MAYBE YOU'VE seen them: a pair of black, raw silk wrap pants. Communicating ease as well as mathematics, the bowed, Eastern-inspired shape of the tapered garment might cause a double take. Like many of the best-designed objects, this signature piece from emerging Portland brand Mônom (mon-om.com) has the practical function of plain black pants yet provides intrigue for those given to closer inspection.
A collaboration between New York-seasoned couturier Gretchen Belle and graphic designer Sky Speir, Mônom has started to make its presence known, with a small suite of progressive pieces in luxury fabrics—wool, silk, leather—at shops like West End Select Shop and Haunt. We tapped Belle and Speir for more info.
MERCURY: How does your collaborative approach flow?
GRETCHEN BELLE: We decided to do this together because aesthetically and conceptually we hold the same values. It's also really valuable that we specialize in different areas; we can effectively divide our focus and energy to where it's needed most, and who would be best suited.
SKY SPEIR: Our workflow survives on constant communication, intuition, and adaptability. Our roles are not set in stone. I play to my strengths, and she to hers, but we constantly check in so that the opinions and unspoken influence of the other person affects what we do individually. It's a bit like abstract sculpture: We each see possibilities, we push and pull and chip away until we've met somewhere in between, and a finished idea has been found.
What principles guide you? Do you operate within self-prescribed "rules"?
BELLE: We won't be doing any cocktail dresses or gala gowns. Everything from Mônom is meant to be worn in the real world. We only use natural materials (no synthetics) for environmental reasons, as well as health reasons. According to Taoist practice, it is bad chi to wear synthetics on the body. It keeps your skin from breathing properly. Overall your body reacts much better to natural fibers, so that's what we use, and we'll also be incorporating more raw, un-dyed fabrics and utilizing more natural dyeing techniques in our future collections.
SPEIR: Luxury, function, versatility, natural origins, minimalism. The parameters for our work (apparel or not) are derived from our personal interests and values. We see so much clothing created for high style, or for high function, but very rarely the two combined in an intuitive, ingenious way. We seek to create that which we can't find anywhere else, and hopefully we can prove to other people that it's possible to make clothing that bridges the gap between luxury and usability.
Mônom is built so that we can maintain quality, sustainable techniques, and natural materials without having to fall into the production pitfalls and compromises that many other growing fashion labels run into.
What are the cultural influences that shape the aesthetic?
BELLE: Historic cultures have always been a huge influence for me. I'm so intrigued by how different cultures dress and have dressed throughout history, and why. I've always loved historical Japanese, Chinese, and Mongolian clothing and culture, for both aesthetic and technical reasons.
SPEIR: Personally, I've come to appreciate minimalism, a type of restrained expressionism, the beauty of a concise form or structure. Designers and labels such as Siki Im, Yohji Yamamoto, Ran Slavin, and InAisce.
The ever-changing realms of gender, androgyny, and unisex also heavily influence Mônom. Although it's something we're slowly working our way into, we want the apparel for Mônom to be styled and fit in such a way that men, women, or whomever could wear our clothing.
What's in the future for Mônom?
BELLE: For now we'll keep doing seasonal collections, although what we would really like to [do] is one season-less collection a year. It's not very common yet, but I've seen a few designers do it. While we're still an emerging brand we'll continue with two collections, and ideally we would like to expand our market to places like New York, Europe, and Japan.
SPEIR: We'll continue to grow and expand our influence, but one very important aspect is to keep our production as locally contained as possible. Neither of us wants to outsource Mônom's production abroad, so we want to create and maintain our relationships with local resources and artisans. If that means we're limited to producing small, quality runs stocked in a few choice locations, then we'll grow and create the absolute best product we can within those boundaries.
• Textile Hive is offering a rare opportunity to meet with its original co-founder, Andrea Aranow, who set the stage for a textile library of more than 40,000 samples gathered from around the world. It's free with RSVP to "Meet Andrea" on eventbrite.com. Textile Hive, 133 SW 2nd, Ste. 430, Wed Sept 23, 4-5:30 pm
• St. Johns has a new and interesting option for shoes: RoM Shoes sources for men, women, and children with an eye toward both comfort and progressive business models. They plan to select a different brand each month for special attention, so be prepared to discover the stories behind brands like Startas, a resurrected Croatian heritage sneaker brand. Start at the beginning with this weekend's grand opening event. RoM Shoes, 7419 N Burlington, Sat Sept 26, 2-6 pm
• One of the largest regularly occurring sales of the year, the PDX Collective Sale gathers 11 of Portland's independent boutiques (like Folly, Adorn, and Radish Underground) to offload past seasons' merchandise at deep, deep discounts. Go early and shop nice. The Cleaners at the Ace Hotel, 403 SW 10th, Sat Sept 26, 10 am-5 pm, Sun Sept 27, 11 am-5 pm