Bailey Hunter Is A Quiet Genius Who Will Change The Way You Think
The creative director of The Elder Statesman and founder of her own brand, Tigra Tigra, grounds her creative process in offline interactions. It's something we can all learn from.
Photos by Chuck Grant
Bailey Hunter is an anomaly. As the creative director of LA-based knitwear brand The Elder Statesman and founder of her own line, Tigra Tigra, she is what some might call a quiet genius. Her Instagram is private and her roles and titles are not listed in her bio. She shares her work online, but her true output lives off social media and on billboards, in shop windows, and in Tigra Tigra boxes. Her processes take place in her studio, on set, and in collaboration with friends and other makers. Bailey is behind the scenes, where most quiet geniuses are. In other words, she embodies the definition of an aspirational creative person today: She exists online, but her work and life are unfolding offline, in real time.
The designer’s aforementioned approach is not calculated — this is just how Bailey’s brain works. “I think a lot about how when you are a child, you don’t have all these constructs and pressures to create artwork. You just do what feels right and you focus on simple pleasures,” she says. “Then, you are confronted with real life… I think the question of whether or not art and money are symbiotic or a paradox is a constant theme in my work. I like to create entire worlds that I feel represent an idea or feeling, and then I work through the elements of fabric, texture, clothing, character, time, and place.”
Bailey is known for the worlds she creates. The most memorable, perhaps, is the one she brought to life in The Elder Statesman pre-fall 2022 campaign, a film she wrote and directed. The video opens with a globe-panning introduction before landing in Portland, Jamaica. In under three minutes, an array of island locals are seen kicking a soccer ball, playing records, and listening to the local radio, through which a voice speaks universal platitudes: “All we must do is come together as one, so we can survive.” At the end of the video, we zoom out of Jamaica and return to a view of earth, where the viewer is observing life in Portland from a spaceship. This is a quintessential example of Bailey’s work. Indeed, she creates worlds — but first, she identifies its soul, translates its essence, and blends it with her own technicolored interpretation.
The artist got her start at Parsons School of Design, where she studied writing, poetry, photography and image making. “I think all of these things played into my love of visual culture,” she says. After graduating, she worked a number of freelance gigs, one of which was assisting a woman who was designing and selling cashmere textiles out of Bikaner, India. “She only sold privately from her studio in New York and through trunk shoes,” Bailey recalls. “I think this really opened me up to the idea that you don’t have to conform to a specific industry template to have a business.”
After spending a decade in New York, Hunter moved to Los Angeles and began working for The Elder Statesman. There, she’s been creative director since 2019, but her tenure with the brand began eight years ago. Around the same time, in 2016, Bailey began working on her own project — Tigra Tigra. It’s in the balance between these two gigs that Bailey has carved out her own unique approach to working in the fashion industry. “Fashion in general has a lot to do with systemic social construct, and I really try to explore this, and twist and manipulate it and create a new perspective of what is luxury, or what is fashion in my work,” she tells me. “I think I’ve done this through themes in video work I’ve directed, and also with fabric and garment construction.”
At The Elder Statesman, Bailey is concepting and directing campaigns and product launches (the brand’s editorial component, The Wormhole, houses just a fraction of her work) and The Elder Statesman x Zegna is her most recent design brainchild. Meanwhile, at her own garment and textile studio, Tigra Tigra, Bailey is letting her imagination run wild.
Her first stint after college selling cashmere textiles and visit to India in 2012 sparked her interest in a slower approach to clothing production — one that dates back to the Ottoman Empire. Since then, she has returned to India (specifically, Gujarat) to learn about traditional weaving techniques and partner with local artists to bring the highly sought-after silk dresses of Tigra Tigra to life. TLDR: The entire Tigra Tigra collection is made in India by hand with hand-dyed textiles, sans electricity. “I think a lot of luxury fashion has this very glamorous and sleek façade. There often is a lot of smoke and mirrors around how things are made,” Bailey says. “With Tigra, the beauty of it is in the nitty gritty details of how it’s made. I try to not design anything that looks too precious or too slick, it has to feel organic and a bit disorienting.”
The first question one might ask after learning about Bailey’s output between her two aforementioned gigs is, how? (Reader, she is also a mom of two kids.) Her answer debunks the idea of balance. “When you’re an artist I think there is very little divide between what is work and what is life. It’s all one thing for me, and it can be bad or good depending on the day,” she says candidly. “There is a lot that comes with creating work you are proud of and that has integrity, working for a brand, raising children – there is pressure, guilt, happiness, and fear. Sometimes it’s balanced and sometimes it’s not.”
Bailey maintains sanity (sometimes) with a few learned tricks of the trade. “I am always shuffling between my house, my studio, the factory – I need the different environments to keep from getting too stale. It’s important for me to have the mix,” she says. “In my role, you need to understand the process, you have to understand the team you are working with and where they are coming from – then you can go off and come up with creative ideas. But if you don’t understand the process, you’ll be sending everyone off into space.”
Although Bailey keeps her galaxy brain grounded in processes and structure, she still believes artists are meant to live outside the box. “I think in the past, people were much more fluid in terms of what it meant to be an artist. You could have an idea and it could be a piece of clothing, or a painting, or a book, or a photograph,” she says. “Now with mass consumerism and capitalism, you are much more likely to get put into a box of ‘designer’ or ‘art director’. I think it’s most natural to always be evolving and not be too tied down to one thing. You need to give yourself room to explore, make mistakes, and try new things. I think this goes hand in hand with avoiding burnout. If you stay in a little box forever, you’re never going to grow.”
The creative director also avoids burnout through inspiration — but not the kind everyone else is finding on the internet. Bailey prefers a real universe to a fake one with rules and algorithms that dictate what is cool or not, where most things look the same. “The best inspiration comes through real life — an interaction at the DMV for example, or an article I read that inspires a whole story.” She is also finding joy in another pure and unconditioned source of inspiration: her little ones.
“My kids are really inspiring to me because they aren’t aware of facades yet. They don’t have pressures of finances and people,” she says. "They see the world in a really simple but also in a very complex way and they ask questions that make me see things in a whole new light."
To an outsider, it may seem as though Bailey has made it. She’s leading a luxury brand with her unique vision, has managed to build a company, and has created a family of her own. But she demystifies the idea of a final destination. “When I was 21, I had so much anxiety and pressure to ‘make it.’ I thought I knew what that meant at the time, but as I get older, I realize there is no ‘it’ – it’s just you and the people that you love and who love you,” she says. And here’s the kicker, the underlying knowledge all quiet geniuses have, a perspective that is evident throughout Bailey’s output: “Only you can validate yourself, do work with integrity and love your people deeply everyday – there is really nothing else to it.”
In collaboration with Urban Outfitters and Dickies, we commissioned a series of stories that feature creative leaders who offer their insight on the “new” work world.