Sugar Vendil is a passionate, outspoken artist who has been paving her own path in the New York music scene for over a decade. She started her contemporary classical music ensemble, The Nouveau Classical Project (NCP), as a way to show how classical music can be powerful and relevant in our current times. She began by incorporating her love for fashion by collaborating with fashion designers for concert-wear and has since expanded to partnering with all kinds of artists, choreographers, and composers to create multidisciplinary performances and original programming.
NOT has styled The Nouveau Classical Project for multiple concerts, including last year's album release at Lincoln Center's David Rubinstein Atrium. Another memorable collaboration was Sacred Profane where the repertoire explored human polarity from stately composure to total abandonment (think: operatic song cycle filled with profanity) - inspiring NOT to design custom clothing that likewise tore itself apart throughout the course of the program. Sugar is at the cusp of new evolutions and we were excited to sit down for a chat in her personal creative space!
TELL ME WHAT YOU DO AND HOW YOU GOT STARTED.
I’m a composer, pianist, and interdisciplinary artist. Piano came first; I received both my Masters and Bachelors in Music, and over time, I became more interested in making my own work.
I started my career with The Nouveau Classical Project, which started during grad school as a concert series, then transitioned to being a music ensemble, with $175. The economy was really bad. There was no Kickstarter where you could raise an instant $3K with a zero track record. I raised my first $3K with that $175, taking a risk and booking the Howard Gilman Space at the then newly-opened Baryshnikov Arts Center. I had a very DIY fundraising event and had to hustle and sell tickets to make it happen. I could only pay my musicians $70/each because everything was dependent on ticket sales. After this first concert, I luckily was able to get some wonderful, supportive people on my board (some of who are still on today!).
Sugar at her piano.
WHAT PROJECTS ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW?
I’m working on a piece called “Antonym” that is about the opposite of nostalgia, going deep into the residue of dark childhood memories in the context of all three tenses (past, present, future) and the four seasons in New York. I’m also writing a piece for NCP that is being supported by Chamber Music America. And I’m launching my new company in spring 2020, which will house my compositions, performances, and a regular series or festival.
Sketching and taking notes for new ideas.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE THE MOST ABOUT YOUR WORK?
I love the process of creating, working with people I adore, and I love sharing my work and connecting with audiences.
Sugar Vendil playing her toy piano.
WHAT IS ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE "SECRET SPOTS" IN NEW YORK CITY?
It’s not such a secret, but Tim Ho Wan on 9th Ave.
WHAT PURCHASE OF $100 OR LESS HAS MOST IMPROVED YOUR LIFE RECENTLY?
Getting a class card at Movement Research. $60 for 5 classes. I love movement and dance so much. It’s the only form of exercise I’m willing to do regularly. I have one more purchase: a self-draining soap dish. No more plastic soap bottles!
DESCRIBE A MEMORY OR FEELING YOU HAVE WEARING ONE OF YOUR NOT PIECES.
I love my purple Side Sheer pants. They’re so unique and interesting, and they tend to catch peoples’ eyes. I often get compliments on them. And the pleasure is not so much in that I love being complimented (I do) but rather the fact that it sparks a little positive interaction with strangers. And that is what I love, more than anything about style and the ritual of dressing (as in, clothing, not condiments…I hate salad!).
Reading aloud a book by Yoko Ono.
WE'VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT EVOLUTIONS AND TRANSITIONS. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE EVOLUTIONS YOU'RE GOING THROUGH RIGHT NOW? HOW HAS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MUSIC AND FASHION EVOLVED IN YOUR WORK?
I have spent over a decade performing and producing projects with NCP, and I’m laser-focused on my own creative work (composition, interdisciplinary performance, collaboration) more intensely these days. It’s crazy because I never imagined that this is where I’d be right now, making things, but when I think back, I can see that the seeds were always there, but buried deeply.
When I started NCP, the landscape was very different. I wanted to incorporate fashion to breathe new life into classical music concerts. Yes, this had existed before, but it was still not commonplace and things were more conservative. For example, after my Times profile came out in 2012, someone linked to it and posted “How you know the world is ending.” (I have this screencapped, by the way.) And it’s now so typical for musicians to collaborate with a designer, or to incorporate fashion or personal style in some way.
In regards to how the relationship between music and fashion has evolved in my work, I’m not quite sure. If I’m being honest—and I am, to a fault—maybe it hasn’t evolved much. If anything, it’s about to be more personal, and the fashion collaborations are going to be deeper, because now that I am composing, I am writing for specific people I know, often people I have spent a lot of time with in a rehearsal studio. Like my music, the fashion is going to be so much more about the bodies that inhabit it, beyond abstract ideas.
Shop what Sugar wore: