DURING OUR most recent heat wave, I realized that despite my desire to sweat it all out in cutoffs and an old band tee, I had professional obligations which require a more polished look. As I reached into my closet seeking an effortless A-line dress that would billow off the body to keep me cool and comfortable, I was stopped in my tracks by the Lizz Basinger dress I'd proudly worn nearly every day last summer. Among my favorite Portland-based designers, I can't believe I'd put her dress out of my memory amid the colder winter months. And yet, there it was: waiting for me with the same flattering poetry tucked neatly in the details.
I love Basinger designs because no matter what textile she works with, either woven or knit, we get a beautifully tailored look through spectacular use of pleating, darting, and gathering. This is a great feature for those of us who prefer slightly looser garments, but still want to create curvature and silhouette. In my opinion, no A-line mini dress should be missing the kind of details that pull the focus in a flattering manner—and this seems to fall squarely into Basinger's company mission statement: "Design, pattern, cut, sew, fit, alter, re-cut, re-sew, re-fit, photograph, grade, market, sell, wear." Getting the details right from the get-go seems to be the modus operandi of this meticulously careful designer.
I emailed Basinger right after my sun-imbued epiphany and asked her for the latest info about her company. Along with a fresh look at her current SS16 and FW16 lookbooks, she gave me a little background on her company and the many directions she's taking.
MERCURY: Where does your sewing background begin?
LIZZ BASINGER: I was a self-taught designer at the age of 14 until I went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and learned what the tension disks on my machine were for. After a couple of years at SAIC, I dropped out of school. (Made my mother real proud.) Then, I transferred to Columbia College Chicago where I eventually graduated. Starting in 2007, I did a lot of freelance work for other designers, and worked as a full-time production seamstress as well. In 2010 I opened my business, and the majority of my education has been gained in the last six years. I've made plenty of mistakes, though I've learned and improved in countless ways from them.
What is your mission as a clothing company?
We create sustainable designs for the modern woman. The word "sustainable" gets thrown around a lot these days, though for us it's truly at the forefront of all our designs. In experimenting with organic fibers like bamboos and merino wool, our design philosophy centers on elegance, sustainability, and attention to detail; every pleat has a purpose, and every pocket is placed with care. All pieces embody classic silhouettes while implementing modern and functional design elements. For example, almost all pieces, whether structured or relaxed, are adorned with pockets!
What is the inspiration for your FW16 collection?
My FW16 collection was deeply inspired by architecture: specifically, the inner workings of beams and wires, which hide in between the exteriors and interiors of buildings. Though it's tough to swallow the ever-changing landscape of Portland, I've been entranced by all the high rises which litter the city these days. From a construction point of view, the process of how a building is made is absolutely fascinating to me.
Coming from Chicago, architecture has always been an interest of mine. Geometry and line seem to translate visually into all my pieces whether I intend them to or not. I feel as though it will be an ongoing theme throughout my entire career. I love to utilize structural seaming, pleating, and subtle textural details to exaggerate and emphasize the body's contour.
What attracted you to the color and print story?
Keeping with the architectural inspiration of the line, the color story consists of mostly muted and neutral tones with the occasional pop of saturated blues. My intent was to find fabric which emulated stone and steel. In doing this, I hoped to add to the utilitarian undertone to the collection, which nicely contrasts the feminine silhouettes.
Where can your garments be purchased?
We're currently selling items on my website (lizzbasinger.com), as well as 10-plus stores across the US. In Portland, check out Amelia on NE Alberta or Union Rose in Montavilla. You'll also see the full collections at this year's Alley 33 fashion event in July.