Designer Casey Cadwallader has always been a builder. Today that comes in the form of constructing perfectly tailored sexy and sensual looks for women of all walks of life as the creative director of the fashion house Mugler. But that love of erecting something out of nothing has deep roots in Cadwallader’s past and his imagination.
⏤ Born in New Hampshire, Casey studied architecture at Cornell University before getting an internship at Marc Jacobs that inspired him to pursue a career in fashion. From there he progressed to become Narciso Rodriguez’s apprentice, was the Head of Womenswear at Loewe, and more recently was designing at Acne Studios ahead of taking over at Mugler.
⏤ But even before his higher education exploration of architecture Caldwallader was using the wilderness in his backyard, his very active imagination, and his own two hands to reconstruct in the real world different structures he had dreamed up in his mind. Many whimsical days were spent turning streams into pools and trees into treehouses during his youth. And when he wasn’t out in nature Caldwallader brought nature into his childhood bed- room, creating an underwater wonderland of aquariums filled with exotic fish that sparked the designer’s creativity in other ways.
⏤ With such fecund formative years, it makes perfect that Caldwallader would end up working in a creative field. Fashion might be his career of choice but this designer finds other ways to live an inventive existence outside the office as well. Using music to kick start creativity that, when the rhythm is right, can continue to flow long into the after-dark hours.
As far as imagination goes, what kind of kid were you?
⏤ When I was really young I was really into animals and nature. Behind my house, it was all woods, and the second I was allowed to go into them by myself I started exploring. I remember trying to build a treehouse. It was definitely always building things. I was also really into outdoor fishponds. There was a little stream in my backyard and I got it into my head that I was going to make it a pond manually, and I went up to my waist in the water with these big fisherman boots and a shovel.
⏤ During that time the builder spirit in me really came out. I was always trying to figure out a way to do something with what I had in my backyard. As I got older, the adventure outside turned into mountain biking. I used to take up all day outside on my mountain bike and I eventually found a mountain biking park, and that was really fun. I used to disappear into that. Where I am from in New Hampshire, there is not much to do until you have a car. So for me, it was always about exploring the woods and fields around my house.
⏤ I also had a lot of aquariums, getting up to seven in my room. So my room was buzzing with water and air filters. I have always been into fish but there were so many different varieties and I thought they were very beautiful. As I started to work and make more money, I would buy bigger aquariums, eventually getting to a 40-pound tank. I was very industrious, I always had to have some new hobby going on. When I think about what really drives me wild, in terms of fantasy, I think I am always connected to the fantasy that nature provides with the mystery and the way things grow.
And what about now, what is the secret garden of your imagination filled with today?
⏤ I think it has totally shifted now to being work-related things. I think there is that directness though, which is why I am so interested in technology and innovation. For example, fabric development took that same “secret garden” spark. I loved to go to a fabric mill and to go through the archives of things that they used to be able to weave in the 1930s that they do not do anymore. Especially things like that from the past that we cannot make any more contrasted with things that are now newly possible with advancements in technology. Just a minute ago, I was at an embroidery office going through everything in the room because you are always trying to find the one thing that makes your head spin to try and create some sort of new creation or fantasy out of that.
Did the time of confinement give you the mental space so that you could wade in deep into your creativity and imagination?
⏤ As I work at Mugler, I have been going through these waves of the next levels that I want to push myself into. In the beginning, my version of sexy was much more intellectual and I think I gradually worked on making sexy fully frontal and being able to make it sexy my way. Now what is on my mind is fantasy. That was what I was reflecting on most during the quarantine. I think I am getting bolder. I feel like in Spring 2020 is where I got my sexy on, and in Spring 2021 I am trying to address something a little more not on the ground. Really exploring that side of Mugler, the idea that the character can transcend and the power of the woman can start to be less literal and start to be amplified by a layer of fantasy, surrealism, or sci-fi. So that, in a way, it is me finding my path towards that iconic Mugler superhero. But I will always do it my way so I have to stretch it over a long period of time to find it.
Is there something that helps you get in the groove? That gets your imagination firing on all cylinders?
⏤ I have noted that my brain works very differently at different times. In the morning, I tend to be the most creative because I am burdened with less information. Midday, I am ready to do some meetings so I can switch to a different place. The afternoon is the least imaginative time for me. As the evening comes, my brain switches into a different place and I can go really hard creatively for a long time if I catch it just right.
⏤ I definitely use music almost in a meditative way but also to sustain energy and the creative thought process. When I am drawing, I usually listen to intense music because it keeps my thoughts going. I listen to a lot of current pop music, along with many female and electronic artists. It’s usually a dance floor thing with an ethereal, spiritual, or intellectual edge to it. It keeps me tapping my foot and keeps the flow going. To get myself into a creative state there has to be a certain set of conditions, and music is definitely one of them.
⏤ I have also realized through this quarantine that I can get into that zone at home much faster than I can at the office. The other most creative moment for me is right when I sit down on an airplane. It is right when I break from my normal rhythm that a big idea comes in. I feel like when you get into a rhythm it can get monotonous, and the second I break free from that, it is something that switches myself into a different direction.
Do you think that imagination is the final refuge of freedom?
⏤ I think that you have to be free in your mind, of course. It is where your sense of liberty and freedom come from. Being free to have the thoughts that you want to have is a huge part of liberation. I do think that your imagination could also be compromised easily by living in an environment that is not conducive to you. I think that imagination is very connected to confidence, which is connected to being a well-supported person. You always have your head to feel safe in and to let your mind run free.