Tag Archives: Real Women

ANNA MARIA HORNER

It is so easy to sing the praises of Anna Maria Horner. Our frequent readers know that she has appeared on our blog before and is a friend and inspiration to Alabama Chanin. I adore her personality, a perfect mixture of sweet, sincere charm and biting wit. Her joy for life is irresistible and her prolific work is astounding.

Anna Maria is a designer of beautiful, bright fabrics, along with a host of other accessoriessewing books, and patterns. Her designs feature numerous, delicate flowers, creative shapes, and intertwining lines. In her collections, color is not a foreign concept and patterns are for mix + match. Over the years, she has partnered with more than two dozen manufacturers to design home-wares, gift items, textiles + much more. She is even the new face of Janome, a leader in sewing technology.

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SARA’S LIVING ARTS

When I began work at Alabama Chanin almost 10 years ago, I had no concept of what the company did or what it would eventually mean to me. I walked into my interview in my only suit, having answered an advertisement in the paper. As soon as I found out what the company did, I broke into a cold sweat.

Luckily for me, they hired me. As I worked each day at my computer, I would glance over at the beautiful garments being produced with a jealous eye. I wanted to know how to make things as amazing as these. But I didn’t know how.

Natalie has often talked about the importance of preserving the “living arts,” those things that are essential to our survival – things that we as a society have forgotten or simply chosen not to learn. I was a perfect example of the person who never learned these skills.

My mother cooked family dinners, but she worked hard all day and it sometimes seemed a joyless task for her. She could make delicious meals, but after a day’s work it was often a chore. I was always fascinated to watch my paternal grandmother – a former cafeteria cook – craft large, luscious meals. I would watch pots bubble on the stove all day, their contents creating amazing smells. She was happy as she stirred those sauces or rolled out her biscuits; there was real joy and pride there. I wanted to understand it.

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SARA: ON BEAUTY

As Alabama Chanin has grown, part of the beauty of this growth has been my ability to watch our employees and families spread their wings, grow, and find their voices. A few months back, June started to use her voice to tell our stories through her own experiences. Today, Sara Martin makes that same leap and stretches her voice. As I wrote about Sara a few weeks back, she was like a child when she first showed up at my studio. What a treasure to see her make this leap from child to beautiful woman. A hearty Alabama Chanin welcome to Sara’s voice on this blog… xoNatalie

I’ve never been conventionally beautiful. I’ve always known this. I’m just a little bit shorter, a little rounder than the pretty girls; I’ve always laughed a little louder, been a bit more vulgar and less delicate than a southern woman is expected to be. Like most young girls, I struggled with trying to figure out what it meant – this difference. And I tried to negotiate my way through what was expected of me and what I expected of myself.

In the not-so-distant past, tattoos were considered unattractive; to many, they still are. Tattoos have long been the domain of sailors, bikers, outlaws and prisoners. So, how do we reconcile this type of art with femininity? Is it possible to love the skin that we live in and still change it?

Most women I know use some sort of enhancement to make them feel better about what they see as imperfections. Many dye their hair – or buy someone else’s hair to improve upon what they naturally have. We’ve been known to wear high heels to make us taller and Spanx to make us thinner. Some women look to plastic surgery, Botox, face creams and bronzers to enhance the figures and faces they were born with. For me, the process of learning to love myself meant getting underneath my own skin.

I got my first tattoo right out of high school. I found that I liked the way that it made me feel about myself. I got another, and then another. Most of them were easily hidden – something I kept for myself or revealed only to people that really knew me. As I slowly gathered these pieces I discovered that, even in moments of intense self-loathing, I had something about myself that I loved. I chose this about myself. I may not have loved what my thighs looked like, but this I was proud of. I did this.

Now, as an adult, I’ve finally come to terms with who I am on the inside. I like my loud laugh and my off-color jokes. I’m learning more and more to love who I am outside, too. But, I still struggle with some things, as most women do. These days, I view my insecurities as mountains or undiscovered continents – somewhere to conquer and plant a flag. My arms are my latest Mount Everest. I’m learning to love them, but on my own terms and one tract of skin at a time.

I’m still a work in progress. I’m painting my masterpiece, one bit of ink at a time.
- Sara

P.S.: Sara’s Reverse Applique Alabama tattoo (Note the Angie’s Fall Pattern)  by Adam “The Kid”, at Kustom Thrills in Nashville, Tennessee, + photo thanks to Gina R. Binkley.

THE HEART: SARA MARTIN

If you have been able to read this blog without finding a comma splice and with only an occasional misspelled word, this is because of Sara Martin. Sara came to work with our company when she was a baby – not that she really was, it just felt that way back in 2003 when she started. She brought computer skills, writing skills, a sense of humor and a willingness to do anything; she also brought her own tools to cut plywood to grace my newly purchased shelves, inventoried and organized my reference library, made systems, and generally kept us straight.

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ECO SALON FRIDAY: A TRIP OF ONE’S OWN

Those of you who follow us on Twitter, Facebook and/or Tumblr, know that I was in New Mexico over the holidays. What resulted from this adventure was a love for the west and an understanding of why so many artists and creative types have settled to work there.  I was deeply impacted by the beauty, spirit, and (perhaps mostly by) the clear, crisp air. The day my friend Jennifer and I landed we spotted four rainbows.  Our friend Jeff wrote that such an unlikely experience is “possibly an indicator of good fortune to come.”

My blog post at EcoSalon this Friday is about our trip and the inspiration I found in a woman – long dead – named Mabel Dodge Luhan.

Thanks to EcoSalon for the continuing bi-weekly collaboration – read all of my stories there and make sure you let them know what you like.
xoNatalie

A TRIP OF ONE’S OWN

“I can’t believe that I am doing this.” Wait. Laugh. Repeat.  These were the words I kept echoing over and over again as I sat at Gate B27 in the Atlanta Airport. My girlfriend, Jennifer Venditti, is sitting across from me, looking like a vision of New York City chic. I stare at her in amazement. We are waiting to board a flight to Albuquerque, New Mexico, with plans to catch up on the last six months of one another’s lives.

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ROSANNE CASH + KRISTA TIPPETT, THANK YOU

Rosanne Cash has become one our favorite clients, friends, and points of inspiration over this last year. (Yes, thank you, it has been a very good year and we have lots of reasons to be thankful.)

It seems that everywhere I turn these days, Rosanne’s name is attached to another interesting project.  From America: Now and Here (read the NY Times Article about the project ) to Fortune Magazine’s Most Powerful Women Summit 2011, Rosanne seems to be singing, writing, and spreading poetry around the globe.

I made a flight to Berlin this year with her book, Composed: A Memoir, and could not put it down.   There was a moment in the Berlin airport I was streaming tears, book in hand, and oblivious to the other passengers looking my way. Butch leaned over and said, “You okay?”  “Yes,” I replied, “it’s just SO beautiful.”

More on that coming soon…

Today, Nov 17, 2011 (4:30pm CT/5:30pm ET), Rosanne is In The Room with Krista Tippett (who I also adore and follow).

Can’t wait to hear it all…

Watch it here or at In The Room:

*Photo above of Rosanne sporting her Alabama Chanin coat @ Fortune Magazine’s Summit.  Whoohooo…

ARRESTED BEAUTY + HUMAN KINDS

My friend Jennifer Venditti has been an inspiration to me since our first meeting a decade ago in New York.  She is one of those friends who I don’t talk to every week but when we do, the stories unfold. We have trips to documentary film festivals behind us and many a trip ahead of us I am sure. (Taos is next on the agenda.)

I met Jennifer at the time I had just started working on what would become Alabama Chanin.  She had a growing casting agency and also worked on a line of clothing with our friend Molly Stern-Schlussel, called M.R.S. (More about our upcoming collaboration with Molly and M.R.S coming soon.)

Jennifer is often credited with changing the face of beauty over the last ten years, mostly due to her unerring eye and a diligence for street casting. She has transformed “unusual beauty” into mainstream beauty in a decade of work, not to mention directing and producing an award winning documentary film called Billy the Kid that speaks to what it means to be an outsider.

At one point in the film, Billy says, “I’m not black, I’m not white, I’m not foreign… I’m just different in the mind…”

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MY MOM, STYLE ICON

Every once in a while, a book comes along that makes you smile and laugh and sigh all at the same time. My Mom, Style Icon, by Piper Weiss – published by Chronicle – is just that book.

(While I didn’t get this posted in time for Mother’s Day, every day is Mother’s Day around my house! “Mama, can you get me something to drink?  Mama, when are you going to wash this dress?  Mama, I love you…”)

The pictures of all the Mamas are lovely, funny and define their eras; but, what I love most are the stories they tell.  (And you will find more stories at Piper’s website: My Mom the Style Icon.)

I hope that my 5-year-old daughter will one day look back at the bric-a-brac of my fashion life and sigh, ”My Mom, Style Icon.”

Yes that is me – circa 1979 – and yes, that is a Honda Civic AND a peace sign. The writing on the car window reads, “Chapel Hill or Bust.” I am thinking that my photo might fall under one of the  categories in Chapter 3, “Moms Gone Wild:  Rebels, Ragers, and Road Warriors.”

P.S. Piper also says, “Don’t F*** With Dad.”

CELEBRATING 10 YEARS OF ARTISANS

For a decade, my work at Alabama Chanin has been made possible by our artisans.  Without them and our amazing staff, there would be no Alabama Chanin.

Many of the artisans working with us today are the very same women who sewed those first deconstructed t-shirts.  I want to express my deep gratitude.  Wielding needle and thread for a decade, they have brought beauty, laughter, amazement and joy to my life and company (not to mention all the garments, home-furnishings and projects along the way).

Over the decade, they have ranged in age from 20 to 80; among them have been secretaries, students, former textile mill employees, retired school teachers, and single mothers. They are mothers, brothers, sisters, daughters, husbands, wives and friends but above all, they have proven talented, committed and proud to do the work they do.

Thanks to each and every one of you who has passed through our door- it has been a wonderful (and still growing) adventure…

*Photos from Elizabeth DeRamus

JULIE GILHART + THE DALAI LAMA

Many of my regular readers know a bit about my history… but to sum it up for those of you that are new:

In the year 1999, I took (what I thought to be) a four month sabbatical from my life and loves in Vienna, Austria. Beginning on an island off the northern coast of Venezuela, my plan was to end my travels in New York City, spend one month, then go home to Vienna.  That never happened.

I went to New York City, one month became two, two months became three and – obviously – I never moved back to Vienna.  In the course of my extended sabbatical, I cut apart and reconstructed a t-shirt and a company called Project Alabama was born.  The history of Project Alabama and my subsequent move to Alabama Chanin has been well documented – no need to elaborate.  However, the simplified version above skips over so many, many people who are intricate to making Alabama Chanin the company that it is today.

Julie Gilhart from Barneys New York is one of these people.  She came to a make-shift “showroom” in the Hotel Chelsea and that first collection of recycled t-shirts came to life.  She consequently went out into the fashion industry and told everyone she met about the work.  Julie and the amazing buyers at Barneys have bought, sold and paid for every subsequent collection since the year 2001 – including the difficult time during the transition from Project Alabama to Alabama Chanin.

I luckily have had the opportunity to get to know Julie Gilhart over the last decade and the honor to call her “friend.”  And through this friendship, I heard the following story about a year ago:

It was the year 2000 and Julie had taken some time at the end of the year to hear a lecture from the Dalai Lama. After this amazing experience, she returned to her office at Barneys early in 2001 to be confronted with a pile of fashion week invitations and catalogs that covered the span of her desk and reached above eye-level.  The sheer amount of information was overwhelming.  She sat there looking at the pile, wondering where to start when a colleague from Barneys stopped by her office.  The visitor picked up a brochure from the Dalai Lama that Julie had lying on her desk, thumbed through and remarked, “This is everything we don’t do.”  Julie looked at the colleague, replied, “You are right.  We have to get out-of-here right now.”  She looked at the pile of invitations and catalogs on her desk, reached for a random item and pulled out a hand-made catalog from a new company:  Project Alabama.

Consequently, Julie called the number on the catalog, took a cab to the Hotel Chelsea, and Alabama Chanin came to life on that day.

Amazing to me that a decade of work can come from one simple moment of faith and belief…  stemming from a committed, brilliant, beautiful, rich, spiritual, whole, funny, light, surfing, friend of a woman.

Since those simple beginnings in 2000, I have had the opportunity to lecture and hold workshops around the globe on sustainability in design and to act as an expert in the fields of micro-economics and the use of local labor.  Alabama Chanin and me, Natalie Chanin, are what we are today because of the unfettered belief and support of Julie Gilhart. I am deeply indebted.

Julie’s recent departure from Barneys New York marks a new milestone in her own personal journey; a journey that I am sure will be filled with richness and beauty.

**T-shirt #90  “Sister Shirt” – shown above – was part of that very first collection and photographed by me.