IF GENRES OF DESIGN come and go like the fads of other art movements, then just as Portland's been having a metal music moment, likewise it's so with leather. After years dominated by apparel and jewelry design, the past year or so has seen an up-tick in exciting new lines of quality leather goods designed and manufactured in the city. Less about ostentatious ornamentation and more about devastatingly cool, understated lines in butter-soft hide and just-so colors, this week we turn our attention to yet another. Btwn Wind + Water is the work of Mariah Rich, a brand strategist whose past involvements include Sameunderneath, and who currently lends her skills to Eugene's Spirit Leather Works.
After about 10 years in the fashion industry, Rich said she knew she wanted to start her own brand, but had to figure out what to do in Portland that was different from what was already going on. "There's a lot of amazing leather goods," she says, "but a lot of it is really masculine—enter her soft fold-over clutches, pouches, and totes in neutrals as well as sunny yellows and popping blue, all slinky simplicity without the bulky heft of most leather baggage. "I wanted create something functional that has a sense of fashion, can be used for a bunch of things, and be wearable every day. The deerskin is super soft and supple, and it wears well. You love to have it in your hands."
"It's actually an old sailor term," Rich says of the name she's given her brand, referring to the precariousness of life on a boat at the mercies of the vast forces of air and ocean. "It's about being in a vulnerable state, unsure, unclear. I love it because life and love are like that. It's a good description of where I am in my own life. It's very real and raw, and very open.
However unfocused that may sound, the pieces themselves are confident and chic, ready to be worn by women whose style speaks for itself and who do their homework. "I never tout myself as a sustainable brand, but I love to support my local vendors," says Rich, who counts downtown stalwart Oregon Leather Co. as one of her primary resources. "I stick to leather because I love it and it's super durable—sustainability is about things that last, too."
Rich is being fêted this week at Nationale, the first Portland store to carry her work. Drop by the shop during the First Friday swirl of activity on E Burnside to grab a first look. Nationale, 811 E Burnside, #112, Fri July 6, 6-8 pm.