For the first time in a long time, I am struggling to find words. I’m sitting in a hotel bed at the Imperial River Company in Maupin, Oregon. It’s not even 8pm, but my eyes are heavy with exhaustion in the best possible way. I have seen so much in the past several days, and my brain is working overtime to keep up. We are one day away from launching our Cold Weather Collection, and that’s what I’m trying to write about. What at one point felt like a pretty straightforward topic now seems too sprawling to broach. So much has developed over the past several months, and the story of this season has so many layers. I’m going to try to at the very least introduce them here, and dig into each over the coming weeks. I hope you’re up for bearing with me while I dissect and parse my thoughts in real time with you all.
There was the decision to launch a Cold Weather Collection rather than a typical Fall/Winter Collection. This was a decision that didn’t come about lightly - we rely on seasonal releases to bring new product to existing customers, and to bring in new customers to the brand. Our seasonal releases are typically very popular and are responsible for a significant amount of our growth. However, in between those spikes of activity, and even during the upticks in volume surrounding collection launches, our Signature Collection remains our core business. It is comprised of the pieces that you all believe in, the ones we’ve had the time to adjust and perfect, each garment earning its place in the lineup on its own merit as a functional article of clothing - not as an aesthetic prop or filler for a conceptual collection.
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. So, we decided to take the concept that has made us successful - our Signature Collection - and find a way to make it work year round.
Our Cold Weather Collection will be available year round, and the styles are in the same vein as our Signature Collection. They may change and evolve over time, and we may adjust the details, but the concept is that we will establish a core collection of garments that are timeless, versatile, and functional - and we’ll have a grouping suited for cold-weather, warm-weather, and year-round wear. Our Signature Collection is already geared towards year-round, any-occasion wear, and the Cold Weather Collection will be our first extension of that format.
The decision immediately felt like the right one, and designing for it was such a different experience than previous collections. These were items I knew would be staying around, and I felt a strong desire to incorporate silhouettes from seasons past that were still lingering in my mind. It was like a coming-home of sorts for styles that I knew had longevity but felt too seasonal to belong in Signature. I gathered my favorite pieces from the archives to re-evaluate and perfect, and set about bringing to life what was missing. Rather than seeking a dialed-in source of inspiration or tight concept for the collection, I was thinking in broader strokes. What is it about fall that I find comforting, what are my habits, my desires? I thought heavily on my physical experience of this time of year.
An album I’ve been listening to on repeat for months wouldn’t leave my mind - Astral Weeks by Van Morrison. It’s his earlier work, and very different than some of his more well known music. I’m a big fan of his mainstream hits, but something about this album captivates me and really gets to me. I’ve been trying to identify what about it was moving to me, and why it wouldn’t leave my head. It’s a pretty jazzy album, and I like listening to the expanded edition which has some studio content, and longer recordings of the tracks. The music has melody, but it’s not predictable. And for my not even remotely musically-talented mind, it’s hard for me to know what version of the chorus he’s going to sing at any given moment, even though I’ve heard it hundreds of times. Some songs trail on, sometimes he pauses to talk to the band. On "Madame George,” I feel like he sings the chorus differently every single time. I was describing the kind of confusion the music created in my head to my husband, and he immediately knew what I was trying to articulate. He described it as a “lack of resolution.” That summed up my feelings perfectly - a lack of resolution. My mind hears the melody, and wants desperately to follow along. To understand the cadence of the notes, to be able to hear each verse with confidence. But the fact that I can’t quite connect the dots, that the music seems to carry on with no regard for rules or pattern, is endlessly intriguing to me. My ears want to hear it over and over again. I never tire of listening to it, and it’s become a catalyst for progress. It’s a ritual - I put it on when I need to focus, when I’m trying to solve an unsolvable problem. The never-ending question of the music seems to push my mind a little, stretch my imagination.
I’m not sure why this album felt relevant for the development of the Cold Weather Collection, but environment was a large part of what I wanted to explore in developing the styles. Music, scent, food, furnishing, lighting, clothing - all of the physical elements that make up your surroundings - these seem especially important for me in the fall and winter. It’s a time for ritual, for tradition. Soft yellow light on dark cold evening, lighting incense and a steaming mug of drink on a chilly morning, an impossibly soft sweater and a favorite album crackling on the turntable. Those are the feelings I have about this season - feelings of comfort, of making yourself at home in your surroundings, manipulating your senses to conjure warmth and strength and resolve. Astral Weeks is at the same time a part of that ritual of comfort - a crackling, familiar album - and an example of the opposite - the unfamiliar, the open-ended question, the unresolved melody.
The clothes in this collection are meant to capture that dichotomy - pieces that provide comfort, strength, confidence, but that also ask a bit of a question, leave a little to the imagination. Warm, thick and luxurious wools imbue a sense of safety and warmth. Familiar silhouettes are like old friends. But patterns that connect and fold like origami, garments that can be worn in a multitude of ways, colors that are neutral and warm but near impossible to define - these give interest and spark to foundational clothing.
And then, perhaps the largest part of the story is our journey to an improved supply chain, and how I find myself in a town of four-hundred-and-some-odd people in central Oregon writing this tonight. With the shift to a permanent Cold Weather Collection, fabric selection felt more significant than with any other seasonal collection. I was signing on to use a fabric indefinitely, and that’s not something I can do lightly. Our experience with wool in particular has been difficult. It’s very hard to find good quality, woven, 100% wool in the textures and colors that I’m interested in. Our wools from last year were beautiful, but our supplier had terrible continuity and that’s certainly not sustainable for a long-term collection. It was also an imported product, and for a fiber that comes directly from an animal, I didn’t feel comfortable moving forward in a permanent way until I knew more about where the raw material came from. Fast forward through lots of dead-end research, and we decided to make a monumental shift to using all locally woven wool fabric from our good friends at Tennessee Textile Mill right here in Nashville. Allison was confident she could weave us a nice heavy coating weight wool and a medium sweater weight, and could do so with long-term continuity. The wool yarn could also be sourced domestically, which was a huge step up. 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.
Fast forward a little more, and that domestic wool yarn is sourced through the Imperial Stock Ranch near Shaniko, Oregon. We read incredible things about the ranch and Dan and Jeanne Carver, the owners and operators on-site. Not everything you read is always true, though, and to get the full story and ensure that this new wool we were using and these pretty huge decisions we were making were worth it, we needed to go out and see it for ourselves. And now I’m here, and I’ve seen it for myself, and I’m out of words. I don’t have words to describe the vastness of this place, the heart and soul Dan and Jeanne have poured into their work, how big and impossibly blue the sky is. I saw happy, playful sheep, the 100 year-old shearing shed where the Imperial sheep are still shorn every spring, heard Jeanne tell the story of the ranch and their progressive practices as sustainable land-managers. Their role is essential, and their work is so important. We had the privilege of capturing such great content on the ranch, and I’ll be sharing more on the story of the wool as soon as I can assemble my thoughts.
While we’ve been here, we photographed our editorial for the collection (coming out soon) - we wanted to capture these garments at their point of genesis - the beginning of the story and the end, all in one frame. The imagery is beyond anything I could have imagined, and the fact that we had the opportunity to photograph our wool coats next to the wool-providing sheep is still blowing my mind. The landscape here is unlike anything I’ve seen before. You can see forever, and the rolling mountains give way to open grassland, and the sky goes on infinitely. My brain simply can’t wrap itself around the magnificence of nature, the complex relationship between animal and land and man. I can’t seem to find the melody, my mind is searching for resolution. But, perhaps I’m supposed to just enjoy the song.