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designer ELIZABETH MCGRANE with Alli Schaum

Alli: What are you studying?

Elizabeth: Biology and Asian Studies. I often get this response of “Oh wow! Those are two not related things at all.”

A: What inspires your designs?

E: One of my big inspirations for this collection is Sashiko embroidery. It’s a kind of Japanese-style embroidery that uses a really long needle. I have all my Sashiko stuff with me in my bag because that’s what I’m doing today, drafting a piece. I learned about Sashiko through my host mother when I was staying Japan in high school. Her mother had sewn my host brothers a quilt, all hand-done and beautiful. I was already interested in sewing at the time, and there was a district in Tokyo called Nipoli that has really nice fabric, including Sashiko practice fabric. It has the design etched out and you embroider over it, but once you wash it the ink comes out.

A: You’ve been designing since high school. When did you start?

E: I started sewing with a machine the summer after my freshman year and got really into it. I started pattern-making because of cosplay. Then I went to regular clothes, and even created an online shop. It was an Etsy shop, but since I don’t have easy access to materials, my sewing machine, or my serger, I haven’t done it since being in Providence.

A: How many pieces are you making for this collection?

E: It’s five pieces at least, but only 3 looks because each look features multiple pieces.

A: What colors will the collection be featuring?

E: This collection has less of a color focus, but it has a bit of a preference of blues and neutrals. Ironically, I “can’t distinguish” colors. My boyfriend always jokingly tests me over Facetime about the colors of different clothes and I always guess them wrong.

A: What does designing mean to you?

E: I’ve had a lot of people come up to me for designing advice or asking me about fashion, but I don’t know anything about couture because my background is technical. When I first started working, I took lessons with a lady in a brother machine shop. They were closed on Wednesdays and they did private lessons, so I would do full-day lessons at this machine shop. I grew up learning that this is something very professional and technical, and I did it as a job. For me designing is to make something more functional.

A: How do you go about creating your designs? Does a fabric or pattern draw you in?

E: A lot of time it is the fabric that draws me in, but sometimes I’ll come into a store with preliminary designs, pick a fabric and then work from there. I do a lot of fashion magazine browsing.

A: Any favorite magazines?

E: I really like Onkul. It’s a women’s magazine, but it’s very work-wear, tomboy focused.

A: Is that somewhat like your style?

E: A bit. It’s very basic, but well-made. When I buy it, I want it to last for a while.

A: Do you feel like your roots being in Florida inspires your designs? And since you’ve mentioned Japanese inspirations as well, how do they come together?

E: I’ve only ever been to Japan in the summer except for one time, and it’s extremely hot. Being in Florida, I grew up with Lily Pulitzer. I got used to seeing those patterns: floral and linen, blue and white, white after labor day. But, at the same time, my mother is Vietnamese, and I grew up with that textile inspiration. One of my pieces is actually an áo dài, which is a traditional Vietnamese garment, and those are always made with a light cotton or light silk. With Vietnam’s tropical climate, we never use anything heavy. It’s always super fine and breatheable, so most of my pieces tend to be very breatheable.

A: How long does it take to make a piece? Does it vary?

E: Some pieces will take a day, some will take two weeks. Depending on the amount of embroidery and how new a pattern is to me, the time and preparation will vary.

A: What’s your definition of fashion?

E: For me, fashion is something aesthetically pleasing, but well-manufactured. If it’s not well-made, then it’s not fashion.

A: Is there any particular designer you have looked up to?

E:I really like Yohji Yamamoto’s stuff. He does a lot of suit work, which I personally haven’t done, but it’s very nice. I’d like to do menswear at some point, but I have two sisters so it’s easy to use them as models and references.