Edelweiss De Guzman, 32, is co-founder of Art Ecologie Group, a collective of artists who use eco-friendly materials in their work. De Guzman grew up in the Philippines and moved to the United States when she was 18. She earned a BFA at UNC Charlotte, and her work includes children’s book illustrations, paintings and haute couture made from recyclable materials. She lives in Mooresville and teaches art at Mooresville Elementary School. She is also creative director for the Asian Music and Dance Festival at the 17th Asian Festival in Ramsey Creek Park.
Q. What’s the first piece of clothing you made?
A. When I was in high school we had a Miss United Nations contest and I was assigned Miss Egypt. I created my costume and I won second place, and I also won as Miss Talent, with an interpretational dance I choreographed. It was my first and last pageant. My teacher, Mrs. Martinez, was always pushing me to be in contests.
Q. How did you become interested in fashion?
A. I liked to buy fabrics when I was a kid. My grandmother was a seamstress and used to work for Pitoy Moreno, the No. 1 designer in the Philippines. She didn’t teach me, but I watched her on those old sewing machines.
Q. Did she make you clothes?
A. In the Philippines I participated in traditional dances, and my grandma would make me a traditional dress but I would buy my own fabric. There’s all the yellow, purple and pink on everyone else, and then there I was with black and white.
Q. How is your style untraditional?
A. As young as 9 years old I knew I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. I have the mentality of an artist, and I always want to experiment.
Q. Who taught you how to sew?
A. My third-grade teacher. My brother learned to crochet when he was 9 or 10, and he can crochet better than me. We learned it in home economics. It was a required course.
Q. What’s your favorite type of clothing to make?
A. What I really like to do is costumes. I’m a storyteller. If I had a favorite designer it would be Chanel. She is a genius. She revolutionized fashion. I like her mentality, that she wasn’t afraid to try different things.
Q. What period of fashion inspires you?
A. The Baroque period. Rococo. I love to incorporate art history in my clothing. I admire those masquerade type of dresses. I also love steampunk. It’s a genre that incorporates metals into an outfit.
Q. How did growing up in the Philippines influence your sense of style?
A. I’m very resourceful. There’s a lot of poor people in the Philippines. The reason I am really good in recyclables is I can turn simple things into something. I can make a dress out of soda tops. I can make a dress out of wine corks.
Q. What kind of fabrics do you like to wear?
A. I really like silkworm but it is very expensive. I’m embracing eco-friendly fabrics, like organic cottons, and pineapple fiber, which is kind of like a chiffon and which you find in the Philippines.
Q. How has your style come together?
A. I have a lot of inspiration. I always look at the past. I like the cleanliness of a Calvin Klein dress; it has a clean cut, because he is more of a tailor. I bought a Calvin Klein dress that I really like but it is large. So I’m deconstructing it to find out why is this guy so good.
Q. Do you admire any other designers?
A. I like Isaac Mizrahi. I like his approach, because he said, “Sometimes I find style from accidents.” I like Vince Camuto. I like “Project Runway,” and I think sometime I will be on it if I have time.
Q. How do you put together an outfit?
A. It depends on the weather. In the Philippines it’s rainy or sunny. Here there are four seasons, so I was so excited to wear boots. I like to be comfortable. I love to mix the vintage and the modern.
Q. What colors do you like to wear?
A. Most of the dresses I make are neutral, because they are fine art. I’m not afraid to use colors. I like orange. My favorite color is triadic. It is the triangle that you put on the color wheel and you rotate it, and it is anything that touches the edge of the triangle. My favorite one is green-yellow, orange-red, and blue-purple.
Q. What kind of jewelry do you wear?
A. I have a lot from Swarovski that I used to buy from Michaels and make my own necklaces. Beads in the Philippines are associated with a lot of superstitions. They even have Buddha beads and tiger eyes. I have jade charms carved into monkeys and dogs for good luck.
Q. Are you loyal to any products?
A. I love argan oil, and virgin coconut oil for moisturizer. My grandmother and my mom made a remedy where they grate the coconut, make coconut milk out of it, and when it dries it produces oil.
Q. On what do you splurge?
A. I appreciate a designer purse. I have a Michael Kors. I have a Coach. When Juicy Couture first came out I loved it. I buy them at outlets and Concord Mills. There are a lot of outlets in Orlando. In the summer if I’m going to Disney I’m going to get a purse.
Q. What’s your first choice in flowers?
A. Sampaguita. It is tiny and white and we would make a necklace and we would wear it if there was a graduation. It smells so good, you can smell it from blocks away. Street children would sell it and put as an offering on the Virgin Mary.
Q. Do you collect anything?
A. Vintage postcards and stamps. I loved exchanging letters as a kid. I had pen pals, and in school when there was a little drama we’d write each other. I collect letters. They are my treasures. One day I will make an installation of the envelopes from the letters I got as a pen pal.
Q. What’s your favorite kind of recyclable to use in design?
A. I love fibers. Recently I found venetian blinds. People just give stuff to me. Now it’s non-winning lottery tickets. I’m making a dress, maybe Baroque inspired. My auntie and her friends in Elizabeth City have been collecting them for me.
Q. I would trade closets with…
A. Chanel. I also love Audrey Hepburn, but I’m not in New York so where would I wear it?