been here for like eleven, twelve years. But I can’t answer that question about Ohio because when I lived here I was just like, “Fuck this whole place.” When I visit now I don’t mind it as much because the nature is pretty, everyone is nice, and it’s definitely a slower pace.

CRUSH: The range you display within your portfolio is impressive. Rather than showing off all of the mediums you’re capable of working with, it reads more as the ability to capture expression in a variety of impactful ways. You’ve been referred to as a masterful observer—do you feel that your work is more about your subjects or for yourself?

SARA: Myself for sure.

CRUSH: So the subjects are the vessels by which you say what you want to say?

SARA: Every single thing is me. It’s always me. And sometimes the little cartoons will actually look like me. Even if I’m drawing someone else, I’m drawing myself in them—which is narcissistic.

CRUSH: What compels you to start?

SARA: I’ll see something that I like or something that makes me laugh. I consider myself a glorified fan girl. There are some artists that I really, really like and I’m like, “Oh shit, I want to do that.” And I try to do it with my own fingerprint. Or sometimes I’ll think of something that’s really fucking funny and I just want to draw it. You can probably see that distinction in the work—which ones are supposed to be funny and which ones I focus on technique.

CRUSH: For sure. Who are some of those artists that you really fuck with?

SARA: Antonio Lopez, Shel Silverstein, and Satoshi Kon. I really like a lot of animation. I love Frank Frazetta and a lot of sci-fi art.

CRUSH: The past two years have absolutely flown by and deep quarantine felt like sci-fi IRL.

SARA: It was like a collective fever dream. What was that?

CRUSH: I don’t know if there was a defined ending either, it just gradually changed. When I look back at articles and interviews from that time period they all feel similarly coded. It’s interesting to recognize a pattern of people shifting entire thought processes all at once. In a more recent article from PRINT you said you’ve somewhat lost yourself because you haven’t been working on a whole lot of personal projects since 2019—mostly client work—and that timeline predates the pandemic. I’m curious what you think it takes to break the cycle and why it’s important.

SARA: I’m just not sad about it. It’s my own fault if I’m not working on personal projects. Maybe I’ve also reframed my thinking that every single job can still be personal. I used to spend a lot of time doing personal stuff because I wasn’t getting hired, and then I started getting hired and I missed it. Now I just don’t think about it and if I want to do more personal work, I’m just gonna have to carve out time for it because the jobs aren’t stopping.

CRUSH: It’s a survival mechanism to a degree.

SARA: Everything stops one day. If I can keep working and making money I need to do that now. One day the phone will stop ringing and then I can start doing all the stuff that I miss and I’ll be able to support myself from the commissioned jobs. If I’m sitting here saying I miss doing personal work that’s no one’s fault but mine. I should just make time for it. I put my heart into everything and it’s hard to do both at the same time—it’s exhausting—so I need to be stronger and then I’ll be able to do both.

CRUSH: I can relate to that. There’s a lot of stuff I used to beat myself up about, and then like one day I just stopped caring and it was really liberating. It wasn’t sad or anything, it was more of an admission of, “I’m in control.”

SARA: Yeah, it’s not giving up. It’s just acknowledging that this is what’s going on and I’m gonna ride it. If I think about it and I miss it and it’s sad, all I need to do is change my thinking. It doesn’t need to be a big deal.

CRUSH: There’s an illustration of a spider on your website with the phrase “HAPPY MATRIGARPHY” referring to the evolutionary survival mechanism. As humans we’re capable of perceiving meaning in something natural like this as a morally pure, altruistic gesture, but why are we so obsessed with assigning meaning to things? Especially with art, it seems like someone always requires an explanation.

SARA: I don’t relate to that type of artwork or that way of thinking. I try very hard to take things at face value. I like things that are pretty so I make things that are pretty. There’re a lot of people who like artwork that have conceptual, research, homage, or archival elements and that’s great but it’s not my first pick. I just feel sometimes that simple is better, less is more.

CRUSH: There’s seldom the acknowledgement that things can just be.

SARA: Yes, I like things that just are. I do like to be challenged. I have close friends that are on that end of the art spectrum and I think that’s great. I just like to go there, I don’t live there.

CRUSH: What scares you?

SARA: Revolving doors. I don’t like revolving doors. I don’t like people talking with toothpicks in their mouths. I’m afraid they’re gonna choke. There’s a deeper answer in there somewhere.

CRUSH: I like the shallow answers—they’re more interesting.

SARA: I used to be a fearful person and then things have happened to myself and all of us and I just try to live with less fear. Maybe that’s why those answers were the ones that came up first. But yeah, I don’t like snorkeling. I don’t have any of these big existential fears that I feel I can answer with right now.

CRUSH: Do you have any New Year’s resolutions?

SARA: No. I used to be really superstitious on New Year’s and I had to be around certain people at a certain time. If I was around bad people at midnight I thought that it would affect my year and all those stupid things. Then I realized that it doesn’t fucking matter and your year can turn to shit anyways. I no longer have New Year’s resolutions.

CRUSH: Some of your illustrations are hyper-realistic—almost exaggerated—contrasted by a cartoonish surrounding. It’s interesting and harmonious. Are there any parallels in your personal life that may have prompted you to make work like this?

SARA: I’ve never even thought about that. I definitely like to balance the seriousness with the absolute carelessness and the mess. You need to have both. You can’t be serious all the time or else you’ll just die.

CRUSH: How many tabs do you have open on your computer right now?

SARA: Oh my gosh, I will not answer that question. I have more than one computer and it’s way more than one tab and way more than one window. Every time my computer crashes, I’m always like, “You’ve done so well. I’m so sorry.” And then I have to shut it down. There are a lot of tabs. My computer doesn’t even ask if I’d like to restore tabs. It’s like begging me, “Sara, please don’t do it. Don’t make me do it.”

CRUSH: A lot of people I know have a million tabs open at all times. Is this a pattern of high performance?

SARA: It’s the key to success. The more tabs the more success, I promise. Talk to me in six weeks.

CRUSH: I just try to keep it minimal.

SARA: Let it go. Just relax. See what happens. Sometimes I go back to a tab that I opened up weeks ago and I’m like, “Oh, shit.” Then I don’t go to bed and I go down that hole.

CRUSH: What’s the first tab open on your phone right now?

SARA: The online services for the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles because I got vanity plates. I was thinking that this would be a really cool plate if people knew me, but if I say it and it goes on the internet the game’s over. There’s a chance that they might get rejected but I’ll find out later.

CRUSH: Would you rather be able to relive anything on demand or always be lucky?

SARA: I can already do both. I feel lucky all the time and I have a really good memory. Something that I do before I go to bed is watch my memories in my head—but in HD would be awesome, so I’ll pick that. HD is also kind of scary. You can see people’s blemishes and how old someone is and I’m like, “I’m trying to watch TV. I don’t need this to be real life.”

CRUSH: Are you scared of getting old?

SARA: No, I actually love it. I fucking hate my twenties. Every single day I like myself more and more and I feel better about who I am and I know that will keep going. But I’m a little bit vain, so I’m kind of bummed about cells that start dying and looking like shit. But the mental part I love. I also think that the older I get I’ll start to care less and less about maintaining how I look. So I don’t have to worry, I’ll just stop fucking caring and I think that’s also really hot.

CRUSH: You once said that there can be extreme value in not sharing your work and I agree but I’m not sure why.

SARA: I had a close friend who used this metaphor with me once and it’s about how you don’t have to share your gold with everyone all the time. It will lose its value or it’s very precious, so when you decide not to share something it can keep it sacred to you. Also, when something’s out there it’s kind of out there and it’s open for praise or criticism. But if you keep it to yourself it’s just your secret gold—and that’s awesome. It’s just between you and yourself.

CRUSH: In that same article you talked about all the positive things that can happen if you share it. If I was sitting on a pot of gold and I never shared it, is there some sort of benefit other than knowing I’m rich?

SARA: I think that it depends. Not everything has to be an open book all the time. Also, if everyone knew that I was sitting on a pot of gold, wouldn’t they just be dying to see what I did next?

CRUSH: Yeah, or rob you.

SARA: They can’t do that.

~ Interview with Alice Navarin of RAT HAT

Photo by Giulia Agostini

Things classified as “iconic” occupy a myriad of lanes—a person, hairstyle, sound, pattern—all endowed with an inherent marketability that elicits time-transcending demand. Enter Woolrich, the 191-year-old Pennsylvania-based outerwear company so ingrained in the fabric of Americana that it has both supplied Union soldiers with blankets during the Civil War and collaborated with Supreme. Their most recent project is a collection in partnership with Serving the People and upstart Italian brand Rat Hat, a crochet hat producer born during the pandemic with staying power far beyond the turbulent years that have marked the decade thus far. Alice Navarin—with the support of her family across various functions of the business—takes an intentional approach to crafting lighthearted designs.

Crush: Are you crocheting right now?

Alice: Yeah, I went on holiday and there’s so much to catch up on. Making a hat is not that quick. This collection for STP uses thick materials, so it’ll take maybe three or four hours per hat. If the materials are really small, seven or six hours.

Crush: You started doing this at the beginning of the pandemic. The STP team also came to visit you in Italy, right?

Alice: February 2020, during our first lockdown. And yes, they came but not to Padova where I live. I was traveling for work so I met them in the south at a Nike workshop. We picked tomatoes, made salsa, listened to music, and there was a talk. It was all about sustainability, so Nike paying for that was interesting.

Crush: Mia said she really enjoyed it even though she didn’t understand anything.

Alice: Yeah, it all was in Italian.

Crush: The south of Italy is an easy place to enjoy even without speaking a word of Italian. Tell me about yourself and how Rat Hat came to be.

Alice: I studied economics at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and work as a model. Before the pandemic I was making money but I didn’t have that much time to be creative due to the amount of travel required for my job. At the beginning of lockdown I went to my parents’ place where I stayed with my mom, father, and sister. I didn’t know what to do so I started to paint the house. I also bought two books but didn’t finish them.

Crush: What were the books about?

Alice: One concerned anarchy in Europe. It had so many dates and I was like, “No, I need to do something with my hands.” I did some collages. My dad collects art books and I was stealing his magazines—like Arte which he gets monthly—and cutting out images of contemporary art. Then I did a kind of food art—drawing certain dishes I made—but I got pissed because they would get cold and I’d have to put them in the microwave.Crush: In crochet, each stitch is completed before the next one is started. That seems like a relevant analogy for how you bounced from quarantine activity to activity before landing on crochet.

Alice: I began watching YouTube videos of crochet because I had to give a present to my friend and I didn’t want to buy something online. In my family no one cares about clothes, so I had no materials. I went to the newsstands and took yarn from what they use to hold papers together since nothing else was open. Then I started to use yarn from things I already had at home. I posted the first hat on my page and a lot of people started to ask for one. Since I had the time and my mom was bored we began making more together. Social media is not my thing so my sister handles all of the sales and replies to clients. My dad does the packages and labels because painting is his hobby.

Crush: How do you meet demand with such a small team?

Alice: I started to teach my friends—a few who lost their jobs because of COVID—and now I have some people helping me out when they can. It’s nice because I have a lot of clients and want to produce new stuff, but I don’t always have time to crochet. I want to change my style, so I tried to experiment with materials this year. Banana yarn is really interesting because it’s totally vegan and made of dry banana leaf. I kept traveling for modeling after quarantine so I source yarn from everywhere and find a variety of stuff. For the Woolrich hats, I used plastic from the packaging of the jackets and fabric they provided. I normally don’t use fabric so I had to cut it into small lines and use it as yarn, and as a result all the hats are really thick and heavy.

Crush: Does working with a heritage brand like Woolrich differ from designing independently in regards to expectations?

Alice: It wasn’t stressful at all. Lucien was a client already, so he understood what I was doing and set up the collaboration. I knew they wanted something fresh. They understood my use of brighter colors which is where the power of my work lies. I started when everyone was sad during lockdown, but I was also happy to spend time with my family. I was showing my feelings with the colors I was using—totally happy colors, not just trippy—and incorporated all these different materials so there wasn’t much consistency. It’s not a perfect thing—it’s a confused happiness and I think that’s why people liked it.

Crush: I read that you heard from a girl who said it brought her joy, and that made it all worth it for you.

Alice: Exactly. I was so happy when I heard that. It’s a piece of me traveling and extremely satisfying. The colors and designs are my mind and soul so it’s really personal. I started working because I was feeling inspired, but a lot of people started to copy my designs and now crochet is a trend. I’m really emotional and self-critical. When I see everyone doing what I do, I don’t want to do it anymore, I want to do something different. I used to always do things for free because I didn’t believe in myself, but this is the first project where I feel other people understand—everyone from 80-year-olds to crazy kids buy my stuff, so I don’t exactly have a target. This made me realize I can do something else.

Crush: Where would you pivot if you decided to move on from hats? 

Alice: I’d focus on furniture or small sculpture.

Crush: Do you have a favorite piece of furniture?

Alice: Sofas.

Crush: A sofa with your colors and patterns would be wild.

Alice: That’s my dream—maybe I’ll just make one for myself.

Crush: I saw you’ve also been teasing bags, shoelaces, and swimwear. What’s the most fun thing you’ve made so far?

Alice: The bags with animals. I did the bunny one and I want to do a pig bag, but it’s a bit hard because I don’t draw it—I just freestyle and what comes out comes out. With crochet you have to count points but I’m not mathematical at all. I speak with images and it’s a nightmare if I have to count all the time.

Crush: Do you have consistent points of reference?

Alice: Paintings and images in general. I never think about design, I think about a combination of colors that I want to see together. Everything is made of images in my mind and I try to make it as real as I can.

Crush: Was there any moment in particular that ignited your inclination to be creative?

Alice. No. I went to an artistic school where I was doing architecture and sculpture but I was always doing other things like drawing and painting, too. School is cool because you learn from the people around you and everything you see. I also listen to all kinds of music and prefer to travel to different places.

Crush: What do you typically listen to?

Alice: I fell in love with Jamaican music after visiting. Also classical music—they’re totally opposite and not connected, but I’m the connection because I like them both.

Crush: What’s your favorite place to travel?

Alice: Brazil. It’s one of my favorite countries in the world, along with Indonesia. I’ve also traveled in Africa, America, and Asia extensively. I love tropical areas where it’s warm, sunny, and the people are really happy. I’m interested in the opposite, too—I’d love to travel to Iceland.

Crush: What’s the origin of the name Rat Hat?

Alice: I didn’t try to make a brand, but Vogue Paris asked me for a name when they ran an article. My nickname and Instagram handle from 2012 was Ratigan, after the Disney cartoon. The sound of the name and character were funny to me so I went with Rat Hat. I made that decision quickly—if I had to think about a brand name I may have been more paranoid. Also, if I stop making hats it’s even cooler.

Crush: And it’s got a good ring to it. Is there anybody that you consider a mentor?

Alice: My mom or dad. I’m really emotional and I get that from my mom. I wanted to give up on this so many times and she encouraged me to keep going. My dad is a painter and when I was a kid he always took me to galleries and exhibitions. I got my creativity from him, but we have really different styles—he doesn’t use much color. I remember painting my shoes when I was in primary school because he was spray painting at the time. I was totally free to express myself. My sister is the opposite—she’s really classy and I always felt like the weird one in the family—but they let me be who I wanted. It was normal for me to feel different from the other kids. I wanted to show what I thought was cool, but at the same time I don’t always feel the need to share things. People I’ve known for a while say they understand that I’ve always been creative, but that I didn’t show it much until now.

Crush: How do you see this project evolving long-term?

Alice: I don’t want to make fashion items—that’s not my plan. Fashion is superficial and honestly kind of bullshit to me. I want to make something that’s not gonna change your day, but rather your point of view.

Photo by Giulia Agostini

Rat Hat x STP x Woolrich is available online now.