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Celebrating Valentine’s Day with Elena Kanagy-Loux

Feb. 14, 2018
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Elena Kanagy-Loux is a lace-maker and historian living in Brooklyn, New York. Although she’s lived in New York for over a decade, Elena’s upbringing was global: her grandparents were Amish missionaries in Japan after WWII. Elena estimates that while growing up, she spent a third of her time in Japan, Pennsylvania, and Oregon—where there was little cultural overlap. The influence of each of these cultures is represented in Elena’s personal style, mixed with historical art movements, literature, and always a tinge of occult. 

I visited Elena at her Brooklyn apartment to discuss her favorite holiday—Valentine’s Day! Her love of the holiday primarily comes from its aesthetic of pink, red, frills, lace, and flowers. She is also interested in the history and meaning behind Valentine’s Day; however, she feels that its message of love should not exclusively apply to romance.

“I love Valentine’s Day, but I also get why some people don’t love it,” she tells me. “I love the idea of love and romance, but in Western society we have such a limited idea of what that should look like: heteronormative, and you have to get married and have kids, and that’s the true end goal of romance. I love Valentine’s Day because it’s love for love’s sake.” 

Elena also mentioned another holiday—Galentine's Day—which originated on a TV show and has translated into real practice (much like Festivus). February 13 is a day for “ladies celebrating ladies,” according to the character Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation. “You can have love and romance between friends,” Elena tells me. “It doesn’t have to be the Hallmark cheesy crap.”

Elena would love for Valentine’s Day celebrations to move away from romance and cliché in favor of greater focus on the holiday's warm and rosy aesthetics. One way to do this is to buy yourself flowers—it’s undeniable that your favorite flowers can always bring a smile to your face! “There's something about coming home to flowers,” Elena states. “Especially the way mine are placed: they’re the first thing I see when I enter my apartment. I really enjoy that.”

There’s no reason to depend on flowers being a gift from another. This Valentine’s Day, visit a florist and pick out flowers that bring you joy. Although they are ephemeral, a fresh bouquet brightens up your living space like nothing else can.

“I don’t even get expensive flowers,” Elena continues. “These were seven dollars at the bodega. You don't need to spend a lot of money on flowers in New York City—I don’t know about elsewhere. In New York we have cheap manicures and cheap flowers. Everything else is more expensive, but those are cheapest here!"

Elena also suggests listening to podcasts, either as a way to help wind down in a bath or even while working. “Taking a bath and listening to a podcast after a crazy week or a long, stressful day makes me feel better. When I’m feeling stressed, or feeling down, or even when I’m feeling good—it makes me feel great. And I love learning about history, so some of my favorite podcasts are history-related. Even if I’m just relaxing, I feel like I’m still learning something, which is cool.”

Elena’s current favorite podcasts are Gastropod, Stuff You Missed in History Class, You Must Remember This, and The Witch Wave. “Gastropod is super amazing,” she raves. “They’ve done the history of all kinds of stuff: everything from marshmallow fluff to hot sauce to the history of breakfast—they also did cannibalism! It’s just so interesting.”

As one would expect a lace-maker to be, Elena is enthusiastic about arts and crafts. “There’s no better therapy for me than making stuff,” Elena tells me as we assemble a collage of handmade valentines and paper doilies. “If I’m not working on something, I'll get depressed, or I won't be motivated to start something. But once I get into making it, I’m so glad.” 

If you feel that you’re in a rut, creative, emotional, or otherwise, take Elena’s advice and get your hands and your mind working on some handmade valentines—either for yourself, a loved one, or a friend!

Elena made the hand decoration pictured above using a technique called Scherenschnitte, which is German for "scissor cuts". This Swiss and German folk art tradition was brought to the United States through Pennsylvania Dutch communities in the eighteenth century. On the history of Scherenschnitte, Elena explains, “It’s this paper cutting technique used to make really elaborate handmade valentines, but also little mementos. They would also do really elaborate cutwork that’s almost lace-like.” This specific form of weaving cut paper is of Swiss origin. Elena adds, “Even though I haven’t done that with my family, specifically, I know that it’s related to my heritage.”

“I always love to make treats, even if they don’t turn out perfectly, just because it’s a fun thing to do,” Elena tells me while decorating vegan sugar cookies with a tube of red frosting. “I’m always more aesthetically motivated anyway, so I don’t really care if they taste good!” She has a stash of cookie-cutters and baking decorations, and she's excited to get to use them.

“I know there’s the Hallmark Valentine’s Day thing—there’s all this pressure where women are supposed to eat chocolate, but also be thin, and it’s bullshit. For me it's about the pleasure of eating, and we all deserve to treat ourselves. We should not be worrying about ‘Oh no, I ate chocolate so I have to go to the gym’. No, fuck that. You should just eat delicious cookies, vegan or gluten free, or however, and enjoy. And bake them for yourself instead of waiting for someone to bring them to you.”

Elena also encourages us all to dress festively. Her ensemble for the day channeled a classic Valentine’s Day motif of a “little devil”: her devil bonnet and collar are Sunshine By Hester, her blouse is handmade, and her boxers are vintage. Her red garters and harness are from Bordelle, stockings are Agent Provocateur, and shoes are Vivienne Westwood.

I asked Elena if she could recall one of her best Valentine’s Day memories. After some thought, she answers: “Stella Rose and I did a Valentine’s Day-themed Doll Eyes collection where we made these giant heart costumes, and we did an event inspired by my friend Josh who does Pidgin Doll. He had made this Grace Jones doll with this giant red heart outfit, and I was like, ‘Oh my god.’ We decided to do a little event together, so we made this collection of giant heart outfits, and we had matching accessories and hats. It was just a really fun celebration with our friends.”