Cassandra Saulter offers a warm welcome to her studio, explaining within moments that it houses two distinct aspects of her work.
It’s “not that far-fetched,” she said, that the seemingly diverse pursuits of clothing design and fine art exist side by side in this space tucked into a side street in Nelsonville.
“People separate clothing and art as far as what it is that you do, but I can’t,” she added.
And that aptly seems to sum up the creative life of Saulter, a Westchester-raised artist now living in Cold Spring: All is part of the artistic whole.
That whole includes painting, sculpture and some 40 years behind the scenes in film and television, including Emmy Award-nominated makeup work.
Saulter proudly points to a family history of creativity.
“My grandmother was an amazing tailor,” she said, noting she “made all our clothes.”
Her grandfather, she said, designed and built his own house, while her parents were both involved in art and design.
“That was my education before I even started my art education.”
Born in Queens, Saulter would spend summers there with her grandparents and the rest of the year in Westchester. To this day, she credits the strong art and music programming at Lakeland High School in Shrub Oak with giving her an edge.
She would go on to study at the Kansas City Art Institute in Missouri, then the Art Institute of Chicago, soon focusing on costume work.
“I took cutting, draping and patternmaking from a woman who worked with Dior,” she said. She would return to New York to pursue her own course of study, which included classes at The Art Students League of New York.
“Then I had the good fortune of working with Ann Roth, who was nominated for not one, not two but three Tonys this year,” for work on “The Iceman Cometh,” “Three Tall Women” and “Carousel.”
“She gave me a shot and taught me so much.”
Though living in New York City for decades, save for a five-year stint in Italy, Saulter always maintained ties to the region. She speaks of the famed Croton-on-Hudson yarn destination, The Niddy Noddy; of Cold Spring designers Meg Staley and Jerry Gretzinger; and even her own 1970s attempt at founding a school of dance, music and art in Cold Spring, a venture she said was ahead of its time.
In the entertainment industry, Saulter’s costume work gave way to set design and eventually, makeup, which she said was “full circle,” coming “back to the actor and character.”
Over the years, she worked on movies such as “Dolores Claiborne,” “Black Swan” and “Inside Llewyn Davis,” among many others.
“All of my career, the very favorite jobs were the musicals,” she said, mentioning “The Wiz” and working with Bob Fosse on “All That Jazz.”
Throughout, it was always about being part of a team, “creating a world of magic.”
Flipping Fur is Saulter’s latest creative effort, a relatively new business in which she turns rarely worn and often-neglected furs into stunning new fashions.
“I feel very excited about being able to work for myself,” after having spent years “making other divas look fabulous.”
Flipping Fur was sparked by her own rabbit coat that she refashioned, turning it inside out for starters.
“I didn’t go anywhere without people saying, ‘Where did you get that coat?’”
In time, people began asking her to transform their own furs.
Saulter said she works with furs that are often, “either out of date or people feel it’s inappropriate to wear.”
They do, though, often have sentimental value, a grandmother’s legacy or a mother’s favorite.
“That’s why I love doing the fur. There’s a sentimentality to it.”
Her awareness of the polarizing aspect of fur is evidenced on Flipping Fur’s Instagram page — “Repurposing & redesigning fur is a way of honoring an animal spirit for its ultimate sacrifice. I do not advocate killing animals for their fur.”
And it’s reiterated in person, “If you throw the fur away or (are) hiding it until it gets moldy, then you’re killing it twice.”
Her approach most often turns the fur inside out, creating a shearling look, which she likens to the Inuit style.
“My grandmother taught me how to work with fur,” she said. “It’s all by hand, so it’s couture.”
There are jackets and coats, hats and home goods, such as throws.
“My fashion is all one-of-a-kind, just like my art. That’s how I treat my fashions because I’m not going into production.”
There’s the client, for example, who had a full-length mink coat, given to her by the husband she was now divorcing.
“She didn’t want it to be a coat anymore, so I made it into this fabulous blanket,” that integrated embroidered silk.
“She was so happy. It was transformed — and it was sort of a metaphor for her life.”
She looks over a rack of furs ready for their turn, work to be “put together like a puzzle.”
She said she “made a coat for The Penguin,” at the request of costume designer John Glaser for the TV series “Gotham,” and points to a 1970s long sweater of her mother’s that has also been refashioned into a contemporary jacket, along with a selection of other designs.
“I’m going to start designing things just to go with these sweaters.”
Saulter has purposely cut back on her work in the entertainment field.
Now, “I can just relax and make art.”
She is supposed to be retired, though is sometimes tempted back as she was for the 2017
Hugh Jackman vehicle “The Greatest Showman” to more recently, Jim Jarmusch’s summertime filming in Kingston.
Her creative circle is wide and her new projects feature collaborators who include international fashion photographer Donna DeMari (Italian Vogue, British Elle), Hudson Valley photographer Ryon Odneal and horse trainer Cari Swanson.
“Here I am retired, finally able to do my work full time, and that’s what I’ve discovered,” she said. “Because I’ve had 40 years in show business — costumes, scenery and makeup — I’m used to collaborating.”
Another new project is the Carnival of Art and Fashion, which is to be introduced in late September with an avant-garde repurposed fashion-on-horseback show at this year’s edition of Collaborative Concepts, the outdoor multidisciplinary project held each year at Saunders Farm in Garrison. The Carnival project will officially launch next year.
She’s also working on a tarot-themed project and expanding her clothing designs.
Between work on the furs, which has been seasonal, Saulter has been working on her fine art and started to frame “decades of work” with an eye on exhibitions.
For Saulter, though, she’s not doing any of her art for praise — but like anyone, she’s not opposed to some attention.
It’s like her sculpture a few years ago at Collaborative Concepts at Saunders Farm, where the artwork is placed throughout acres where cows freely roam.
As she recalls, everyone was creating these big “natural” pieces, while Saulter’s design was a nest made out of vinyl — one that in the sunset became almost illuminated.
“All these cows surrounded and started mooing — and I said, ‘That’s probably the best art review I ever received.’”
This article originally appeared in WAG magazine, the sister publication of the Westchester County Business Journal.