Detroit artist Dessislava Terzieva is the founder of *Paid Actor, a sustainable fashion brand based in Detroit. She tells SEEN about her latest collection inspired by her hometown of Sofia, Bulgaria.
Story and photos by Dessislava Terzieva
I am a first-generation immigrant from Bulgaria. My family and I moved to the Metro Detroit area over 20 years ago, and yet, the distance between my two homes has never stopped me from returning, year after year. My annual pilgrimage back to my motherland is one of the most grounding and fulfilling experiences I am grateful to have, as well as one of the biggest sources of inspiration to both my work and me, as a person. This year, I decided to do more than just visit — I ended my lease, packed my bags and took my creative practice with me.
Three months and five countries later, I am back in Detroit with a new collection of clothing for my fashion label *Paid Actor and hundreds of 35mm photographs documenting the journey of creation.
Although *Paid Actor falls within the scope of fashion, it simultaneously exists outside of it. The concept behind the project is rooted in rebirth. The vast majority of my creations are one-offs made entirely from pre-existing garments and found fabrics and materials. To take a forgotten part of history and make it new and desirable again is a process which both excites and challenges me.
Due to the nature of my creative process, this and every collection is made possible through chance, spontaneity and intuition. I sourced my materials from secondhand shops in and around Bulgaria, as well as the closets of my relatives. My repurposing of these garments and fabrics was then ultimately inspired by traditional folk costumes, contemporary culture and my family lineage. I wanted to create modern pieces with a hint of nostalgia, of both personal and historical matter.
Hand embellishments: Traditional folk costumes are heavily embroidered and embellished with beautiful handworked detailing that truly stand the test of time. My grandmother has a costume that is over 100 years old, handed down from her grandmother. It is simply breathtaking in appearance, and the intricate handiwork that went in to creating it continues to captivate more than a century later. I strived to add the same touch of magic to this collection, and actually beaded many of these pieces in the company of my grandmother.
Repurposed materials: I am inspired by the story behind the garments and materials I use. Oftentimes, it is one I create in my head using my imagination. “Who was this woman, what attitude did she carry in this garment, what stories were lived out with it?” This time around, I was honored to use fabrics left behind by my mother, aunt and grandmother. This was a deeply meaningful and fulfilling experience — to pick up where they left off, to weave our narratives into new creations that will live through another person, in parts of the world that perhaps we ourselves may never reach.
Childhood: Living and working as an adult woman in the very city I left as a young girl felt very “full circle,” and it was inevitable that the child in me would come out and be used as further inspiration. I found myself asking, “Is it possible to turn something my mom would have dressed me in two decades ago into something I would wear today as an adult woman?” Call me biased, but I believe the answer is “yes.”
For the majority of my life, I have been a person of two worlds — it is the age-old tale of the immigrant, a story I am proud to tell. From a young age, this dual cultural identity has filled me with both curiosity and intrigue to the rest of the world and its people. As a result, I travel as far as possible and as often as I can.
Creating a project which could be executed pretty much anywhere has always been a dream of mine, and so this past collection feels like a huge achievement for me. I plan to do it again this winter in Mexico City.