The story of R.A.W., the line of artfully rusted and dyed silk lingerie showcased and sold at Lille Boutique (1007 E Burnside), is a one-thing-leads-to-another affair. With a background in visual art, designer Rio Wrenn took women's studies along with her art classes, developing a seemingly unrelated fascination with the history of the female undergarment. As her career as a textile artist developed, it was a natural extension when she presented some of it fashioned into Victorian-era lingerie for a show she titled "R.A.W."
Based on the positive response, she competed in the Mercury's "Installations" fashion show last spring, and won the audience's popular vote with dramatic corsets and a show-stealing hoopskirt, all made with the fabric that she treats by placing metal objects—everything from scissors to drain covers—against damp fabric, intentionally rusting patterns into it over the course of days, and dying them using an assortment of techniques.
After the success of the Mercury show, Wrenn was approached by Lille Boutique owner Sarah Wizemann, who had been looking for a local addition to the selection of fine lingerie she specializes in, and as of October the R.A.W. collection is for sale, with a kimono robe, several corsets modified from vintage patterns, slips, a garter belt, camisoles, and panties.
Although Wrenn still hesitates to refer to herself as a clothing designer, the line is created from scratch—she could have opted for the easy route of embellishing existing vintage pieces. Using Japanese shibori techniques of dying fabric, in which cut pieces are wrapped or stitched before being strategically drizzled with dye, each item in the collection is one of a kind. Describing herself as a little "witchy," Wrenn's dyes tend to be all natural, from plants and bugs, much of which she grows in her yard and ferments herself.
Of the process that makes these garments truly remarkable, Wrenn explains, "The process I put most of the fabrics through is in direct contrast to the end use and look of the final product. The lingerie is soft, delicate, and intimate, and most of the process is dirty, and maybe grungy. For example, the composting can take up to two weeks for the proper fermentation and color development, but to look at it you would never guess. I'm intrigued by the tension created from the hard to soft and pristine to marked."
Concept aside, the collection is beautiful and unique (and pricey, as truly beautiful and unique things tend to be), and would be an amazing addition to any lingerie collector's war chest. For those who tend to be attracted to the areas in which art and fashion overlap, Wrenn's work (also exhibited in frames on Lille's walls through the month) is a must-see.