To some people, the words “Eugene fashion” might reflect the multi-colored knee-highs and weird pieces of fabrics wrapping around. This laid back city is a world that far away from the fashion kingdom — New York City; but walking along Willamette Street will still remind people that this is Eugene’s 5th Avenue. Different types of clothing stores and fashion shops are on the sidewalks, which bring the combination of new and vintage styles to their customers.
There are a lot of local designers and people who are interested in fashion that are engaging in finding the path of fashion that belongs to this relaxing place – Eugene. The nice living environment, slow pace for lives and the focus on going green always remind these talented designers to pay attention to details in life, discover the beauty in ordinary life and how to reuse different types of material to create a new fashion style for Eugene.
“Here in Eugene we have an extraordinarily inclusive, very open-minded, and community-oriented fashion scene and I’ve worked really hard to contribute to it as much as I can,” says Mitra Chester, fashion designer and co-owner of three business — clothing stores Deluxe, which is located at the edge of Jefferson Westside Neighborhood; Kitsch, in the Downtown Area, and Perk, the coffee shop next to Deluxe.
Chester has owned Deluxe for over five years where sells items from local designers and designs her own items in her in-store studio using recycled materials. She uses her abilities to transform coffee filters into a shimmery party dress, and she crafts faded cowboy hats into stylish top hats.
Chester makes the most of her time at work by shifting between helping customers and sewing in the back of her two clothing stores. Her designs include accessories like rings, wrist cuffs, necklaces, top hats, and different types of clothes, “I’ve been defined as a ‘steam punk’ designer who does very costume-y, historical pieces,” she said, “but [my style] is always changing within that. I don’t really like to define it per se because then that puts limitations on it.” She draws her inspiration from literature and history, and recently science and anatomy. She uses corals to make rings and puts dead insects inside of test tube to create necklaces. Bones and old dolls are dispersed through Deluxe’s shelves. She believes in merging fashion with utility. She designs wallet cuffs and iPhone holsters out of scrap leather, but Chester’s specialty is hats.
“I have a redesign take on [hats] so I like to find old beat up felt hats and old ten ton cowboy hats and redesign them into top hats,” she said. Reusing existing materials is an essential part of her designs. “There’s so much that’s been made in this world and there’s so much waste and so it’s really nice to find as many ways as we can to reuse the things that already exist and not to encourage the making of new things,” she said.
Breanne Gratton, a fashion blogger, who started her blog – Breakfast with Fashion at the end of the year 2010. She got interested in fashion her last year of high school by reading Nylon magazine. She even bought some Marc Fisher blue, platform heels that Rachel Bilson wore in an issue – just because they were in the issue.
Eugene is regarded as a laid back city with very different fashion and fashion scene than that of Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Milan. From the “hippie” and “hipster” looks to everything in between and beyond, Eugene has a unique look all in its own. In addition, people get a great deal of eco-friendly or “green” looks, which Gratton thinks is very reflective of the Eugene culture. “Eugene has a very diverse fashion scene,” Gratton agreed, “Since the university plays such a prominent position in Eugene and with students coming from all parts of the country and the world, you get an eclectic mixture of looks.”
“As opposed to New York, you see more people wearing Nike in Eugene as opposed to a pair of Miu Miu of Manolo Blahnik heels,” Gratton said. “But honestly, from state to state, hell city to city, styles change. You can see a different fashion scene in Portland, Oregon, than you will in Eugene, Oregon.” From Gatton’s perspective, people might not necessarily see a look straight out of Vogue or the runway in Eugene, but Eugene is an eccentric city and the fashion and the diversity of fashion reflects that.
Even though, Gratton is not a designer, she has her own view for local designers to find their own way to create fashion in Eugene – “Go for broke.” “If that is where your heart is, you go for broke, after all Michael Kors spent all of his money making his line. He got family investors. He spent all his money on fashion. Tommy Hilfinger went broke for fashion,” Gratton said. “If your heart is in it, if it is what you love, always follow your passion, your intuition, and work your ass off and you will get there.”
Gratton also thinks that designer is an architect of sorts. But aside from the clothes, the fashion, the design, and the art of it, designers have to have a business mind. “You hane to be strong,” Gratton said, “you have to have a unique voice and vision and convey that in what you are creating.”
Gratton regards fashion is what we live our lives in; fashion is how we present ourselves to the world. “For people that have a personal style and live in that style, that is a reflection of their soul,” Gratton said.
Mira Fannin, an eco-fashion pioneer who started Sweet Skins Clothing in her garage in 2004 and began the company five years ago from selling at the Eugene Saturday Market. Fannin’s designs are targeted at classic simplicity and wearability. She believes in using ecological and organic materials to make clothes with low-impacted dyes. Everything Sweet Skins uses is recycled or reused, which follows the aim of creating sustainable clothing.
“The fabric is a really important part of being sustainable, it all comes down to what fibers are used in the product,” Fannin said. “Cotton has a highly toxic process for growing.” So, Fannin prefers to use organic blends in her clothing – 55% hemp and 45% organic cotton. “I love hemp,” she said, “I think it’s one of the best, most sustainable fibers because it doesn’t need pesticides and grows like crazy.
With the East Asian background, Fannin can easily send her products to Asian countries to get a better deal on manufacturing. But Fannin chooses to follow the non-industrial path since Eugene is a totally non-industrial city. All the Sweet Skins products are made in a private local sew shop because Fannin thinks this is the way to both support local commerce and keep the carbon footprint down.
According to the EPA Office of Solid Waste, last year 1.2 million tons of clothing went into landfills. With the low cost of clothes people don’t feel bad about tossing their lightly worn items. Americans throw away 68 pounds of clothing per person every year. Chester, Faninn and other local designers’ designs not only cut down on waste, but also create a unique product for her customers.
“I’m really into post modernism so I like the idea of taking something out of its original context and messing with it and putting it in a new context to create a truly unique thing,” Chester said, “If you take a cowboy hat with some sort of Western flair or Western wear and then make it into a top hat, you’re merging two worlds.”
Her customers appreciate her efforts to recycle and promote local designers. “I think it’s incredibly important to shop locally… About 20% of people in Eugene live below the poverty line and putting money back into the local economy is a step to alleviating that… buying locally creates jobs and reduces our ridiculous carbon footprint,” the frequent shopper Asia Von Sonn said.
Chester also organizes events to promote the Eugene fashion community. She helps organize Eugene Fashion Week, a collection of runway shows hosted at a variety of local businesses in late April annually. She also transformed Deluxe into a 1920’s speakeasy with the performances by live bands and catering by a local business.
“I feel like I’ve impacted the Eugene fashion scene by providing opportunities for designers to network together and to have a community,” Chester said.
Q & A with Breanne Gratton
Q: When did you start the blog and what’s your motivation?
BG: I started Breakfast with Fashion December 14, 2010—my sophomore year of high school. I was actually sitting on the floor of my boyfriend’s parents’ house and started the site on a whim. It was more of a hobby than anything. I think the website’s first banner had images of Kate Moss, Sarah Jessica Parker, and maybe the Olsens. Then I started to take the blog a bit more serious a few months into it and really got it going. From there I have worked with brands and have made some partnerships.
Q: What did you “find” from fashion?
BG: I don’t know what you mean by this question. I got interested in fashion my last year of high school. Actually, I got interested in Nylon magazine and lived by it. I bought some Marc Fisher blue, platform heels that Rachel Bilson wore in an issue—JUST BECAUSE THEY WERE IN THE ISSUE. I had convinced myself that I couldn’t live without them. They now sit in my house and I giggle every time I see and wear them. From there I got more serious about fashion and the industry. From learning the style of various designers, to publications, editors, stylists, bloggers, the whole works. It is a never ending process of learning, which is exciting, and it is always changing, which is even more exciting. Fashion and style are very different, however. Style is innate. It is a sixth sense. You have style and you care or you don’t. Fashion changes and is far more volatile.
Q: In this laid back place, what’s the significance of the exsiting of fashion?
BG: There are some quotes with fashion that I follow and find to reflect my outlook. The first comes from Bill Cunningham and was stated in Bill Cunningham’s New York, “Fashion is the armor to deal with the reality of everyday life.” The next comes from Anna Wintour and was said in The September Issue, “I think what I often see is that people are frightened about fashion because it scares them or makes them feel insecure; they just put it down…. they feel, in some ways, excluded or you know, not part of the cool group, so as a result they mock it. Just because you like to put on a beautiful Carolina Herrera dress or a pair of J Brand blue jeans instead of something basic from K-Mart, it doesn’t mean that you’re a dumb person. There is something about fashion that can make people really nervous.” The final comes from the late Lee Alexander McQueen (the Savage Beauty book is an absolute must-have) “You’ve got to know the rules to break them. That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but to keep the tradition.” Fashion is what we live our lives in. Fashion is how we present ourselves to the world. For people that have a personal style and live in that style, well, that is a reflection of their soul. I often get belittled because I am in the fashion industry and fashion consumes about 85% of my daily life. I often get told how I’m just a cog in the consumer wheel; I’m “part of the machine;” how evil fashion is, etc. I’ve heard it all. But the truth is, I work harder, I’m more passionate, and more in love and happy with my work than most people could ever say. Fashion can be iconic. Fashion makes a statement. Fashion can be clothes or fashion can be art. You can think back and when someone says Audrey Hepburn, the Givenchy black dress comes to mind from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It makes an impression. It’s lasting. But, then again, fashion and the industry are so much more intricate and complex then just the clothes.
Q: what do think will be the fashion in this fall?
BG: For upcoming fashions, I always look to Style.com to search through all the fashion shows. I mean, seriously, thank god for Style.com. I don’t think people can go wrong with fur and with leather—but of course when the weather gets cooler, that is what I live in. The Row has it down with their fall runway show. Tailored but slightly oversized silhouettes. Midi and maxi skirts in a crisp material with sharp tailoring. Yohji Yamamoto always has shows that never cease to have me longing for the collections. From the hot red colors, to the long capes, fur and trousers, Long coats, midi skirts, sweaters, socks, mid-length to long dresses, neutral colors, prints. I also adore the upcoming pajama trend. To see what I think people should be wearing this fall, look to the fall 2012 ready to wear collections of Elizabeth and James, The Row, Chanel, Yohji Yamamoto, Alexander McQueen.
About Mitra Chester
Mitra Chester grew up in the mountains of Boulder, Colorado with no running water or electricity. Her mother was a seamstress and her father was a craftsmen. “I [always] had this encouragement for self reliance,” she said. As a college student, Chester worked at resale clothing stores like Buffalo Exchange, “It evolved naturally that I would get into design, [since I was] exposed to so many [clothes].” Chester often hemmed her jeans and made other alterations to make her clothes fit better, but she never took her sewing skills seriously until she decided to make her own dress for her Renaissance-themed wedding because she couldn’t find the ideal one in thrift stores. That’s also the other reason that Chester started designing clothes – she wants to make affordable and designer-look clothes for people.
She moved with her husband, Aaron Chester, to Austin, Texas, but after their daughter was born, they decided to relocate to raise their children and provide a better living environment to their kids. Eugene, Oregon came to their attention as a liberal and educated community. They also asked other people’s opinions, then decided to move to Eugene eight years ago as Eugene had been recommended as one of the most suitable places to live in the U.S., and they finally chose the Jefferson Westside Neighborhood after looking around Eugene.
She and her husband bought Deluxe, which already had a built-in studio. They then opened Kitsch and most recently opened Perk, a coffee shop next to Deluxe.
“Owning three businesses is liking having three more children,” Chester said, “Keeping my three businesses afloat has been a creative venture in and of itself. It’s about applying creativity to not only the things we do in our business … but finding interesting ways to make ends meet with creative cash flow, creative marketing schemes, and creative ways of… having family time while we are so intensely busy.”
At Perk, the coffee shop next door, Aaron Chester swiftly prepares steaming lattes for the steady flow of customers. “Mitra is an extremely positive and motivated person. She takes on any task or challenge without hesitation. She’s a phenomenal mother. She’s the hardest worker I’ve ever known and I’d put more faith in her and her capabilities than anyone on this planet,” he said. He admited that operating their businesses in the tough economy has been difficult, “but for a couple that works together, lives together, and have businesses next to each other, we do amazingly well.”