Saturday, June 7, 2014
Armour sans Anguish dresses are what you would see at Oberon and Titania's wedding: Grecian silhouettes, floating sherbet chiffon, everything draped with strips of silk and lichen-crocheted lace. Upon stepping into the studio/warehouse, I was awed by the racks and racks of pastel gauze and satin slips. Tawny smiled as I exclaimed, "This is heaven!"
Armour sans Anguish is a four-woman operation. The office manager wasn't there, but Tawny introduced me to seamstresses Camilla and Morgan. They greeted me briefly before turning back to their work. A sewing machine whirred busily, and the upturned iron simmered, water bubbling in its blue plastic compartment. A true-stories podcast played in the background. My boots were entirely too loud as I explored the large, low-lit space. Natural sunshine came through a skylight, and spread down from the high ceiling. The walls displayed various swatches of white and beige paint. Exposed pipes reinforced the semi-industrial vibe.
Tawny Holt got her first sewing machine when she was nineteen, and quickly began teaching herself to use it as an artistic tool. She told me laughingly, "I don't know how to do anything the 'right' way--but luckily my staff does!" Tawny explained that learning informally was a surprise blessing; she has never been limited by standard ideas of how garment production is "supposed" to work.
Armour sans Anguish grew out of textile experiments with a friend--"dyeing cheesecloth in the bathroom and making weird stuff"--into a small business that Tawny sustained throughout college. When she moved to the Bay Area to pursue a doctorate in anthropology, Pinterest suddenly got in the way of Tawny's academic progress. One of AsA's pictures blew up, and Tawny came back from a weekend away to find that her Etsy inbox contained an explosion of messages, many from brides who loved the whimsical magic of Armour sans Anguish designs. Tawny tried to fill the plethora of orders while still attending class, but it proved impossible. She had to choose between dressmaking and school. Tawny decided that she couldn't pass up the opportunity to sew beautiful clothes for a living, and plunged into business full-time.
Within a couple of months, Armour sans Anguish ballooned from a personal project to a bustling shop with three employees. Tawny found herself working hundred-hour weeks and not seeing anyone but her coworkers. She wasn't used to the sheer volume of orders, and it took a while to figure out how much Armour sans Anguish could realistically handle. Tawny persevered through the stress and exhaustion by resolving to be the kind of person who follows through on their word. She refused to disappoint customers or back out of commitments. Tawny describes this period as "the hardest I've worked in my life", with a definite sense of relief that it's over.
Tawny's design ethos is materials-driven, motivated both practically and creatively by the salvaged fabrics that she works with. She sources antique textiles from thrift stores and estate sales, helped by a few buyers who supply her with a constant stream of vintage slips, which are used as bases for bridesmaids' dresses, the shop's bread-and-butter. Tawny builds with pretty scraps and careful color palettes, working to find the sweet, balanced spot between overdone and overly restrained. Tawny's aesthetic is hyperfeminine; she makes delicate, ethereal pieces that will move with the wind.
AsA's sustainable development happened intuitively. Tawny attributes her penchant for preloved materials to a thrifty upbringing; she says it didn't occur to her to do things differently. When Armour sans Anguish began to grow, Tawny realized that there was a term for her process: she fit perfectly into the "eco-fashion" niche. However, Tawny was conscious of separating herself from mainstream fast-fashion from the beginning: the name "Armour sans Anguish" emerged from a desire to participate in fashion "without sorrow", minus the exploitation that runs rampant in the industry.
For those of you who live in the Bay Area, Armour sans Anguish is holding an open house and sale on Saturday, June 14th, from 12-5pm. Address: 3140 Adeline Street in Oakland, California. The event's tagline is "a fun afternoon of spiked punch and shopping!" Highlights will include a $5 rack and guest artisan. Hope to see you there!
AsA links: Instagram, Facebook, bridal, vintage, and lookbooks.