criticism & reviews / news & current events / slow fashion / style

review: cold weather collection by elizabeth suzann

elizabeth-suzann-cold-weather-collection-4-panel

There are a lot of brands whose practices look nice on paper yet disintegrate when held up to the light, and Elizabeth Suzann is not one of them. Using natural fibers like cotton, silk, linen, and wool, each garment is made to order in Nashville, Tennessee. “Our process is slow,” reads the brand’s website. “We don’t produce excess inventory, [and] we don’t believe in instant gratification.”

The launch of the Cold Weather Collection takes the brand’s nearly pristine practices two huge leaps further. First and foremost, they are transitioning away from seasonal Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter collections, choosing instead to design and produce lines that will be available year-round. Second, they are moving towards a more sustainable and traceable supply chain. Founder Liz Pape writes:

As fall approached this year, I felt an uneasiness creep in. A discomfort with the idea of designing yet another season of garments that would be around for several months, only to come down a few short months later. The process didn’t seem to allow for enough time to do what we do best – incubate and develop ideas, test and perfect concepts, learn what works and improve on it, and build a foundational collection of timeless wardrobe staples. The whole concept of designing a full collection of garments for a single season feels like the antithesis of what I believe in, and what I think our greatest strength is as a company.

Though the Cold Weather Collection is not the brand’s first permanent line (the Signature Collection is available year-round), it marks a massive shift away from the status quo, and is a move that aligns with their core values. Plenty of brands extoll the virtues of capsule wardrobes, timeless pieces and seasonless style, but few have the courage to step out of the rat race of designing new collections each fall and spring. To do so is to enter into a kind of unknown: What happens when pieces don’t disappear but are always there, and there’s no pressure at the beginning or end of the season to grab them while you can?

Simply saying an item is “timeless” and pulling it off the site in six months to sell something new and equally “timeless” smacks as marketing and empty promises. Committing to the Cold Weather Collection as a permanent fixture shows that the pieces are indeed timeless, enduring, and perennial.

Since its launch last Tuesday, I’ve returned to the collection a few times, and each time I’m struck by how refined it is. Namely, how few pieces there are, many of which are a variation on a theme or family—like Harper, Eva, and Astral. Less than two dozen garments are available, and in decidedly neutral palettes, so that one could don each and every piece in a myriad of combinations and still look effortless and polished. Not to mention warm, with carefully chosen fabrics like raw silk and felted wool that beg to be layered.

The collection is pared down to three basic materials: silk, cotton and wool. Eventually, the brand will have in-depth write-ups on their website about each material’s properties, country of origin, and any ethical considerations. Cold weather dresses and tops are comprised of textured raw silk or a heavy silk crepe, while cotton canvas re-defines two of the brand’s well-loved pants, Tilda and Florence. The show-stopper is the new, domestically-sourced wool—felted for sweaters, and a woven version for what looks like the most glorious cocoon coat on earth.

Pape realized that carrying a collection year-round meant using a fabric “indefinitely,” which was something she couldn’t take lightly—both for continuity, and for a traceable, sustainable supply chain. After much research, the brand decided to source wool from a ranch in Oregon, which would then be woven at Tennessee Textile Mill in Nashville. She writes, “The implications of moving not only to locally woven fabric but also domestically sourced wool yarn are many and significant. A more complicated supplier process, as the fabric is woven on a much smaller scale with very different lead times. A far-from-small increase in price to account for both the vastly improved yarn and local production. These were obstacles we considered, and ultimately decided were worth overcoming, and I hope that you all agree.”

The thoughtfulness that goes into each garment is apparent in Pape’s prose, and she is as sharp of a writer as she is a designer—uniquely capable of expressing the why and how of what she does with textiles and garments. In many ways, the clothes speak for themselves and speak volumes, but what sets Elizabeth Suzann apart from other brands is the brand’s transparency and ability to weave stories.

In her introduction to the Cold Weather Collection, Liz Pape is grasping at concepts that are too big to contain in one essay, one clothing line, or one brand. As a reader and creative, I identify with a narrator who grapples with the right words to explain the thoughts and processes revolving around the events of the past few months. That drive to wrap one’s mind around ideas or practices is what compels artists to put pen to paper, paint to canvas, or pencil to drafting table, all in the intent of expressing something before they’re fully sure of its shape, size, or scope.

The more I look at the Cold Weather Collection, the more I am reminded that just because something seems small does not mean it is unambitious. There may be less than two dozen styles in the Cold Weather Collection, but that doesn’t mean it won’t forever re-define how we think about, buy, own, or design clothes.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s