Rural Runway: Regional Fashion Designers in the Now
By Fiona Breslin
Whether you need a beach bag for summer, a funky piece of jewelry, or an airy dress that flatters in all the right ways, we’ve compiled a list of recently established and emerging local designers — who have not yet been widely reported on — but who are grinding away at their businesses; developing a market for themselves within and beyond our community borders, and defining what it means to be rural and chic NOW. They are the fashion class of 2013.
From Berlin to the Berkshires
Gundula Brattke designer at Gundula Made
“The Berkshires started my business in many ways,” says German-born, Lenox-based Gundula Brattke, a self-taught fashion designer (who grew up altering her own clothes in Communist Berlin) and whose namesake line of colorful totes, messenger bags, summer clutches, beach bags, tyvek bags, and more are flying off the shelves at local boutiques and onto the shoulders of women based in the city and country. “The Berkshires [is] a community full of artists. That is first an inspiration, but it’s also very helpful to start your own business in terms of distribution and marketing.” The leather and waxed canvas bags (each lined with a funky surprise interior) were first consigned at twiGs, in Lenox, where women from Boston to Tokyo took notice, and the bags developed a niche following. They are made from American-sourced materials and design combos are inspired by everything from walks in Kennedy Park to Brattke’s kids (three boys). “My college son liked camouflage and told me he would wear something with it.” So she made a camo and neon backpack called the “boyfriend bag,” dubbed the Brattke Pack. The brand motto: “Have fun, think outside of the box, but make something that is sturdy and practical.”
The Magic Milliner
Behida Dolić of Behida Dolić Millinery
Hudson, New York
“I saw photos of women from the 1920’s and 1930’s and they were all wearing beautiful hats and I was in love,” said Behida Dolić, the Hudson-based milliner who opened her custom Warren Street boutique in 2011, enchanting clients with handmade (no machines or glue used) caps, described as “wearable sculptures” in which all women can look beautiful. Her designs range from subtle to ornate and include hand-draped cloches, wide-brimmed hats, caps with lace netting, everyday options, and formal and seasonal styles produced in various colors and materials. Dolić came to America in 1998 from a small village in Bosnia as a refugee of the Balkan War. She was raised by craftsmen before studying in Florence and graduating from the San Francisco Art Institute and apprenticing with milliner Deanna Gibbons. “I wanted to move east because millinery resides more on the East Coast than west,” she says. “In Hudson, we’re one step removed from the city, so I can afford to open shop; it’s less competitive than New York, but there is still a market and fashion.” Each hat is a labor of love. The key to wearing one: Let the hat reflect the wearer’s personality.
The Rural Rock n’ Roller
Stephanie Iverson of Iverson Studio
Jewelry designer Stephanie Iverson always made creative things. (She started her career as a book binder working hands-on with leather.) But she never thought she would be an artist until 2005, when she moved from Manhattan to the Berkshires and started designing pieces she wanted to wear and couldn’t find in stores. The designs: bracelets, neckalces, rings, and more made from leather, brass, metal, charms, semi-precious stones, and other organic materials. Iverson jewelry can be described as edgy but elegant as well as organic and easy to incorporate. Items include brass earrings and necklaces; hammered hoop earrings; leather cuffs and Day of the Dead inspired treasures. “In the Berkshires, people are interested in fashion but we don’t necessarily have the opportunity to roll it out daily,” says Iverson. “Putting on a special piece of jewelry is something that can make a simple outfit distinctive.” The Iverson 2013 collection features glass crystals described as more delicate while maintaining the brand aesthetic. “It’s exciting for me to keep moving forward. I look at magazines, color, and nature. I always have my eyes open and am looking for what’s next.”
The Clothing Engineer
Gail Travis of New Form Perspective (NFP)
Beacon, New York
Gail Travis of New Form Persepctive (NFP) is repurposing fashion in the idea of how many ways a single item can be worn. Whether it’s a hand-knit shrug (with gloves) that can double as a scarf, a sweater with an open boat neck that can turn upside-down into a skirt, or a shrug that can be snapped into tapered leg pants, all knitwear, dresses, tops, hand-felted, and jersey pieces are inspired by architecture and sculpture and have the ability to link, layer, fold, snap, and connect.The designs are intricate and futuristic while having minimalist appeal. Garments are made from the gentlest materials and in muted neutral colors. Having spent years working in Manhattan for high-end fashion companies (including Calvin Klein and Vera Wang), Travis left New York to open her Beacon-based showroom and studio, free from the constrictions of mainstream fashion trends. “New Form Perspective’s goal is to encourage minimizing the disposable mindset of recent fashion and increase awareness of fashion’s strength to be an enhancement to our basic environment and personal self.” NFP is also sold at main Berkshire retailer LOCAL in Lenox, and Williamstown’s new pop-up store, The School for Style.
Fashionable Farm Girl
Jeni Wrightson of Prairie Clothing Co
Hudson, New York
A self-described “farm girl,” Jeni Wrightson, 28, sold her first Prairie Clothing Co (PCC) dress last summer when she left it at a friend’s Warren Street clothing store to run an errand. A half-hour later the dress had sold. For the rest of the summer, Wrightson made a living selling the old-school style of head-turning, 1950’s-inspired dresses, through word of mouth and meeting women on the street, who would stop her to say “Where did you get that?” Prairie Clothing Co dresses are made from durable but sweetly patterned cottons, jersey, and linens, and are tighter in the bodice before flaring out or falling looser at the hips. “All to enhance a woman’s figure in the right ways,” says Wrightson, who splits her time between Hudson and Germantown, and who wanted to design something women could really live in. “My idea of the perfect dress is one that is sexy yet classy and not overly provocative. A woman can wake up, put on a PCC dress and boots, play with her horses and then change her shoes and add some pearls and go on a date.” This summer, Prairie Clothing Co will sell from a storefront space in Hudson and on Saturdays at the trendy Real Designer Market in SoHo. “There’s a mix of sophistication, classiness, and innocence in my clothes. I want women to feel their best and be able to wear these dresses in any circumstance,” she says. “I like subtle sensuality. And that’s what this line is.”