How I Shop: Painter Maja Dlugolecki

We chatted with the Portland-based artist about her comfortable, paint-splattered and effortlessly cool style.
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Maja Dlugolecki in her studio. Photo: Whitney Bauck/Fashionista

Maja Dlugolecki in her studio. Photo: Whitney Bauck/Fashionista

We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend and what's "you"? These are some of the questions we're putting to prominent figures in our column "How I Shop."

When I meet up with painter Maja Dlugolecki at her sunlight-drenched studio in Portland, Ore., she admits she doesn't consider herself a style icon.

"When you reached out I was like, 'Why does she want to talk to me?'" she laughs. "I get compliments on my outfits sometimes and I do love fashion, but I don't watch runway shows."

In spite of what she says, combining an IDGAF attitude with an intuitive ability to speak the language of line, color and shape has long been a recipe for artists' style success, and Dlugolecki is no exception. A graphic designer by training who's worked with the likes of Nike in the past, Dlugolecki has spent recent years establishing a successful fine art painting practice — no small feat in an age that often rewards digitalization, mass-production and speed above all else. 

Along the way, her distinctively colorful abstract paintings have attracted collaborations from numerous fashion entities both close to home and far away, including the Danish mass-market retailer Bestseller and Portland accessory maker Primecuts.

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I met up with Dlugolecki on a sunny spring day in Portland the week before she was preparing to head to The Other Art Fair in Brooklyn to talk about being an outfit repeater, the connections between painting and getting dressed and why she prefers buying vintage jewelry.  

Inside Dlugolecki's studio. Photos: Whitney Bauck/Fashionista

Inside Dlugolecki's studio. Photos: Whitney Bauck/Fashionista

"I don't know a ton of designer names off the top of my head, but I definitely look to fashion for inspiration. A lot of my color inspiration is drawn from the clothes I put on in the morning. I'll take a photo of what I'm wearing and use that as a color palette. Sometimes when I'm painting and I get paint on my legs or whatever, I use that as a color palette too.

In the ideal world, I would have clothes that are just for painting, and then clothes that are for a gallery opening or a show. But in reality, a lot of my clothes have bits of paint on them. I don't mind that; I wear it as a badge of honor. I love when my hands are dirty. One thing that was missing for me with graphic design was that tangible feeling, and it just brings me back to childhood. That kind of roughness and rawness feels really good to me.

My mom got everything from Goodwill for my brother and I growing up. We would wear a lot of mixed-and-matched clothes. My parents were never like, 'Oh, you have to wear a dress,' They were like, 'You want to wear jeans and a T-shirt? Great, just be comfortable.' I'm still like that today. I definitely wear stuff that's a little baggier.

I really like having bold pieces; I like shapes. My work is very colorful and yesterday, for example, I was wearing a bright red coat with this lime green shirt. But other times I feel like my work speaks for itself, like it's me on the inside, and then I just have a black façade [in my wardrobe] to [put the focus on] the art.

A prototype of Dlugolecki's soon-to-be-released collaboration with Primecuts. Photo: Whitney Bauck/Fashionista

A prototype of Dlugolecki's soon-to-be-released collaboration with Primecuts. Photo: Whitney Bauck/Fashionista

When I was in high school I would look to fashion magazines, or even just go to Forever 21 because that's where everybody went to pick up the newest trends. Now I really feel like my style is my own. It's obviously highly influenced by my work and by painting every day and wanting to be functional, but also wanting to have my own style. I feel proud of that. I think the best thing that your clothes can do for you is show a part of your personality or what you do before you say anything.

I love shopping online, but it's dangerous. Unfortunately, Portland doesn't have a whole lot of places where you can find good swimsuits. So swimsuits I'll find online, which is also a bit of a gamble, because that's like one of the hardest things to get to fit. Sneakers are great to buy online, because you know your size. I've bought a few pairs off sites like Grailed. I really like shopping for menswear online. That's nice because it's baggier, so there's a higher likelihood of it fitting.

Inside Dlugolecki's studio. Photos: Whitney Bauck/Fashionista

Inside Dlugolecki's studio. Photos: Whitney Bauck/Fashionista

Net-a-Porter has a great return policy, so that's nice to have that fallback. I enjoy shopping for jewelry online; you can find a lot of cool stuff like Mexican silver on Ebay. I also enjoy shopping for stuff when I'm out of town. Berlin has an insane market for vintage pieces and you can buy by the kilo, which is pretty sweet.

Portland is a great place to find stuff. Jewelry is big for me, whether it's sentimental or just something chunky and cool. I really love Oko, which is a shop on Burnside. This woman curates an excellent selection of vintage jewelry pieces from Europe. There's a story behind each one. I really love that because it's just that much more special if something's engraved or it's a little bit worn in, and you know that this was on someone's finger for decades maybe. Stories fuel so much of my practice so I'm drawn to that in a lot of ways.

[Vintage store] Artifact has great jeans. I definitely have a preference for vintage Levi's rather than new ones. There's just something about the quality and the way that they fit, and maybe it's just that they're worn in, but I like the quality of the denim, you can feel that when you wear them. These jeans I'm wearing right now are pretty great — they're high-waisted Carhartt. They're my favorite new (but actually vintage) pants.

Photo: Whitney Bauck/Dlugolecki

Photo: Whitney Bauck/Dlugolecki

But I'm always searching for my next good pair of vintage Levi's. I had a pair I was obsessed with and I still wear all the time, but there's a huge rip in the ass. My parents will be like, 'Do you know that you have a hole in the pants?' That's literally why I bought this shirt I'm wearing — because I loved those jeans and I wanted to wear them to this show I had in L.A. and [the shirt] is just long enough to cover it, so I could still look professional.

If I really love something, I wear it over and over. I'll have an outfit that I'll just keep wearing and wearing, and then I'll buy something new and be like, 'I can't wear that outfit anymore.' Then that becomes the thing I wear over and over. My life is kind of all over the place — I don't have a set schedule and I often travel for work. So maybe it's just that I like having something consistent. It's like when you go on vacation and you wear the same thing the whole time. I go through phases.

A recent thing I did, which my girlfriend helped me with because she's very organized — only wears black and white, always has a lint roller on hand — she helped me go through all of my stuff. In the past it was like, throw everything on the floor and kind of know where everything is, but also forget about a lot of stuff. Now every day when I wake up, I can see the color in my closet and it's all coordinated. It's helpful to be able to visualize what I have, and then I feel like I have a bit more variety.

Being in Portland highlights people who really are fashion-forward. If there's only a few of you, you're a lot more likely to talk to one another and collaborate and not be just an icon on Instagram. I'm really inspired by a lot of my friends who have great style.

Photo: Whitney Bauck/Fashionista

Photo: Whitney Bauck/Fashionista

I think it's easier to feel stylish here. When you go to New York or L.A. nobody notices you because everybody has good style. There's definitely really cool outfits here, I think it's just a little bit more rare. For me in the design, creative, art-maker world, I really admire most of those peoples' style. They also have clothes with paint or glue or whatever on them.

When you go out of the circles you're like, 'Oh, cool. I feel like I'm a little different.' But then you go [see those people] and you're like, 'Everyone looks the same at this party,' which sometimes gives me anxiety. Having your own individual style is so desired, and then sometimes you wind up in a place where you're like, 'Wow, I look like everybody else, I guess I'm kind of brainwashed.' That's what happens when we live in the age of Instagram in 2019!

The main thing I want to communicate is about cultivating your own personal style — it doesn't matter if it's something that ends up on a blog as long as you feel good in it. I feel that way now and that's so satisfying in itself. Especially seeing that growth from not feeling like that and then really feeling like it now when I show up to a meeting or go to a show. I feel proud that I really carry who I am as a person by the clothes I wear."

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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