Grace DuVal is an independent fashion designer, photographer, and wearable artist. She is currently living in Chicago, IL where she is working on her master's degree in Fashion, Body and Garment at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
This blog is an account of her creations and life adventures. All content and images © Grace DuVal unless otherwise stated.

I have had these images sitting in the drafts section of this blog for the past two years. I’m sure I had every intention of publishing them, of showing off a piece that I had been working on while I was living in Antwerp, but for whatever reason I never pushed that ‘publish’ button. Well, I guess maybe life knew I needed to wait for a little bit because eventually I would have exciting things to say about this project.

I made this piece when I was in the midst of extraordinary displacement. I had just finished a degree at SAIC, by far the hardest and most challenging year of my life, and was left with a tumult of questions and emotions regarding my work and my identity. I had just picked up everything that I owned and moved to England to be with my boyfriend, but then he was suddenly called to work the London Olympic games and I was left alone.

As a last minute fluke of life putting you where you need to be, I was invited to Antwerp, Belgium to live and work with an incredible duo of artists to undertake the organization and execution of a city-wide arts festival. And so I packed my suitcase and boarded a bus for a thirty-hour ride that would land me in one of the most monumental and important life experiences I have had thus far.

My time in Antwerpen was beyond description. I felt an immediate and undeniable kinship with the city, a place overflowing with art and humanity, with a never-ending parade of exciting experiences and the kindest people I have ever met. Every day was filled with bike rides through old world architecture, down cobblestone streets, engaging with artists from around the world and photographing their stunning studios and beautiful homes. I wrote about all of it, I saw new and glorious sites, I learned how to live on my own in a huge, scary world with no money and no backup plan.

Kismet is what it was.

I was asked to contribute a piece to the show I was organizing, and at the same time I still had one final project to complete for an SAIC summer class. And so I went to the local hardware store and bought some huge, woven bags that Antwerpenaars use for collecting leaves, and I got to work with my friend’s old sewing machine on my living room floor. After ridiculous finagling of strange materials onto myself in front of a mirror (there was no dress form in sight) I crafted myself a coat that expanded into a tent.

I wore that coat to work the next day, and my friends were hysterically amused but equally curious: what was this crazy American girl going to do with a tent coat? Ah, that was a mystery. For the next week I wore the coat while I worked the city, biking from place to place to photograph venues and artists and artworks for our festival. And in any place that I found a kinship, an excitement, a connection, I settled down, pitched my tent, and sewed up a tiny placket.

home sweet home

and that’s how I felt in my lostness and confusion, my heartache and feelings of abandonment. I was in my early twenties, consumed by debt, consumed with loss for a partner whom I felt didn’t want me, lost in my own head and self-doubt and the overwhelmingness of life in general, let alone the overwhelming experience of living life alone in Belgium. How had I ended up here, in such a strange, wonderful, captivating, mysterious, and seemingly random place? Why had life put me there?

Now I know, now I see, but at the time I could barely allow myself to live one day at a time. And so instead I biked and I sewed and I photographed and I ate cake and drank coffee on the porch of Red Fish Factory with my beloved friends and I made art and I communed with other artists and somehow, miraculously, mysteriously, it all worked out.

As I wore this tent and sewed these plaques and dug my way through my unfathomable confusion I documented the whole thing, turning it into a little two-minute movie. It was for me, it was for the art show, it was for SAIC, it was for the sake of doing. I shot it, I put it on the internet, and then I forgot about it.

But here is the reason I started talking about this at all, here is why I am pressing the ‘publish’ button on these images, nearly two years to the day that I uploaded them. This past fall I submitted that little video into a film festival competition about study abroad experiences and living in foreign countries, and then I promptly forgot about it.

It was only yesterday, when I got a congratulatory email saying that my video had been selected in the top three from among hundreds of entries, that I remembered. My little two minutes of confusion, my little two minutes of complete and total adoration for a city I had just met, was appreciated by a panel of film experts. I am honored, I am thrilled, I am humbled.

Home sweet home is a work of art able to convey through a poetic and original film language the feelings of belonging and displacement between which someone living abroad is constantly divided.”

- Elisabetta Lodoli, IES Abroad Rome Film Studies Faculty

So my video will go on to a social media competition on September 1, where the public will vote for the winner. I have no expectations of winning, but simply to know that my moments of confusion and enlightenment shine through in this video is more than I could ask for.

Here’s to Antwerpen. Here’s to being in your early twenties and not having a single fucking idea about what’s going on. Here’s to making it all, somehow, magically, mysteriously, work out.

Missing humbling mountain vistas, quiet nights, simple lives, new landscapes. Patience is crucial when rambling feet want to roam.

Missing humbling mountain vistas, quiet nights, simple lives, new landscapes. Patience is crucial when rambling feet want to roam.

Cheesin’ with my favorite girl, Melanie June, after the Her Universe Fashion Show at San Diego Comic Con. I could not ask for a better playmate and friend, always willing to go on adventure, always making me laugh, always ready for a snuggle.

After the show we tried to go out clubbing and failed miserably, collapsing in a heap at a nerdy dance party in the Gaslamp District at midnight. We dragged our asses back to our B&B where we ended eating an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream together in bed, watching Louis CK. This is my life with her, and it is utter perfection.

My geek couture interpretation of Battlestar Galactica’s character Kara Thrace for the Her Universe Fashion Show at San Diego Comic Con.

Custom-made silk dress with original Sommers Plastic vinyl skirt. Custom handmade necklace inspired by the BSG dog tags, each tag cut and laser engraved courtesy of TheRingLord.com.

Modeled by Melanie June.

Hair and Makeup by JMosaArtistry.

My geek couture interpretation of Battlestar Galactica’s character Kara Thrace for the Her Universe Fashion Show at San Diego Comic Con.

Custom-made silk dress with original Sommers Plastic vinyl skirt. Custom handmade necklace inspired by the BSG dog tags, each tag cut and laser engraved courtesy of TheRingLord.com.

Modeled by Melanie June.

Hair and Makeup by JMosaArtistry.