As a writer, whenever I interview fashion designers, one question that comes up a lot is, "What inspired your collection?" And I have to admit, I've gotten some very abstract answers. So when someone can point to something concrete, something more than just "people" or "the things I see around me," I know that designer has a firm grasp on what they're trying to create.
Local designer Beth Pilger is one of those people. Her latest collection, for fall/winter 2011, will be featured at Passport For Fashion this Saturday, April 16. When asked about her inspiration, she recalls an exhibit she saw at the Whitney Museum in New York.
"It was an exhibit about Georgia O’Keeffe’s Abstractions. I’m a huge fan of O’Keeffe," she says. "It’s bold. She’s most known for her flowers. The colors, you’re just mesmerized by it. This exhibit was more on the abstract side, which is more of the work she’s not known for. It was part of her charcoal series, these beautiful charcoal images. Cloud-like formations. It just had such movement and bold strokes."
As a designer who wants to "push the boundaries and make people really take a look at what they’re wearing and what’s possible," bold is definitely a great way to describe Pilger's latest collection. Since the last time we spoke with Pilger, she's changed the direction of her work quite a bit. For example, she's chosen to move into the luxury market, thus tapping into a whole new audience.
But more importantly, Pilger has altered the focus of her collection. It's not enough to simply create staple pieces that people can wear through multiple seasons, as was her goal in the past. Now, she's revamped the process entirely.
"In terms of in which direction the collection has gone, it’s gone sustainable. I needed to find a deeper purpose than just designing." she says. "I wanted it to be something that’s good for the environment, and I really wanted to look at ways that the business could be as local as possible."
One way was to utilize raw material found right here in North Carolina.
"A lot of the fiber that’s in this show, the wool, the mohair, there’s some angora — all of that is from North Carolina farms," she says. "I just went out to the farm and ... there are actually fiber shows that you can go to."
Pilger says that pieces of her collection are made from raw fiber, without ever having been processed. Coming straight from the animal, debris is removed and it's washed — and that's about it.
Furthermore, most of the pieces found in this collection are au natural in color. "It’s coming from the animal directly to the consumer," she says. "Most of the fibers that were used was what color the animal was. Animals, whether it was a sheep, goat or rabbit, they come in so many different colors. The variances between black, brown and gray — they’re just all over the spectrum. There was a lot of fun with that. There was some great-looking natural fiber that will work very well in the luxury market, and it doesn’t have to be dyed. It represents well on its own."
By sticking with organic materials found domestically, the whole process remains sustainable. For her, sustainable is not just about using an organic fabric, but also taking into consideration the method in which that organic fiber is manufactured.
"It’s also showcasing local talent. Not only from the people who raise these animals but to using local seamstresses and knitters. It’s a very local process and I’m very proud of that," she says. "This used to be a huge textile industry here in North Carolina and because of overseas production, it’s basically all gone. The fact that there are so many people in this business and they have so many of those materials and resources — it’s been such a great opportunity for me to tap into that."
Despite getting her hands dirty, doing everything from hand-knitting many of her samples herself to going directly to the farms and surveying the animals, Pilger maintains that she still believes in the art of dressing up. For her fashion is about the fantasy and the possibilities.
"Even though this collection is a bit more edgy, it still has that fantasy element," she says. "You want to be able to put something on and feel that it alters a perception of you. If you’re wearing basic T-shirt and jeans, it doesn’t say a lot about your personality. But clothes have that possibility of conveying what your personality is and altering what that is. We love to make a statement about ourselves. That’s what I’m hoping this collection does."
If you're interested in seeing more of Pilger's designs, come out on Saturday. Or visit www.bethpilger.com. An online store is in the works for the site, in which people interested can order custom-made pieces, and Pilger plans to host trunk shows this spring and summer, with one definitely in Charlotte.