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“I’m drawn to pieces that are unique, strong and interesting,” Culver says about her secondhand shopping habits. She picked up this wicker strawberry purse at a thrift store for a song and says it is “pretty much the best thing I’ve ever seen.” (Photo courtesy Ethan Hickerson)
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Culver says that she particularly “loves getting dressed to go out,” because it gives her a chance to be totally free and experimental with her style. We love the idea of pairing a romantic sheer lace blouse with a edgier neon bralette for cocktails and dancing in the summer. (Photo courtesy Ethan Hickerson)
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“I’m from Virginia Beach, so water is important to me — a big inspiration. It’s everything and nothing, you know?” You can see that connection in many of Culver's original pieces; the organic shapes and colors are a direct link to the natural world. (Photo courtesy Ethan Hickerson)
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It’s Culver’s inherent positive energy and natural curiosity that keep her going from her nine-to-five straight to her studio. “I’m never bored and I love everything,” she says. (Photo courtesy Ethan Hickerson)
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“If I make something I don’t like, I know I can eventually make something out of it I do like,” Culver says of her artistic process. She says it’s important for her to keep creating, even when she’s feeling uninspired, to stay motivated. (Photo courtesy Ethan Hickerson)
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Speaking of inspiration, Culver counts her travels, Monument Avenue runs, watching Sofia Coppola’s "Marie Antoinette" and cooking as ways to stay engaged and inspired in both her art and fashion choices. (Photo courtesy Ethan Hickerson)
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In the weeks since we met, Culver has opened an online shop where anyone can buy one of her many cheery, colorful prints (I’ve also bought my first tropical house plant in the intervening time, but that’s neither here nor there). (Photo courtesy Ethan Hickerson)
“I love anyone who is obsessed with palm trees,” Marleigh Culver tells me over two glasses of rosé at Saison Market, all of us slightly dewy from the humidity on a languid summer evening in July. We were bonding over our mutual love of the tropical tree; her palm tree philosophy is such that if you dig them, you’re probably a chill, positive person who, you know, enjoys life. Which — spoiler alert — is exactly the kind of person Culver is herself.
We’d just met at her nearby apartment a half an hour earlier, where I fangirled over her lush paradise of an apartment, plants occupying every available corner and surface with her artwork and personal trinkets adorning the walls. “I’m a Pisces, so I love creating an environment for myself,” she says, and after spending a couple hours with her, I realize her magpie tendencies are just an extension of her aesthetically driven life in RVA.
Culver’s route to Richmond is a circuitous one. The Virginia Beach native graduated from VCU in 2008 with a degree in graphic design and immediately moved to Chicago for a spell before landing back in Virginia Beach. It wasn’t until 2013 that Culver decided to give Richmond another go and moved back after she scored a coveted position at Need Supply Co. as a graphic designer.
Since then, Culver has taken on a variety of creative digital roles for the local clothing company in addition to her daily graphic design duties. She helps manage their Instagram account, maintains their Tumblr page and provides art direction for product and editorial photo shoots. It’s a fulfilling, fast-paced job and one Culver enjoys since it so seamlessly blends together her love of fashion and art.
But Culver’s artistic output doesn’t stop there. Most evenings, after trekking home from Carytown, Culver will sit at her in-home studio to work on both her freelancing and personal art projects. She’s recently started designing wedding invitations, which is something she finds particularly rewarding. She enjoys the challenge of translating a couple’s personality and love story into something visual in a way that says something about who they are as people.
It’s that connection between the emotional and visual that informs her personal art — and her personal style. “I’m always trying to translate emotions into something you can look at,” she says, which is why so much of her work is abstract. As a viewer, you’re able to provide your own emotional context for Culver’s work, making it universally relatable.
So relatable, in fact, that Culver was recently tapped by Teen Vogue to illustrate their horoscope page with her own versions of the 12 zodiac signs. It was a major artistic coup during a self-proclaimed “experimentation period,” where Culver is figuring out the direction she sees her work headed.
When I asked Culver how her art and style sense inform one another, she paused, laughing: “That’s a good question.” It’s obvious that the two are organically linked in her mind, though she said that ultimately it’s the lines, silhouettes, prints and colors of her artwork that inform her fashion choices.
Since Need has such a clearly defined minimalist aesthetic, Culver says her own style has definitely swung to the simpler side since starting her job there. She says that “pre-Need, I was all about texture and color,” recalling a pair of patterned harem pants from 2010 fondly, if not a bit woefully.
And while she may be all about the clean lines and monochromatic color stories between nine and five, Culver indulges her artistic side, fashion-wise, in her off hours.
She describes her personal aesthetic as “vintage-inspired, with high-waisted pants, colorful, weird silhouettes and romantic details.” She’s a big fan of Italian street style and counts Gucci among her fave designers. On this particular night, Culver was rocking patent ankle boots, Bardot bangs and a striped trapeze dress, totally playing into that Twiggy-meets-Jake Birkin vibe that Culver was just describing.
Culver says she’s still “figuring out what I want to do” when it comes to her artistic career, and I can’t wait to see what that looks like (probably a lot like Miami). In the meantime, be sure to follow her on Instagram at marleigh.alexandra.