New York’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) kicks off this week, and the fashion set is not to be left out. Designer Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin, has organized a series of events called MAKESHIFT, to initiate, she says, “a larger conversation around finding the point where the professional worlds of fashion, craft, design, and DIY intersect.” As the Alabama-based (hence the name) Chanin points out, “The important business and brand building parts of the fashion industry can sometimes obscure that initial designer act of making things with our hands.”
Last night, Chanin unveiled one of the main centerpieces of MAKESHIFT—her craft/design pop-up shop with fellow Alabamian Billy Reid at Reid’s Bond Street shop. “Anytime we can work with Natalie, we’re in,” Reid says. “When she proposed the idea of the pop-up shop for design week, it was a perfect fit. We had been working with crafting quilts into jackets so it was a timely item to have included.”
Inside the 20′ by 20′ pop-up, you’ll find one-of-a-kind pieces exclusive to the store, from designers including Gaby Basora of Tucker, Maria Cornejo, Albertus Swanepoel, Susan Cianciolo (a fashion darling-turned-artist)—and of course, items from Reid and Chanin as well.
Danica Cosic Design
From Danica Cosic Design:
Talk about inspiration. The moment I heard about the Makeshift event being put on by Alabama Chanin, I quickly made a mad dash to RSVP.
The event which took place at The Standard Hotel featured Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin, Maria Cornejo of Zero + Maria Cornejo, Roseanne Cash and Jessamyn Hatcher, a professor of Global Liberal Studies at NYU. It was a discussion about DIY, craft of all kinds and making.
Throughout the evening the words connection, designing and making and phrases like loving your thread and worn stories kept coming up. Each speaker spoke about their connection to textiles and the story behind each garment, some garments have a stronger story and hold a stronger connection to an individual. It’s a concept that gets you thinking about your clothes and beyond just the clothes but where did they come from. It’s a thought I think of often when I read labels for country of origin and try to imagine whose hands my garment passed through. I think in many cases we don’t spend too much time thinking about it. But when we do it makes you realize the interconnectedness in the world.
Of course since apparel was the topic of conversation, textiles comes into play and not only the creation of textiles but also their disposal once they become old and worn. Those things we have a connection to tend not to be disposed of so quickly and easily but those with less sentimental value end up being discarded. Perhaps they are given away to someone who may have a greater need for the item. More and more we hear about textiles being reused and transformed which makes me think of the Boucharouite carpets the Berber women in Morocco make. These wonderfully colorful carpets are made of fabric scraps. These scraps come from garments children no longer fit into or damaged textiles or really anywhere they can be found.
While speakers spoke and shared their stories, the audience listened while getting creative through fill in the blanks of a song and finger knitting. At the end I took the opportunity to introduce myself to Natalie Chanin who despite being busy with others wanting to chat with her was very gracious and calm. I must admit that being in that kind of creative environment left me feeling happy, inspired and so full of ideas. It was a great reminder to see so many people come together who believe in preserving craft, taking the time to make the crafts and truly be a part of the process. And also a wonderful reminder to keep sharing the work of the Moroccan artisans with you.
Here are some images of the evening….enjoy and have a wonderful weekend!
This week's DIY is a t-shirt DIY — which is, in case you haven't guessed, one of myfavorite kinds of do-it-yourself project, because of the ubiquity of the raw materials. And this t-shirt DIY comes to you with the help of a very special guest: fashion designer Natalie Chanin, of the label Alabama Chanin. She showed me how to do the most incredible things with a needle and thread.
In addition to the acclaimed Alabama Chanin collection — for which Natalie has been nominated for a Council of Fashion Designers of America award, and which you might have seen in the pages of such magazines as Vogue — Natalie Chanin runs sewing workshops and sells DIY supplies, clothing patterns, and kits on her Web site. She's also the author of three DIY books. That hands-on focus is unusual in high fashion, to say the least, which often likes to preserve as many illusions as possible about where (overseas?) and how (proprietary!) and by whom (paid?) it is made. And Alabama Chanin definitely is high fashion — its clothing can retail in the thousands of dollars.
Chanin is out to challenge the idea that "fashion" is about the designer, and "sewing" and "craft" is about the home-made. As sheputs it, making things needn't be viewed as a competition between the "auteurs" and the "amateurs." (This view also has a gendered dimension that is itself inherently problematic — "fashion" connoting that which is hierarchical and male, "craft" that which is humble and female.) When she started selling her patterns, she says, others in the industry told her, "You just killed your business." But sales of her collection remain robust, she says — probably because the many hours of work that go into most pieces make them difficult to truly replicate — and the DIY side of Alabama Chanin has meanwhile grown to nearly match the fashion side.
Natalie Chanin lives in Florence, Alabama, where her design workshop is located (and where her clothing is made, by local seamstresses who earn a living wage in an area of the South that has been ravaged by unemployment and industry flight). But this week, when Chanin came to New York for the Makeshift conference on sustainability and DIY culture in fashion, I jumped at the chance to meet her. We drank chamomile tea and talked DIY and did DIY. I learned things.
If you're like me, you believe that making things can be powerful. It's an exercise in autonomy, and it's a demonstration of thrift. I find sewing a purse, even if it takes me a week's worth of evenings (maybe because it takes me a week's worth of evenings) much more empowering, and certainly more satisfying, than I do buying one.