Designer Natalie Chanin and Chef Ashley Christensen Talk Shop at Makeshift by Alden Wicker
On Saturday, I was gleefully partying it up in Bushwick on a rooftop, when I checked my watch. It was almost five, time to go. My friends chided me, “This is just getting good! Don’t leave!” I regretfully said my goodbyes and took the train into Union Square, and walked down 3rd Avenue to the Standard East Village.
The Standard East Village is a newly renovated skyscraper of culture and food at 6th Street and Cooper Square. There’s the Narcissa restaurant on the ground floor, which I accidentally wandered into when I made the mistake of walking in what looks like the main entrance to the hotel. No, the entrance to the hotel is in the gutted and renovated tenement house attached to the side. Crafty.
But I wasn’t there for Narcissa’s vegetable-driven cuisine. Instead, an elevator whisked Lauren and I up to to penthouse, where we were meeting up with Juliette, Emma and Elizabeth for the 2014 Makeshift event, part of The Standard Talks.
The guest of honor was chef Ashley Christensen, who just won the James Beard award for her down-home, North Carolina cuisine reimagined with local and seasonal ingredients. She has five distinct establishments in downtown Raleigh, from a proper restaurant to a cozy diner. She was introduced by CFDA member Natalie Chanin, who’s sustainable practices for her label Alabama Chanin won her the 2014 CFDA/Lexus Eco-Fashion Challenge and Eileen Fisher 2013 Grant for Women.
As the intimate group of guests finger-wove excess fabric into small scarves and stitched the reusable canvas bags we had been given, Christensen and Chanin had a fascinating conversation about food, fashion and running a small business. Like the recent Zady/Whole Foods event, there is a sense that food has come so far, and fashion is just starting to catch on.
“The best thing you can do with a restaurant is earn your customers’ trust,” Christensen said. “The restaurant business is a tough business. We could buy something for less and sell it for whatever we can get away with. But we have a commitment to represent our growers. It all comes down to the things these folks grow for us which inspires us to do something … I don’t want to say greater, because what they give is is already great.”
“It’s neat that folks are so excited about where things are from. Connecting folks with the beginnings of food has been a huge inspiration for us. One of or roles is not just to buy these things, but to share why it’s important to pay for them.”
I can’t want to get back down to Raleigh (I have extended family there) and try her cuisine. But for now, I’ll just have to be satisfied with trying her pimento cheese, which was included in the gift bag. Pimento cheese is a much-maligned southern food, a yellow goop with pepper that you spread on white crackers. But Christensen took it a apart and put it back together again with aged cheddar cheese, French cider vinegar, and house-roasted peppers. “We think about every element that goes into it. They take the first bite of it, and the look on their face is everything we’ve been wanting to hear,” Christensen said. “We take things that are meaningful to us and elevate them.”
After the talk, everyone wandered outside to mingle take in the sunset over Manhattan. When they finally kicked us out, I headed back to Bushwick. “You missed out!” my friends told me when I saw them. “Nope,” I said. “I think I win on the rooftop event.”
The Note Passer
From The Note Passer
Connecting Love and Raw Materials at Makeshift by Elizabeth Stilwell
The fashion and design industries have a lot to learn from the successes of the slow food movement. "As sustainability and DIY emerge as THE design stories of the 21st century, the fashion and design communities are following the playbook written ahead of the millennium by 'foodies'." Makeshift follows that playbook with a series of events, talks, workshops, and gatherings that explore the ways in which the fashion, art, and design worlds are inextricably linked to the world of craft/DIY and how each of these worlds elevate the others.
The event was held at The Standard Hotel in the East Village and the weather and views were gorgeous!
The Makeshift conversations are conducted by Natalie Chanin, sustainable lifestyle designer and founder of Alabama Chanin. Natalie promotes a “slow design” lifestyle brand and sustainable business practices from the Alabama Chanin headquarters in Florence, Alabama. Such is her dedication to creativity and craftsmanship, we were given tote bags (organic cotton, of course) and craft supplies and encouraged to DIY during the discussion. The finished creations will be added to the Makeshift Image Quilt.
Ashley Christensen, a chef-restauranteur in Raleigh, NC and winner of a 2014 James Beard Award, was the guest speaker. As the conversation between Natalie and Ashley unfolded, the nexus of sustainable food and fashion practices emerged. Whether fashion or food, producers, raw materials, design, and consumers are connected and integral to the process. The integrity and story bestowed upon each are what's truly important.
Ashley understands her responsibilities as an employer, chef, and community leader. Being an employer first requires care, support, and trust which can then be shared with the community at large. Feeding patrons isn't just about feeding their hunger, but about sharing stories and traditions with them.
MY RESPONSIBILITY IS TO DEFINE VALUE AND REPRESENT GROWERS WITH INTEGRITY, AND TO HELP PEOPLE UNDERSTAND WHY THEY NEED TO PAY MORE FOR IT. —ASHLEY CHRISTENSEN
Just as the stories of the growers are shared through Ashley's dishes, so should the stories of workers in fashion be shared through our clothing. The question,"Who made your clothes?" is just as relevant as "Who made your food?" Every question foodies ask about the production and geography of food, ask about your fashion. Ask about the miners who produced the raw materials for your jewelry. Ask about the cotton growers, the textile workers, the sewers. They all had a hand in making the clothes you wear.
Ashley is taking the history and nostalgia associated with food and elevating it to a new level. Using those existing connections help people recognize and value what they are eating. This is an important lesson for fashion; find those existing values and draw on them to strengthen our connection to clothing. In response, the perceived value of craftsmanship, details, and quality will increase, just as they have in the food industry. Natalie's brand, Alabama Chanin, is a great example of the power of storytelling and personal connections to clothing.
The event was also a great excuse to hang out with a creative and compassionate bunch of people including Lauren, Juliette, Emma, and Alden. These ladies just keep challenging and engaging me in new and exciting ways. I am grateful to have been part of this event and to have met so many people who want to bring back community and simplicity for us all.
The evening ended with a spectacular sunset. And what's more simple and communal than that?
Past Fashion Future
From Past Fashion Future
At Standard Talks Slow Food and Fashion Align (Event) by Emma Grady
Ethical fashion and food have long been connected. Yet widespread responsible practices in fashion trail behind their kissing cousin, the slow food movement. Makeshift 2014 aims to change this.
Located atop The Standard, East Village, in a glass-walled penthouse suite, the talk, in it’s third consecutive year, brought together thought leaders, creators, and writers.
The engaging event involved the audience. All were invited to finger knit and decorate a canvas tote while listening to Chanin and Christensen discuss the intersection between food and design.
Raleigh, North Carolina-based chef and restaurateur is known for recreating classic comfort food with a local and seasonal twist. Christensen’s inspiration is at the root of her success.
"Our big role in sourcing is not just to buy these things and share them but to help people understand why we need to pay for them," says Christensen. She continues, below.
"In turn, they go and start to support these farmer’s markets and it’s the neatest thing in the world for us, for someone to come in and say, ‘Oh wow, Bill’s growing this. I bought it at that farmer’s market two weeks ago and this is our favorite variety of this tomato.’"
Quality is the new luxury. It speaks for itself and inspires changes in thought, and in turn, action.