Danica Elbertse is quite the enigma. She is in constant exploration of her art and work. You would classify Danica as a surfer, designer, quasi filmmaker, and on occasion she models for brands like Hermes and Tory Burch. It’s not her model figure that I find so intriguing or the slight gap between her teeth. If you follow her closely she’s not shy from the grimy elements of surfing nor is she afraid to take risks with her self expression.
Some people would call her punk. She is definitely experimental, but also just comes from a new wave of surfers. However radical she may be, her experimental approach is always evolving whether she’s inspired by 20’s art deco or the 60’s movement, Danica’s palette is never fixed to one genre. When surfing you can spot her mix-match wetsuits from afar, lightly perched at Sano.
She’s been a longtime muse for her boyfriend and filmmaker George Trimm. After years of working away at Insight 51, she’s taken a break to focus on art and filmmaking. Last year Danica and George released their 16mm film called Forbidden Trim, a humorous surf science fiction about a character name Kilroy looking for intelligence along the “Forbidden Coast”, with a cast of local Sano and outcast loggers. Danica’s nonconformist style is not just a millennial attribute, you can’t buy weirdness and nor does she overthink it. On occasion she lets you in to absorb the mystery that is herself.When did you become a designer?
I began training in garment design about eight years ago, hands on construction and digital. At the same time, I began assisting as a stylist. Those processes taught me about construction, fit, fabric and from there I moved to working for surf/skate brands, first in marketing, a little sales, and then developing women’s collections. But I don’t work in fashion alone, learning to design gave me the skills to design in multiple facets.
You’re not exactly designing for the masses. How do you approach design?
I think there’s a mass for everything these days but I use a value versus currency approach… When it comes to creating product, building strategy, shooting a campaign, or even looking for work…money alone cannot make good design. I try to look for the opportunity to learn something or try something of risk. Film is an excellent field for design because you can make decisions in so many areas – wardrobe, visuals, sound, dialogue/story…
How did you transition from fashion into filmmaking?
I’ve worked simultaneously in both. When I started to assist as a stylist, I was introduced to the other world behind the scenes. I assisted in various roles on shoots, trained in editing programs, and produced a feature length surf comedy Forbidden Trim with BuzzCut Films. Working at brands, I was also involved with building campaigns and creating visual stories.Forbidden Trim isn’t exactly your average surf film. What was your role in the film?
I was involved with the film for around five years, assisting George on the shoots, assisting with wardrobe, and assisting with overall direction of film. The film is rooted in surfing but has a full storyline involving an evil boss, undercover agents, monkey women and the main character, Kilroy – a commando on an unwanted existential trip. There’s a little slapstick humor wedged in there too. George is an excellent filmmaker and director, shooting super8 and 16mm. Colin Whitbread, who plays Kilroy, was crucial in building the main character and the military inspired vibe. And band mates Brian Whitbread and Jake Rosen worked with George in creating the entire soundtrack.
We pulled some local legends from San O for actors, while jumping barbed wire fences and dodging machete yielding locals. Making the movie felt like a movie itself. Working with your lover takes finesse, but I sort of grew with the film…Pulling from what I was doing on other projects while absorbing everything I could from the process and George. Creative feedback and discussion can be tough but what I got out of the film makes all the trials and tribulations worth it… Nothing like surviving ten days in the jungle, flat spells and huge swells, peacemaking with locals and lawyers… And then of course still having to drive the rolls of films to Burbank to be developed and scanned… But there’s something magical when those images hit the screen.
Who’s been the biggest creative influence for you?
I’ve always been drawn to the people and movements from the late 20s to 1960s, during war and grotesque tragedy, with industrial developments. I think my greatest influence comes from jazz musicians during this time. Fashion and surfing have always had bizarre collaborations, you somehow dance between the two. Some of the most stylish people I know are surfers.
How do you balance your career and surfing now that you’re an adult?. You’re on the WSL list of professional surfers, did you compete?
Surfing helps me not crash my car in traffic, surfing gives me a really good reason to spend money on airfare. But most of all surfing reminds me of where I really am in the scheme of things. It keeps me interested too. I competed in two WSL events, the first had water sprouts rearranging the tents and a tsunami came through the second. Both events were not rescheduled, even with prior notice of the impending shakeup. Unfortunately, there is a lack of support around showcasing female surfing when there is so much talent. There is a similar phenomenon in female skateboarding. But the tides are moving, and there are growing channels to showcase talent.
You’ve worked with brands like Insight 51, Hermes, and Tory Burch on a multitude of levels. How have those projects influenced the kind of work you do now?
The work I did with those brands always paid the way to work on other projects. Working on a global level brings experience, all of which can be diverted and exploited in projects that aren’t driven by product but instead simply the itch to scratch someone’s consciousness.
As far as the future, the next chapter of Forbidden Trim is in development. I’m also working on a study of found film titled “The Masculinity of Surfing: Common Place Eroticism” as well as a story around a woman traveling solo in Mexico. But also continuing to look for opportunities to work on films of a variety of genres, crew, and outputs. In the past films have been regulated by time constraints based on the audience’s desires.. But now we’re seeing films that become series consisting of several hour length episodes. Documentaries and video reporting have also expanded in the film sphere, so it’s an exciting time.
Words by Gilda Hariri