Natalie Chanin is a designer and entrepreneur based in Florence, AL. She is the founder and creative director of Alabama Chanin and its family of businesses - The Factory Store + Cafe, The School of Making, and Building 14 Design + Manufacturing Services - all of which work together to create a collaborative community of idea exchange, healthy growth, and a love of quality goods that last.
I've admired Natalie for quite some time - she is an icon in the responsible making community, and she developed an inspiring and fascinating model for clothing production. I look up to the way she's built her business - rooted in her values and ethics and completely on her own terms - but I am also enamored with her as a designer. Natalie melds seemingly disparate aesthetics and sources of inspiration resulting in a finished look that is distinctively her own and always both imaginative and approachable. The intricate hand-work on Alabama Chanin feels rooted in tradition, but the large stitches and raw edges keep things feeling modern and unexpected. Her silhouettes are often fitted but never immodest.
At any rate, it was a true joy and honor to photograph a hero of mine in her world. We spent some time with Natalie in her beautiful home and at work in The Factory. She chose all navy everything, which is just the kind of twist on the classic designer's ensemble (all black, always) that you'd expect. For a morning puttering around in the garden, she layered a rumpled linen Harlow Dress over a silk midi skirt. I love how she wore the Harlow reversed with the v-neckline in the front, and I reveled in the juxtaposition of her muddied green boots with a navy silk hemline. And before you question gardening in these fabrics, everything is machine washable, and nothing is more comfortable on a humid Alabama morning than linen and silk. Back inside her home, one that's filled with the eclectic ephemera of a life well-lived, Natalie chose a navy silk shift dress paired with a favorite apron. Washing veggies from the garden and pouring a warm cup of coffee - the Georgia Midi is a comfortable and easy piece to throw on for those in-between moments, but also works for a multitude of occasions outside the house. We actually went back to visit Natalie after this shoot, and she had on her Georgia Midi when an impromptu game of soccer with her daughter erupted. She ripped a small hole in it after a serious kick, but it was of no concern to her. She patched it with large stitches and a piece of navy cotton, and I daresay it now looks even more interesting (and certainly more Natalie). At The Factory, Natalie layered linen, silk, and canvas - all in shades of navy - for an afternoon of shop-keeping.
Seeing our simple silhouettes and muted shades at work in Natalie's life was a dream come true - she is such an advocate for really living in your clothes and treating nothing as precious. It's a philosophy that's evident in her home, workplace, and designs - all are filled with signs of good living and affectionate wear. I get the feeling that most things in Natalie's life have a story, especially the things she chooses to put on her body.
We asked Natalie what role clothing plays in her life, and here’s what she had to say:
“Clothing is simply an expression of a full, rich life and the diverse encounters that each day brings. Everyday living is its own creative process and, over the years, a well-loved piece of clothing becomes an integral part of that process. My creative work includes laughing loudly when running with children and dogs and sitting quietly in soul-searching exploration. My wardrobe is a partner in that process, every day.”
Natalie wears the Harper Tunic in Navy Midweight Linen, Clyde Trench in Navy Cotton Canvas, Bel Skirt in Navy Silk Crepe, Harlow Dress in Navy Midweight Linen (see a similar style here), and Georgia Midi in Navy Silk Crepe.