Debra Rapoport

Introduction by Judith Boyd

I met the brilliant Debra Rapoport in November of 2010 after communicating with her by email. She was a star on Ari Seth Cohen’s blog Advanced Style, and I was inspired by her. I launched my blog Style Crone in July of 2010 after discovering Advanced Style, which gave me the courage to begin.

Debra is a talented artist, and everything that she wears is based on sustainability. She is an important role model to many, including myself, for her contributions to addressing the crisis of climate change. Several years ago, when she traveled to Denver (where I live) from NYC, she gave a workshop on creating wrist cuffs from toilet paper rolls. This is just one example of how she teaches others to transform materials that would otherwise add to landfills into beautiful wearable art.

As a lover of headwear, I appreciate Debra’s hats made of paper towels. I have her original paper towel hat as part of my hat collection and will always value and treasure it. It has a special place in my hat room.

When I plan a visit to NYC, Debra is the first person I contact to secure a time to spend with her. We usually go thrifting together as a part of our adventures. She is vibrant, generous, fun, creative, and an important style icon. I am honored to call her my friend.

Debra Rapoport, aka Debra “Debris”, is a style and sustainability icon – but don’t be mistaken, she prefers "personal style” over fashion because, in her opinion, “fashion is about consumption and trends”, and what she does is about expression and making use of what’s already right under our noses.

Debra, since the 60’s, has been making wearables, jewelry, and accessories out of found materials. “I refer to what I do as my ABC's – because I assemble, build and construct with color, texture and layering on my body. And that's my art form.”

Her work with sustainable materials started out of necessity, she notes “I didn't have a lot of money so I couldn't afford to go buy silk yarn. Or even inexpensive yarn. So I went to the local TV station and I asked for their old videotapes and film. And I would crochet with that! I would find old rope in government surplus and I would crochet, knit and weave with all of it.”

A 76 year old native New Yorker, Debra has been in conversation with the city’s discarded goods, decade by decade. Things like paper cord in the 80’s, found metal in the streets in the 70’s, telephone wire, used tea bags; anything that speaks to her, she forms a relationship with these materials and the materials themselves tells her what to do with them.

Over time, need was no longer a question. Debra’s work gained notoriety and attention in different circles and industries; in the commercial art world, in fashion and design, and now on social media as an “influencer”.

When asked about how her career has shifted over the years, she said “since the whole movement of advanced style started about 11 years ago, with the film and the books and the blogs and the TED talk, I have a new visibility based on being an older, stylish person. But I first came from being a maker of things that I would put on my body and that's what I'm known for. For the last 55 or so years, museums have acquired a lot of my work all over the world, including Australia, St. Petersburg, Russia, Germany, Sweden, Greece, the Metropolitan Museum, NYC, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Museum of Arts and Design, NYC so that's what I am. First and foremost, I’m a maker. With this new attention, the platform's getting bigger… and that's okay.”

Not only is she gaining attention from the “Advanced Style” movement, but the conversation of sustainability and circular material use has boomed due to our collective attention turning towards climate change. There’s a lot to appreciate behind her work and process that we can all learn from. A catch phrase of hers is “create more, consume less” – taking what you have and making it uniquely your own, unafraid of making a mess.

Now, all that said, she clearly is in a different spot than when she started in the 60’s – she has the resources and ability to work with newer, “finer” materials. However, she still prefers objects that have a story. “There's an energy in things that are used – a patina and a personality that continues to appeal to me.” Now she’s so known by friends and strangers alike for her sustainably made objects and editorial work, people now send her slews of what others might call trash! People send her wire cables, used toilet paper rolls, you name it; which she then spawns into something entirely unique and unquestionably fabulous.

Debra “Debris” is a Sterling Silver because we could all take a note or two from her on expressing who we are, with what we have, and being unabashedly ourselves well into the Silver Age.

HipSilver could not be more pleased to be sitting down with and featuring the work of such an evocative artist.