index magazine
grayindexed gray

Read Bjork's2001 interview with Juergen Teller from the index archives.

Kathleen Hanna discusses writing and making music in this interview from 2000 with Laurie Weeks.

Isabella Rossellini spoke with Peter Halley in this 1999 interview.

Check out our interview with Crispin Glover by Richard Kern from 2000.
Alexander McQueen's 2003 interview with Bjork.

Susan Cianciolo, 1999


Dame Darcy has been reading palms since she was ten years old. Palm readings are almost the opposite of interviews in the sense that the person who conducts them usually does most of the talking, but the subject doesn’t mind in the least.  After all, how often do you get to listen in on your own life?  So from time to time we ask Dame Darcy to ply her skills on our behalf and speak with a person we’re especially curious about. The young designer Susan Cianciolo and Dame Darcy seemed like a perfect match.

Dame Darcy:  Your work is really great.  I like the way it’s hand-stitched and sort of crafty, almost like it’s from a special-ed class or something.  Like, it doesn’t matter exactly how the stitches are done, as long as they’re on there.
Susan Cianciolo:  All the people who work here can do absolutely perfect work.  But I’ve tried to really enjoy it, because even with the small amount that I’m producing, you have to really get into it so it’s not a chore.  Right now I’m just working so much, so many hours, and you get crazy, but it’s still fun.

DD:  Your work looks like you’ve been locked in an attic for a really long time.
SC:  [laughs]

DD:  Hand-stitching everything to the point of dementia.  But that’s the beauty of it.  That’s what makes it so amazing.
SC:  That means a lot to me.  It really does.  I mean, I am kind of locked in an attic that I don’t ever really leave.

DD:  And it seems like you’ve been crafty your whole life.
SC:  I always made all my dolls and doll clothes, and my Mom did, too.  My aunts made dolls for me, and my grandmother and all their friends.  But I never really thought about that as being something different than other people — you make your dollhouse and then you make everything in the house, you make your clothes.  One friend’s Mom was an expert tailor, and she taught me, and then I studied as well.  It was mostly Italian-American where I grew up, and my family and other families just passed down a lot of things.  I was married recently, and I received a lot of heirlooms from my grandmother’s mother and sisters, and just seeing what they did, it’s so amazing.

DD:  All this embroidery and all the hand-stitching.  It’s gorgeous.  I should show you my quilt.  I’ve been making a quilt for two years and it’s insane!
SC:  Oh my god.

DD:  I finally found out this new way to take a photo and have it made into fabric, like transfer it to the fabric, and so I wanted to appliqué all these different images onto my quilt — of myself and my dolls and stuff like that.  I have to show it to you sometime.
SC:  I’d really love to see it.  That’s another thing I grew up with.  My Mom is an incredible quilter.  I’d like to start one but I haven’t got around to it yet.  I always like to see people my age making things like quilts.

DD:  You’d like my friends.  We have a thing called the Easy-Bake Coven.
SC:  What’s that?

DD:  We do crafts and make dolls.  Easy-Bake [laughs] Coven.
SC:  That sounds great.

DD:  So that’s a good introduction, and now I’m going to read your palm.  So you’re right-handed, I’m assuming.
SC:  Yes.

DD:  What’s this stigmata on your palm?  What happened?  It looks like a big wound in the center of your palm, with a bunch of magenta ink all over.
SC:  [laughs] I think I scratched five layers off of my skin.  I was so nervous because of the amount of work I have to finish in the next two days.  I sort of can’t remember how it happened.  I’ve been dying skirts — there are some behind you, and the ones out front have been dipped in paint along the bottom.

DD:  Oh, these are so beautiful!  They remind me of life in a trailer in the middle of the woods somewhere cold.
SC:  It’s hard and cold, but then you’re isolated and it’s pure, and you just kind of stare into space.  Do you know what I mean?

DD:  Totally.  I can tell that your stuff is coming from the way-back of your id.  Like, you’re just doing it.  You’re not even really thinking about it, and the result is pure emotion. [laughs]  And people are wearing it.
SC:  I know.  But now, I’m making a new collection, and I’m thinking much more about it.  I know that I can just go off a lot of times, so I’m putting myself on a specific focus.

DD:  Okay.  Your palm has a lot of lines all over it, a spattering of lines like it’s raining, which signifies that you work really hard and that you’ll always have to work hard.  That doesn’t mean that you’re not going to be successful, just that you have to work hard.  But you like to.  You’re probably one of those types that gets really nervous if you’re sitting still.
SC:  Yes.

DD:  Do you bring knitting to the movies?
SC:  On the train and on the subway, but not to the movies.  I rarely go to the movies.  I don’t like to watch a lot of visuals because it’s kind of too much for me — I get too emotional for too many days.  But I usually carry a big bag everywhere I go.  It’s kind of a bad habit.

DD:  No, it’s a good habit.  It’s like smoking, but it’s crafts. [laughs]
SC:  So true.

DD:  I knit everywhere.  I can’t sit still, so I’m always like, “I might as well get this knitting done.”
SC:  I know.

DD:  I should have brought in something I was making.  I make these retarded-looking scarves, and the stripes are all not right.  Everybody likes them anyway.
SC:  Scarves are really important.  And really practical.  But the way you construct them, they can have no practicality or no structure at all.

DD:  And it can still work as a scarf.
SC:  Exactly.

DD:  So, you have a very long lifeline.  When you were younger, things might not have been so easy for you, maybe because you couldn’t figure out how you fit into the world and what was going on.  I mean, I can tell by meeting you that you’re a very dreamy-type person, and I can see how that wouldn’t really get you in with the school crowd.
SC:  That’s really true.

DD:  You do a lot of different things, but it’s all coming from the same place.  A lot of people change their careers three times during their life, but yours is more going to be an evolution — it might evolve into something else, but it’s always going to be the same thing, just manifested differently.
SC:  That’s good to hear.

DD:  You’re going to live a very long time.  You might even live to be 100 — an incredibly long time.  You’ll have a choice, when you’re around 60, to go a different way with your life, or have a different future.  But I don’t suggest you go that way, because it ends up with a higher chance of senility.  It’s this line here, the one that tapers off and then starts fraying away.  That signifies senility.  But this line doesn’t.  It’s very strong and you’re still together.  You’d have no major accidents or huge traumas.  You have a spiritual nature.  Are you Catholic?
SC:  I was brought up both Catholic and Protestant.  So I’m a combination of both.

DD:  Because there’s something really — and I don’t mean to say it like this — but Catholic about you! [laughs]
SC:  Yes, I can imagine that.  I went to Catholic school.  My mother sent me to a special school, which was also for girls who were kind of bad, who’d gotten kicked out of every school in the state.  It was run by a good friend of hers who was a really strong woman, a nun, and it was structured so that you could design your own schedule, your own classes.  And that included your work, so you could go out and work with children or whatever you thought was important.

DD:  In Catholic School they did that?
SC:  Yes.

DD:  That’s so non-Catholic school nun.
SC:  It really helped me to understand myself.

DD:  You were really lucky.
SC:  It changed my life.  When I had been in a regular school structure I was totally unable to understand anything — besides getting D’s and F’s.

DD:  That’s what happened to me.  Straight D’s my whole school, and always late.  I made up the extra credits by building a giant sculpture of the Mayflower. [laughs]  It’s the only way I survived.  But I think that teaches you how to survive in the real world, too.  It gives you a tiny dose of what you’re going to have to deal with later.
SC:  Totally.

DD:  And fortunately, there are people out there who will let you pass because you can make a giant sculpture of the Mayflower! [laughs]
SC:  Those few people out there.

DD:  Your clothing, is it selling really well?
SC:  Well, with this collection I have the most orders I ever had.  Although it’s still not much compared to most designers.  I only know that it’s grown slowly, and I’m glad of that, because each time it grows a little bit it’s so much more for me to handle.  Now Jennifer works with me, and Kim and Andrea, and we do everything.  But I used to do all the sales, production and design, and all the sewing myself.  And I can’t say if I think it’s going to be popular, because I think it isn’t for everyone.

DD:  It’s got its weird look, its own look.  But it can look really old-style just as easily as it can look really futuristic.  It can go either way — which is more of a statement about today.  Don’t you think?
SC:  Definitely.  Whenever I make anything it’s about right now — whatever I’m working on, I think it’s about exactly what’s happening.

DD:  Your travel line is very long but straight.  It doesn’t branch off into a million places.  So you’ll go where you want.  You’ll probably just go back to the same places over and over rather than to Timbuktu ...  All the crazy places.
SC:  That makes sense.  I tend to do that.  You end up getting to understand that place each time you go back.  I think it takes a long time to really understand another place.  You know, you can go and have inspiration and all of these feelings and emotions, but then it becomes more of a larger circle, like something that’s living in you and in your head.  And then you can change from that experience.  Do you know what I mean?

DD:  Yes.
SC:  And because of my work I’ve been able to travel a lot.  Which I never would have imagined when I was younger.

DD:  Where have you been?
SC:  The most recent place is Tokyo — to present this collection.  It was amazing.  But so overwhelming that I didn’t know if I could go back.  Now I really feel that I’d rather keep going even if I’m scared.

DD:  I’m looking at your headline now, which indicates your personality — who you are when you’re alone.  You’re really introspective, hyper-sensitive to colors and to what other people think and to things around you.  You have a very long pinky, which signifies that you’re very intuitive, you run on your dreams a lot.  Your dream life and your waking life are very similar.  The only thing that separates them is that your waking life is sort of a serial dream and your dreams are ...
SC:  [laughs] That makes sense.

DD:  Your loveline shows that you’ve had very close relationships in the past, maybe three of them, but none of them run into your marriage finger — your ring finger on your right hand.  The lines that come off of that signify your loves, and you only have one — maybe two — running into your finger.  They might still be your friends.  You also have secret admirers who might not really express how they feel ...  Maybe you know, or maybe you don’t know.  But your marriage will last for a long time.  I don’t see any big problems or divorce or infidelity or any of those other things that can happen.  It seems like you’ll have to work on it to a fair degree, though.  It’s not super-easy, because you’re so dedicated to your work.  But that’s part of your appeal.  Do you have any questions you want to ask?
SC:  I don’t know ... a million questions.  I’m trying to listen the best I can and take it all in.  I’ve never done this before ...

DD:  Does it seem right so far?
SC:  Oh, yeah.

DD:  I’m sensing something about a hospital.  Did you ever work in a hospital, or have family members been in the hospital?
SC:  I’ve had a lot recently, yeah.  And I’ve been in the hospital recently because my grandmother just came out.  And I spent last Christmas in the hospital with my Mom in the emergency room, because she dislocated her shoulder.  That was crazy, because you see all of the drunk tanks when they bring the people in ...

DD:  That’s always entertaining.
SC:  Yeah.  And then, before that, my grandfather, who brought me up, he passed away with cancer and had been in the hospital.  So that’s more than I ever had before.  I was home for one day on Christmas and I was crying the whole day, but I think it’s just because I love to be home and I don’t have a lot of time right now.

DD:  You can do a lot of different things.  I know that, but it’s also indicated by your fingers.  They’re long.  You pay attention to details.  You also could have played a string instrument, and you were interested maybe in the violin or piano when you were a child, or maybe both ...
SC:  Both.  All instruments.  But I never developed it.  I would still like to.  Do you play music?

DD:  I play banjo.  I play like old martyr ballads and stuff from the 1800s.  I really like a specific era.  But your stuff is kind of coming from that place, that weird hillbilly handcrafted thing.
SC:  My grandfather played the organ every day, and also the mandolin and the accordion.  They were all instruments he found on the street and fixed.

DD:  Those are three of my favorite instruments.
SC:  I love the mandolin.

DD:  Isn’t it great?  Really crazy and Old World-sounding.
SC:  Mmm-hmm.

DD:  You have good directorial skills, but you don’t boss people around.
SC:  I hope not.

DD:  When were you born?
SC:  September 11, 1969.  I’m a Virgo.

DD:  Maybe that has something else to do with the details.
Because your stuff is all about looking really intricately at these little things.  It’s a puzzle, too.  And then you’re still confused after you’re done looking!  You just have to accept it.  “What is this?  Is this a bag?  Is this a potholder?”  You can’t figure it out.
SC:  [laughs] That’s good.

DD:  Okay, now make a fist ...  You’re going to have two children in your life.  They’ll probably be your own, because the lines are very dark.  Do you see these two wiggles that are made when you make a fist?
SC:  Yes.

DD:  Inside of those are how you count.  You have two fairly dark ones.  One of them I can tell is going to be a girl, and I think the other one is a boy — but I’m not totally sure.  You’re probably not going to have them for five or six more years.  You’re going to be really into them, and you’ll still have time for them, too.  By that time, your life will have adjusted to that.  You’ll be very close to them your whole life.  And I’m almost positive they’re your own, because these lines are dark.  Some palms have fainter lines.  Really faint ones can signify miscarriages or abortions.  Other faint lines can signify that you’re close to someone else’s child or you adopt a child.  Then lines that have a Y, that split out like in a Y, are often twins.  You don’t have that.  I’m just saying those are other types.
SC:  I’m glad.

DD:  You don’t want twins.
SC:  It would be hard.

DD:  Do you have brothers and sisters?
SC:  I have a half-sister.

DD:  Because I pictured your childhood as being by yourself a lot ...
SC:  I was an only child.

DD:  I didn’t really see a lot of kids in you.
SC:  There weren’t.  It was all adults.  I have a half-sister, who’s 6 — Eden.  I’m very close to her, but I don’t see her a lot.  And also she’s a little girl.

DD:  Well, now you can be kind of like her fairy godmother.
SC:  Yeah, I am her godmother anyway.

DD:  Do you make her dolls and things?
SC:  Mmm-hmm.  We send back and forth.  I send her dolls and she made me that pine cone angel with the paper face.

DD:  So is there anything else you want to talk about?
SC:  Umm ... I just feel a little dizzy from all the information.

DD:  Yeah, palms are kind of overwhelming, because it’s your entire life suddenly in your hand.
SC:  You bring it all up ... in the middle of the day, and I’m here making my skirts. [laughs]  It makes me very floaty.  Now I’ll just float back to my sewing machine.

© index magazinegelatin1
Susan Cianciolo by Rosalie Knox, 1999


Copyright © 2008 index Magazine and index Worldwide. All rights reserved.
Site Design: Teddy Blanks. All photos by index photographers: Leeta Harding, Richard Kern, David Ortega, Ryan McGinley, Terry Richardson, and Juergen Teller