TEXTILE HIVE has the collection of a lifetime. It is an archive that has resulted from nearly half a century of extensive traveling and gathering by collector Andrea Aranow, and includes over 40,000 garments, swatches, objects, and printed material from more than 50 countries. As a result, Textile Hive is a trove of textile processes and techniques from around the world, and earlier this year it all became accessible through the click of a button.
The archive is housed in a small but tidy space on the fourth floor of a building in Old Town. Cubbies and drawers line the walls, filled with stacks of neatly folded fabric—jacquards, kimono silks, and Victorian laces. When I visited, beautiful swatches of shibori (a Japanese tie-dye technique) were laid out on the table. On the walls were airy photographs of the textiles and articles about Aranow's career.
In the late '60s and early '70s, with a studio in the East Village, Aranow designed snakeskin and leather patchwork for the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis. Later in life she moved to Peru, then traveled the globe, amassing her incredible collection of fabric swatches and textile pieces. In 1987, she founded the Andrea Aranow Textile Documents in New York. (It's now called the Andrea Aranow Textile Design Collection.) Insiders in the fashion world visited (like Ralph Lauren, Louis Vuitton, and Abercrombie and Fitch), using it as a resource for techniques and styles. At one point the British Museum even purchased a segment of the collection to include in their Museum of Mankind.
In 2009, Aranow's son, Caleb Sayan, moved the collection from New York to Portland and began to digitize it in the hopes of making it available to a wider audience—it's now the largest digitized independent textile collection in the world.
"I was interested in exploring what other ways the collection could be used, because any given year maybe a few 100 designers would come through—the business was very successful—but I figured if it were digitized the potential scope would be a lot larger," says Sayan.
Most impressive is that Sayan built the interface for an app from scratch; that being said, the application is an art in itself: Textiles are searchable by color, by country, by technique, and by just about every other taxonomy you can imagine.
"I wanted a way for people who didn't necessarily know a lot about textiles—it could be kids or graphic designers—to have a way to navigate intuitively," says Sayan.
The application requires a paid membership, and aside from the endlessly searchable archive, it also offers educational videos, with interviews by Aranow and Annin Barrett (textile professor at the Art Institute of Portland), which give the collection an additional point of entry, as well as a personality and depth.
For Design Week, a selection of the archive will be on display in Past Future Textile Design, an exhibit at the Art Institute's Steven Goldman Gallery. Textiles will be displayed alongside current work from students who were inspired by the collection, with short videos explaining process and textiles. Aranow will even be in attendance during the opening reception, giving a face to a name and legend.
Past Future Textile Design Steven Goldman Gallery at the Art Institute of Portland, 1122 NW Davis, opening reception Thurs Oct 9, 5:30 pm, free, through Oct 31