Interview | Peggysue Piedra
It was a gray day in Los Angeles. There was a late November heat that I wasn’t used to so the clouds were a much needed shelter. I walked up to the corner of a warehouse and was greeted by a sweet smile and a familiar face. We walked inside, the temperature of the room only dropping slightly from the temperature outside. To my right were long, wide desks with laptops and monitors and a person accompanying each screen. In front of me was the show room filled with denim and one of a kind pieces. I did a full rotation to take in the room. Peggysue was telling me of her move to LA and how good it was as we sat on the couch with the breeze behind us coming in from an open door.
“From a very young age I was very involved with the place I was born,” Peggysue settled and pulled her feet onto the couch. “I have some really great parents in Chicago. I’m a Chicago person deep down, even though I don’t want to live there. I grew up being forced to eat really weird food and my dad was a school principal and always brought me to new art events and museums and things like that. I think that’s probably the most relevant thing about my background. It’s this engagement that I demand from the places where I live” Looking around she laughed and told me about how she landed her job at Imogene and Willie after a lot of persistence and how it inevitably led her to LA.
As if to appease my enchantment with the space she asked if I wanted a tour. She led me through aisles of denim samples and ran her hand across a rack full of new designs. She lit up when she pulled out the pieces she loved. We came back around to the couch and headed right into her definition of creativity.
“I actually have been having this really different idea of creativity lately. Probably since I moved out here and regained access to all of the things that I normally would do, like going to museums and being in nature. I have a degree in poetry writing,” she laughed and looked up as if remembering a dream, “and I’ve always had a very romantic approach to creativity. I love etymology and I’m very into the way creativity relates to the actual creation—the actual core of existence. I’ve found that the things that really excite me right now are the things that are directly related to that. Taking myself out of myself and being fully in an environment that hasn’t been created by humans. Like the ocean. And feeling myself in relation to things that are immense. Architecture and hills and mountains and deserts and the weird environment here. It feels like it was made with a special difference. With the political climate and the things that are going on in the world right now - I’ve just been trying to spend a lot of time immersing myself into things that are really complicated. Whether it’s the ocean or an art gallery, something that reminds me of my tininess. That’s exciting to me. Feeling the tininess.”
We were leaning in but relaxed and I talked on how I went straight to the ocean when I got off the plane and how different it makes you feel. How small. How important yet completely insignificant. “It makes me feel okay. That’s what the ocean is for. When you’re standing in the current and the ground is pulling out from under you and it’s fine. Everything is fine.” Her words were filled with excitement. “I had this totally transcendent experience," she said and paused adding, "I would love to get to the point where I can describe my experience in a casual way, but it will work. As the sun is setting and the tide is coming up it’s also the same time that the ocean feels the warmest. It’s probably because I’ve been there for 6 hours and I’m really sunburned, but there’s this thing, that as the waves are getting bigger and you’re up in them, it’s dark on the side of the wave that you’re looking at. Because the sun is hitting it from above you. There’s this really visual and philosophical thing happening, you’re just like, ‘okay, I am right now observing the dark side of this wave and it’s coming in on top of me and then there's light.' And I wouldn’t use the word transcendent other than in my attempt to describe it to you but it’s a thing that you feel but you don’t have to define. It feels so good. It’s the same connection of something that exists but also doesn’t. You can manipulate yourself with it.”
We continued our talk on the ocean until the words were no longer good enough. Until we just sat and thought about the immensity and lack of appropriate description. And always, along with the unknown, the big, the vast, comes a feeling of anxiety, of spinning out of control. Peggysue leaned in a bit more as we pressed into that thought.
“My relationship with anxiety, really everyone’s relationship with anxiety is complex. I think when I was in Nashville I lost the capacity to feel my anxiety because I was just so unhappy. It was a very stark feeling when I finally learned how to give myself slack and not assume that I was the problem all the time.” One of the office pups came up to us and laid at our feet. She bent down to pet him and continued, “Because I knew I was in a place that I didn’t belong and I didn’t really want to belong and I just was unhappy. As I started to gain perspective I realized that it wasn’t Nashville and it wasn’t just me. Everything at play in the world is doing it’s own thing and only a few of those things have anything to do with me. And then beyond that, I still get to choose how I react to feelings or things that actually happen. And I sort of just started experimenting with myself, playing this game with myself where I would assume that everything was fine. And behave with that in mind and assume that if I was acting really weird that it didn’t really matter. And I started to try not to behave in a way that would get me the reaction that I felt I needed or make me feel closer to people or anything. Just assume that everybody feels the same level of anxiety and just go forth. And it kind of broke down all of the the things that I believed about any reasons we all have to not like ourselves. If we just assume that I’m a decent person and I’m going to behave decently and you’re a decent person, and not expect much more of that—it sort of evolves on it’s own. It’s another thing I can’t quite explain but it has been a real discovery for me.”
Through every conversation I find a theme, an underlying characteristic to the women I sit down with. It shows me how significant each human being is, and while we’re all the same, we’re all so unique and so vastly different. With the thought of a communal anxiety that we all feel, Peggysue went into the idea of being a woman and how she sees herself as a part of the female community.
“I’ve had this really incredible experience of interacting with women everyday in my job. Touching clothes together and experiencing other women trying to accept themselves and trying to help them with that process shows me how anxiety looks from another perspective,” she paused and added with a smile, “Actually might have something to do with the relief of my anxiety. But being in a position where I’m talking to women about their bodies and how to not worry so much about them has been enlightening. You get one pair of jeans. You don’t think about your clothes any more. Just chill out. Take six months and wear the same thing everyday and don’t worry about it. And it looks great. So you don’t have to feel like I’m telling you to do something really embarrassing or that’s going to somehow deplete you in any way. And all of this has made me realize how insecure we all are. And how I will be looking at a woman in a pair of jeans and I’m like, ‘wow she looks absolutely beautiful,’ and they look at themselves and they point out, 'this is wrong and that’s wrong.' I’ve been learning how to talk to women and make them realize I don’t want them to just buy things, I want them to understand their worth. I’ve had so many beautiful experiences with women through that process and it’s also allowed me to look at myself, my friends, my mother, everybody, and say we’re all here, we’re all doing this. We all see each other as better than we see ourselves. And we should be remembering that all the time.” Her passion grew with each word. “Also learning how to accept and respect the feminine in general. I tend to be more traditionally masculine in a lot of ways, even though I look very feminine and so it’s been off putting earlier in my life. But I’ve been getting a more rounded, natural development of those feminine qualities. Understanding things like, maybe I was secretly misogynistic when I consciously tried to feel fewer emotions and think only emotionless thoughts. Stuff like that, that is the underlying psychological stuff that you do to put yourself down. I think for me, I must have had a really weird issue with myself as a woman, and I’m so thankful that I don’t feel that way anymore. And it makes me so happy to be excited to be a woman.”
Our conversation ended on a note of pride and wonder. Peggysue brings a magical spirit everywhere she goes. A spirit of joy and curiosity and intelligence. She showed me power and perseverance in personal exploration. She let me in on the importance of pursuing the unknown, living in the vastness, and falling in love with our tininess.