The Other Florence: An Unlikely Hotbed of Sartorial Activity
There are more than 400 members of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). Most of them are based in New York; the state with the second-highest number of CFDA-ers is California. No big surprise there. Number three, however, is a bit of a shocker: It’s Alabama, home to designers Billy Reid, and Natalie Chanin of Alabama Chanin. Both live in Florence, one of four cities clustered in the northern part of the state in an area colloquially known as The Shoals.
Florence is where Billy’s wife, Jeanne, grew up, and where the couple returned in the early aughts to raise their kids after Billy shuttered his first label in New York City. Today it’s the headquarters of his namesake second company. (Total disclosure: I’m a media consultant for the brand.)
Natalie is a native Florentine, and, like Billy, she worked in fashion elsewhere before opening her own company here in 2006. Her expertise is “slow design,” and indeed there is nothing speedy about her process. The soft cotton jersey she uses is produced sustainably, from field to factory (Natalie keeps tabs on how and where the cotton is grown, spun, and dyed), and the construction of her handmade garments is outsourced to a legion of local sewers who painstakingly stitch, bead, and appliqué every piece. Organizing this process takes time—and room.
For years, Alabama Chanin has operated out of a combo workspace/showroom/warehouse/school (Natalie’s DIY workshops are in high demand) housed in an industrial park on the outskirts of Florence. “The Factory” has long been a destination for Natalie’s hard-core disciples (looking at you, Mom). But as of last week, its appeal has grown, literally, thanks to an expansion that gives Natalie more space for production and a retail outlet.
The Factory now sells Alabama Chanin couture as well as home goods (Natalie’s Heath Ceramics collection is insane), books and magazines (good to see my friend Kerry Diamond’s mag Cherry Bombe on the shelf!), regional foodstuffs, creations from local artisans (Natalie’s boyfriend, the folk artist Butch Anthony, is represented), and a big selection of A. Chanin, the new range of ready-to-wear produced by an in-house team. There’s a café, too, serving light meals, coffee, and sweets on weekdays. And if the chow at the opening party and the breakfast I enjoyed the next day was any indication, the food is as delightful as its surroundings.
For more information, visit http://www.alabamachanin.com/.
Photos: Courtesy of Libby Callaway