“I’m an old emerging artist,” jokes Mia Fonssagrives Solow once we meet a couple of week earlier than her new present, Robots/Femmebots, opens at Findlay Galleries in New York. We’re in an area she calls her “holding area,” surrounded by her creations: robotic-like sculptures, a few of which stand about six ft tall. Despite being fabricated from heavy metals, they exude persona—as does their charming maker, whose actual-life story beats any fictional plot, sci-fi or in any other case.

Though Fonssagrives Solow has been engaged on these sculptures for less than about 10 years, she has a prolonged inventive pedigree. She was raised amongst creatives: Her father, Fernand Fonssagrives, was a photographer; her mom, Lisa Fonssagrives, a well-known mannequin within the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s; and her stepfather was none apart from Irving Penn. (Penn and Lisa Fonssagrives met on a Vogue shoot in 1947; they married in 1950 after the mannequin’s divorce.) And within the 1960s, Fonssagrives Solow co-owned a trend home in Paris with designer Vicky Tiel, known as Mia & Vicky, which was backed by Elizabeth Taylor (amongst others). Today, she’s continually customizing her garments. “If I see something I like, I know I have to totally change it.” That might imply including embellishment to a Prada raincoat or making clothes from Hermes scarves. “The fashion brain never stops, never stops. It’s always there,” she says.

The robots took place when she discovered herself housebound throughout a blizzard. Unable to get rid of the rubbish or recycling (pickup companies had been suspended), she started repurposing the supplies that had been accumulating: eye-drop caps and empty glue bottles, Tea Forté containers, discarded circuit boards, Kleenex packing containers, Tide containers, and a lone swim flipper. Once assembled, she forged the patched-collectively buildings in metallic, and the originals melted away. With its repurposing of discarded supplies, it’s a course of that speaks to present, severe themes of sustainability, however Fonssagrives Solow sees comedy in her creations as properly: “My robots are humorous,” she says.

Among the individuals who have impressed the artist’s creations and make, albeit disguised, cameos within the new present: Lisa Fonssagrives (sporting Christian Dior and Elsa Schiaparelli), Irving Penn, a Bond Girl, the architect Peter Marino, and Madonna in her Jean Paul Gaultier cone bra—a forged of characters that mirror her wealthy and different life. Here the artist walks us by way of a number of the experiences which have had the best affect upon her.

When did you first uncover your inventive calling?

At Dalton in sixth grade. My father and Dick Avedon shared a studio. When I completed faculty, I might go to that studio and they’d give me the leftover paper from the photograph shoot, and I might paint or draw these homes that had been black with tooth within the home windows. I received kicked out of the artwork class for portray these weird pictures. The artwork instructor mentioned, “This is disturbing for the other children. Maybe you should take something else.” She mentioned, “Take shop. It’s only boys, but you’ll be fine.” I cherished it. At the tip of the category, I introduced dwelling a field that I’d made to present my father for his correspondence. And then I made a stand for Irving [Penn] to place his footwear on, as a result of he’d pay me 1 / 4 for sharpening them.

“My mother,” said Mia Fonssagrive Solow, “called herself a clothes hanger.”

What had been your mother and father like?

My mom taught me every little thing—learn how to trip a horse, learn how to care for horses. You know, you don’t graduate from faculty in Sweden if you happen to can’t change a tire. My father was very bohemian. I imply, if there was a hurricane, we’d get within the Studebaker and drive out to Montauk to take a look at the waves. Nature was his nice ardour. We would dive for mussels and then we’d prepare dinner them: That was known as residing off the land. We didn’t have a lot cash.

Then Irving got here into my life, and he taught me to have a rigorous work ethic. My father didn’t have a piece ethic. It was simply joie de vivre. Irving had a inflexible work ethic: You go to work at eight and you permit at 5 and you permit your work behind. It was at all times like that, it doesn’t matter what he was doing. It rubbed off.

Mia Fonssagrives

When did you uncover trend?

I went to an all-ladies boarding faculty [after Dalton]. In the brochure it mentioned, “Give your child a clothes allowance so they can make something to wear on the weekends.” When I requested my mom about it, she mentioned, “Here’s a piece of fabric; sew yourself whatever you want.” So I lay down on the ground, and I made a form and I sewed it collectively. I used to be terribly proud after I lastly received it proper. I feel I used to be 12 on the time.

From a 1963 *Vogue* photo essay, “Irving Penn’s Love letter to a Farm,” Lisa Fonssagrives and Fido.

Out on the farm in Huntington [the Penns’ country residence], we’d have breakfast and then all people went to their work. My mom was portray on the time, Irving was doing platinum prints, I had the stitching room to myself, and my brother Tom was welding. Every day, Irving would say, “What are you going to do in life? What are you going to be?” It was a query that drove me nuts. At 13, I did not have a solution, however he anticipated a solution.

From a 1963 *Vogue* photo essay, “Irving Penn’s Love letter to a Farm,” Lisa Fonssagrives Penn and Mia Fonssagrives.

I began making clothes for my mom, and my mom would put on them, and then her buddies would purchase them for 35 bucks. I used these lovely flower prints that appeared very very similar to what Pucci would find yourself utilizing. So I assumed, Okay, now I do know what I’m going to do—I’m going to go to Parsons. I received a component-time scholarship, and then I labored all summer time to pay for the remainder. As quickly as I discovered to make a sleeve, I might cost extra for the garments.

Mia Fonssagrives, *left,* and Vicki Tiel in Paris, 1966.

Can you inform us about assembly Vicky Tiel and beginning your trend enterprise?

Vicky and I turned buddies instantly at Parsons. If somebody advised us, “That’s how you shouldn’t dress,” we thought, This is how we should always gown. But we’re very, very completely different. After Parsons we did this trend present and Eugenia Sheppard [the New York Herald Tribune’s fashion journalist] wrote about it. And then we went to Paris.

We took a ship over with every little thing: our stitching machines from faculty, her canine, my skis. I had an task from Sears and Roebuck to report on what was happening in Paris, and Vicky went there with $250 her dad gave her. The first yr, we had been consuming little or no. I might purchase an egg and Vicky would purchase two cigarettes. Vicky spoke French, however I didn’t as a result of we spoke Swedish at dwelling. (My father was French, however he spoke Swedish.) So I didn’t converse French, however once we received to Paris, I found I had a carte d’identité, which you wanted to personal a constructing, to do any work, to start out a enterprise.

We discovered an area within the constructing of Madeleine Castaing on Rue Bonaparte. I used to be answerable for renovating it—the fabric, laborious issues—and Vicky was answerable for pillows and mirrors and what’s known as the flou. We had $50,000 from a deal we’d made to promote our story to Paramount, and Elizabeth Taylor gave us one other $50,000, which we paid again after the primary yr.

Elizabeth Taylor at a 1968 fashion show of Mia Fonssagrives and Vicki Tiel’s designs.

What was Paris like then?

Paris within the 1960s was heaven. In Paris, every little thing is gentle corners. You can go and have a restaurant au lait any time of day; you may go at midnight and have oysters. I wore miniskirts and had my hair lengthy and brown and wild. In your 20s you are able to do that. My hair turned white after an appendix operation I had later in my 20s. I had come again to America, and my mom knew Mr. Kenneth [Battelle, the hairdresser who did Jackie Kennedy’s hair], and he mentioned, “Mia, you can have your hair long and wild, but it has to look elegant. There’s nothing worse than a gray-haired witch. You must keep it kempt.” So I mentioned, “Okay, Kenneth. Let’s cut it so it looks kempt.” And he did.

Mia Fonssagrives at Maxims, 1968.

So you’re working round Paris along with your lovely hair and your miniskirts. What’s subsequent?

And then it was sufficient. Vicky fell in love with the make-up artist for Elizabeth [Taylor], and I married Louis Féraud. I used to be moving into my late 20s, and I assumed, I really need kids, and he needed to go paint in Tahiti, and I needed to study woodworking. So we delicately disengaged. I went straight out to California and determined I might keep there. Vicky received upset, however it was a blessing in a method for her, as a result of I simply mentioned, “Keep it all.” She cherished these frilly, lovely night cocktail clothes. And I’m science-fiction. The enterprise didn’t want two folks. [So Mia & Vicky became Vicky Tiel.]

I discovered woodworking in a store in Topanga Canyon the place there was a household of boys that constructed furnishings. They confirmed me learn how to work with the heavy equipment, and they let me use the store at evening after they had been completed. I made big items. When I got here again to the East Coast, I met my husband, [Sheldon Solow], and we went on a visit to Greece, the place the Cycladic items actually impacted me.

Is sustainability one thing that you consider?

Constantly. We’ve destroyed the earth as we all know it. But my artwork isn’t going to maintain both; it’s not going to outlive what’s coming.

And how have you ever organized the present exhibition?

Well, there are humorous, dysfunctional robots. We have so many busts of Caesar, Caligula, and all of these guys. I assumed, I’m going to make busts of a number of the those that I like. There’s additionally a sculpture of Madonna, in her Jean Paul Gaultier bronze bra. (It’s constructed from the tops of my eye drops.)

How would you describe your bots?

They’re not robots that do something. I imply, I might love certainly one of them to convey me breakfast. They do have personalities, and all of them have names. My robots are humorous concepts of what robots could possibly be, as an alternative of the fearful form of robotic that’s going to take over. The fembots additionally present the facility and power of girls. There are even some sculptures of my mom. She was one of many authentic fembots in my thoughts.

Robots/Femmebots is on view at Findlay Galleries from September 12 to October 12.

This interview has been edited for readability and concision.