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About the Project

At it's core, “Criminal” Couture is a radical, collaborative fashion line created by incarcerated and non-incarcerated artists, and a series of surreal performance art pieces showcasing haute couture gowns that we have designed and created. Through performance, “Criminal” Couture creates narratives that viscerally demonstrate the vast impact of mass incarceration. In our performances, we feature post-incarcerated performers and other local artists.

Project “Criminal” Couture embraces fashion because it directly references the human body, which is the very thing held captive by the state under mass incarceration. Fashion is a form of self-expression reflecting ones internal emotional realm. Clothing is also used as one of our most basic protective boundaries. In prison, physical boundaries and one’s sense of self are violently challenged and stripped away. Upon arrival, inmates are litarally chained together with shackels and put in jump suits or uniforms, stripping them of their individual identities. Mug shots and uniforms act to dehumanize the incarcerated, reinforcing our perception of them as criminal. These dehumanizing acts make it far easier for the public to accept detaining individuals in 6' X 9' cells for years or even decades on end.

a. “The “Criminal” Couture Traveling Kiosk” holds pieces from our ready-to-wear line and art created by incarcerated artists. The kiosk is exhibited at art events and often sets the stage for our elaborate performances. The structure is modeled after Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon design. 
b. The “4745 Days and Counting…Tee Shirt” is part of our ready-to-wear line. The rows of hundreds of mug shots printed all over this garment represent the time Corzell has spent in prison. It seeks to question the ethics and effectiveness of long-term prison sentences. A smattering of dollar signs critiques the fact that corporations profit off the time inmates are housed behind bars. 
c. Custom Nike Airforce Ones: Painted for Project “Criminal” Couture by an artist incarcerated at Stateville prison. Depicts characters associated with the Day of the Dead celebration and represents the good and evil in each of us.

Our Intentions & Values

1. To actively Imagine a world without Prison as a solution to tough societal issues.


2. To Engage critically with the prison industrial complex through art, fashion and performance.


3. Always Include the diverse collage of voices, images, and creations of imprisoned artists focusing on their resilience and strenght.


4. To Support a small group of incarcerated artist professionally, emotionally and pragmatically: through providing art supplies, mentorship, assisting in communication to the outside world, art critiques, book exchanges, and other forms of advocacy when possible.


5. Exercise metaphorical and physical freedom and respect for all human beings throughout the “Criminal” Couture production process.


6. Utilize creativity, beauty, whimsy, magic, provocation, problem-solving and other artistic methods as an act of rebellion against systemic injustice.


7. Subvert, work around, counter, take-action against, the oppressive Criminal Justice/Injustice System.

“All Lives Matter Except Prisoners.” Is a Mixed-media drawing by an incarcerated artist, I.M. , doing life at Stateville Prison. He explores concepts of time and the way in which Black Men are perceived. In other peices he expresses feelings of longing for relationships outside the land of mass incarceration.

a. Documentation of the performance “Corzell’s Curated Survival of Lady St. Ville:” A narrative about the tension between the PIC and humanity of the     incarcerated. 
b. “I Reject Your Reality … Tee-Shirt Design.” Over a detail shot of the textile designed for “the Lady St. Ville Dress.” 
c. “Silver Hand Woven Jewelry Boxes” were created using old potato-chip bags originally bought in Stateville's commissary. The boxes are shiny and striking. They speak to the invitation that comes from living within the starkness of prison. 
d. The “Cell 825 Flat File Art Gallery” holds prison art and archived materials. The opening of the drawers symbolizes the metaphoric freedom experienced by our incarcerated contributors when their voices are heard by viewers in the outside world. 
e. “I Reject Your Reality and Substitute my Own” Tee-Shirt Design. 
f. “Laugh Now Cry Later" Custom Nike Airforce Ones painted by artist incarcerated in Stateville prison.

The Word Criminal in "Criminal" Couture

& Other Notes

[i] Quotation marks ("") are nested around the word criminal in our copy eg. Project "Criminal" Couture to imply that the term criminal is socially constructed as well as to point out that many individuals that are labeled as criminals in our society may be better described in other ways for example: people who struggle with addiction, people experiencing poverty or homelessness (crimes of necessity), people suffering with mental illness. A whole other category of individuals might include those that have not actually committed a crime, having been wrongfully convicted however still identify with stigma attached to the word criminal because of their incarceration and close proximity to others considered to be criminal by our society. The "Criminal" in "Criminal" Couture also stands for those that negotiate spaces of tension and conflict, including artist/activists who rebel against the status quo, by posing art actions, practicing critical resistance, conscientious objection, or other forms of protest.



[ii] Haute couture  is high end fashion that is made from high quality, expensive, often unusual fabric and sewn with extreme attention to detail and finished by the most experienced and capable sewers, often using time-consuming, hand-executed techniques.



[iii] Ready-to-wear designers produce clothing, intended to be worn without significant alteration because clothing made to standard sizes fits most people. They use standard patterns, factory equipment, and faster construction techniques to keep costs low, compared to a custom-sewn version of the same item.

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