Designing Women : Natalie Chanin

September 24th, 2013

I first became aware Natalie Chanin in 2008, while reading an issue of the now-defunct Cookie Magazine. Pretty immediately, I was absolutely taken by, first, her striking beauty and then by her home, the feature of the article, which was so beautiful and perfectly eclectic that I wanted to write to her and invite myself to come live in her world. A gorgeous and textured menagerie of old family pieces, folk art, found objects, photographs and endless character. That particular issue of Cookie sat on my coffee table for months as, every chance I got, I would pore over the photos of her home over and over and over again (I also did this with Paul Mitchell ads as a child which is just odd, odd behavior). But alas, eventually my obsession and the time I devoted to it waned as two children, an increasing work load and my own home demanded the lion’s share of my attentions, as they are prone to do in real life. But it was that article that I find has stayed with me these years later both in my career and personal life.

Some years later, while visiting my mother in New York, she received a box from an Alabama Chanin filled with the most gorgeous, hand-sewn dresses, skirts, jackets and shirts. Very quickly, I realized this was Natalie Chanin’s company. The very same from the Cookie article I had so worn out. And, to boot, my mom knew her. It was a case of fantasy and reality coming into perfect alignment.

The Alabama Chanin brand is central to the relatively new Slow Design Movement, as described by Penelope Green in the New York Times on January 31, 2008 as such:
Slow means that Alabama Chanin is run on the tenets of the Slow Food movement, which essentially challenges one to use local ingredients harvested and put together in a socially and environmentally responsible way. Above all it emphasizes slowness in the creation and consumption of products as a corrective to the frenetic pace of 21st-century life. “Good, clean and fair” is the Slow Food credo, and it has — rather slowly — begun to make its way out of the kitchen and into the rest of the house.

Inspired by the sewing circles of her grandmother’s generation, each garment is entirely crafted and hand-sewn using organic materials, both new and recycled, by local artisans in and around her community of Florence, Alabama. As a working mother of two young children, I am so taken by Alabama Chanin’s cottage industry style of production which allows for the “stitchers”, the ones creating each garment, to work from their own homes and businesses and in turn, allows them to work around their own families schedules and needs. Not to mention the jobs generated within the community. Chanin encourages each stitcher to love each stitch, each thread and as a result, every garment is as beautiful to wear as it is to simply touch. Every appliquéd pattern, each stitch, the product of a small and proud community of artisans and craftspersons dedicated and empowered by Chanin’s own commitment in bringing sustainable jobs to Florence and other local Southern communities as well as the quality inherent in things hand-made to an informed and conscientious audience the world over.

Both my mother and sister have made the trip to participate in the Alabama Chanin workshops but alas, sadly (and with no shortage of jealousy), I am yet to do so myself. I am thinking that in the very near future, we will all have to make the trip together. And although I have yet to attend a workshop, my mother had a beautiful forest green corset tank made for me this past birthday. It is by far my most treasured and well worn garment I own.

Read more about Alabama Chanin HERE. And below, in her own words, a wonderful little video produced by Etsy.

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