Makeshift is a year-long project by Natalie Purschwitz, clothing designer and founder of Hunt & Gather, the award-winning Vancouver shop and clothing line. Her project is this: for a whole year, she will wear only clothes she has made herself, and that includes everything – “all of my clothes, socks, shoes, underwear, coats, jackets, hats, bathing suits, and accessories.” There are only a few exceptions – hair accessories, tools, eyeglass lenses. The outfit for Day 1 was her cool black coveralls, below. Here are the rules she has set for herself:
1. My entire wardrobe will be made by me out of new or used materials.
2. I don’t have to make my materials, however, I will aspire to do so whenever possible.
She goes on to say:
If I’m talking about making everything that I wear, you may be wondering how the rules for the ‘making’ part have been determined. That’s where the beauty lies – they haven’t! Not yet anyway. I hope to develop a set of rules as I go. As a simple starting point I will say that my wardrobe will consist of anything made by me from either new or used materials. Materials can be reused but just altering something doesn’t count.
The project is part conceptual art, part fashion design, and part social experiment, and this combination seems inevitable given Purschwitz’s mixed training in anthropology, visual art and design. The project is ostensibly simple – make all your own clothes for a year – but as so often happens with an apparently simple idea, it quickly opens out into dozens of complex questions. There’s the fact that we’re all so de-skilled in our specialized global economy. What if you had to make your own shoes, in a pinch – could you? And what would they look like? And in terms of clothing design, what is the relationship of utility to creativity, of life to making things? The production of clothes is a creative and even artistic act, but it becomes assembly line-ish very easily. Only three weeks in to the project, Purschwitz confesses to being very tired, because maintaining this level of creativity, innovation and learning curve while at the same time running her business is not easy (she’d never made shoes before, or a bra.) There’s the collaborative social angle – Purshwitz is keeping a blog to document her daily activities, and is requesting comments and discussion so she herself can more fully understand what the project means. The blog too is labour, just of another kind. The blog’s public interactivity echoes the collaborative element in craft and fashion and retail itself, but in a different way; it somewhat collapses the distance between producer and consumer as well as the distinction between art viewer or audience and buying public. In this way, among others, the project blurs art, craft, business and design. There are many more questions to consider, but you can explore them yourself by participating on the Makeshift blog or visiting the space at 8 E. Cordova during visiting hours.
Purschwitz is a very good designer and it’s not surprising she has dedicated fans like Toronto singer Jane Siberry. Her work has always been distinctive because she doesn’t closely follow fashion, but finds her ideas in diverse places such as historical fashion design – a few years ago she described the style of her fall line as “paleo-Queen Anne” – and in idiosyncratic craft practices. Her mother was a Japanese archeologist working in Egypt when she met Natalie’s German father, and this probably explains Purschwitz’s interest in anthropology. She would have been conditioned to notice the eccentric crafts projects she grew up around in Radium Hot Springs. “A big influence for my store and my style is a guy I call Rolf the Radium Woodcarver. He’s this crazy woodcarver who makes bears, cowboys, and everything out of logs. He’s got booby traps all over his property.…I always thought that was really great, that he could make whatever he wanted and that was his store. And that’s what I wanted to do.” As with her clothing line, Purschwitz is taking the Makeshift project somewhere really interesting. Visit her during her open hours at Makeshift (check blog for times) and find her clothes at Hunt & Gather. More information on Natalie Purschwitz and Hunt & Gather can be found in the Georgia Straight.
PS. She didn’t want me to include this photo of the felt apron, above, but it’s one of my favourites. I should mention that I’m wearing one of her skirts as I write this; I’ve probably worn it about a hundred times, and not only because my boyfriend likes it (you can see it in the photo with the purple scarf). Maybe it’s because of her experience in theatrical and dance costume design, but Purschwitz knows how to make clothes that flow properly.