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Project Alabama


By Tandi TUAKLI

New York Editor
 



Project Alabama,
Spring/Summer 2006 Collection

I first became aware of Project Alabama nearly two years ago when it was featured in Vogue. Since then what began as a little cottage industry in a small Southern town, has become one of the most intriguing new brands in the world. It is now carried by leading fashion retailers like Jeffrey's, Barney's New York and Bergdorf's.


One of the most striking things about this label is its focus and commitment to craftsmanship. Each garment is made by a stitcher, as Project Alabama's founder Natalie Chanin calls her seamstresses, and is labeled with the creator's name and a number, certifying that each piece is handmade and one of a kind. This is a real down home version of American couture: Chanin has discovered how to take something so completely traditional, like quilting and give it a modern application with her ingenuity and style.

There is also a sort of irony in the fact that this ground-breaking fashion brand has emerged from an area which has been abandoned by the American apparel industry. These women have gone from unemployed textile workers to being on the cutting edge of American couture.

This innovative company began when its founder, Natalie Chanin returned to her hometown of Lovelace Crossroads, Alabama after twenty-two years to film a documentary called Stitch. The documentary focused on the tradition of quilting in the South and the story is told by the women to whom these age-old techniques have been passed down. In Stitch, the elderly residents of the town recount their childhoods in the economically oppressed town, as well as the bonds which were formed during quilting bees. The people featured in the documentary say that each quilt has a story and tell not only which women collaborated to make each quilt, but also the patterns which were used and the friendships that were formed during the process.

When Chanin begun searching for participants for the film, she found herself inundated with responses from hundreds of seamstresses left unemployed after the end of the once thriving textile industry in the area. She hired some of these women to assist her in realizing an idea she had thought of while in New York City . Gathering her stitchers in an abandoned house owned by her aunt, she explained that she wanted to create sexy t-shirts whose cutouts made them resemble quilts, and it was then that Project Alabama was born.

Originally Project Alabama only produced three specific style tops, but they have now expanded to a wider range of clothing including skirts, cardigans, and jackets, in addition to the signature tops. Although the merchandise selection has grown, the construction of the garments remains almost the same. Each piece is made from fabric that is collected from thrift stores around the country, sanitized and then re-dyed. Afterwards, two different colored fabrics are sewn together and a design is spray-painted on with a stencil. Next, the spray-painted areas are cut away to reveal the other fabric underneath. The cutout design is then edged with embroidery or beads or both. The result, a mix of edgy design and traditional Southern style, is making people take notice.

During the showing of the Spring 2006 collections in New York City, Project Alabama was one of ten up and coming designers chosen to present a collection in a third tent sponsored by the United Parcel Service. The collection presented showcased not only the innovativeness and skill for which Project Alabama has become known, but Chanin's talent as a designer. Models came prancing down the runway to traditional music played by a fiddler and a guitarist donning cardigans, stylish spring coats and an array of bell-shaped skirts and dresses with touches in shades of ruby red, gold, sapphire and brilliant white. Details like embroidery, beading and the abstract flower motifs gave the collection a modern vintage look that would be fitting for any Southern belle.
Chanin studied design theory in college and has no formal design training. She spent most of her career working as a film stylist and a costume designer in Europe before returning to the United States . Her fashion sense and the expertise of the women who lovingly sew each piece have brought what was becoming a lost art in America to the forefront of fashion. There is so much to be said about Project Alabama . Aside from the obvious, which is the beauty and creativity of the clothing, there is also something to be said for the way in which they do business. The stitchers have grown in number to about 150, but have remained a tight knit community. What began as just a project has revitalized an economically depressed area of the United States and allowed a group of women to use their heritage to make a living.

About Project Alabama, Spring/Summer 2006 Collection:

The inspiration for the Spring/ Summer 2006 is FRESH. Influenced by old-school Hollywood Starlets, summertime parties and lots of laughter, the Project Alabama Design Team created a collection of compliments and contrasts. [ http://www.projectalabama.com/ ] 



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