Babette (208 NW 13th) has never really been on my radar, mainly because it's a chain, with origins in San Francisco (aside from PDX and SF, there are flagship stores in New York, Chicago, and Scottsdale), and because I'm outside its demographic (this rather informative article in the San Francisco Chronicle concurs):
Her customers are loyal and used to finding certain staples. Her clothes aren't for the trendy. "I pay attention to fashion, of course," Pinsky says. "It's not like I'm an artist and my way is the only way to go. My customers are contemporary women. They want to keep up with fashion, but they don't want to look like their teenagers."
The core Babette customer is about 45, arty and well traveled, with a income sizable enough to afford a $260 top or a $450 coat. The forgiving nature of the fabric and the simple silhouettes of her pieces work on most frames. "You can walk into my dressing room and there will be a 6-foot-tall woman and little mini thing, and they can both wear the same outfit."
(I may not be a teenager anymore, but I'm a lot closer to being one than having one.)
The company, which had its biggest break in the '80s with its signature pleated raincoats is celebrating its 40th anniversary with the launch of Babette: Designing a Vision, a (ghost written), image-heavy tome available only at Babette stores that chronicles designer Babette Pinsky's career, which is marked by a specialty in pleating (check out the video the Chron also made of her Oakland factory, in which they demonstrate some of the techniques that originate from ancient Egypt.) She'll be at the store this Saturday, 1-4 pm, for a signing, which might make for a good opportunity for Portland designers interested in the sculptural potential of pleating (coughEmilyRyancoughLeanimalcough) to pick the brain of one of the forerunners of the technique.
The '80s-era Babette pleated raincoat, photographed by David Perez.