San Francisco Trunk Show
Thursday, July 20th | 5-8P
1400 Tennessee St. SF, CA 94110
Featuring wine from Baker Lane and desserts from Craftsmen + Wolves.
Check out the event page here.
Point Reyes Trunk Show
Saturday, July 22nd | 4-8P
11101 CA-1 #201, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
Featuring wine from Baker Lane, snack from Farmstead Cheese Co and decor from Point Reyes Flowers.
Check out the event page here.
Daughter of Coyuchi's founder Christine Nielson, Mariah Nielsen, and partner Fanny Singer created Permanent Collection- a line of luxury clothing, accessories and objects based on historical and contemporary originals- as a way to promote timeless fashion. Inspired by the principles that guide acquisitions at the world’s greatest museums, Permanent Collection offers pieces defined by timeless value, whose currency as art and design will forever endure. In celebration of their third collection, and a rich history connected to Coyuchi, we sat down with Mariah and Fanny to learn what slow, sustainable textiles look like today.
Photo by Roy Van Millingen
What was the path that led you to creating a fashion brand? What were you doing before?
Our upbringings and the creative environments we were raised in (the homes and studios of our parents and their friends) as well as our backgrounds as art and design historians, curators and writers informed our decision to start a design label that’s predicated on re-issuing design classics. Our many years spent researching, constructing narratives, and presenting art and design influenced the way we ‘curate’ each collection. And our experience as historians has informed our approach to re-making and producing objects and garments that will resist cultural trends and remain relevant season after season, year after year.
It’s also hard to over-emphasize the extent to which the aesthetic environments of our childhoods deeply impressed us, and became, effectively, prisms through which all art and design and architecture would later be viewed. Our homes were in no way identical: Mariah’s was hand-built by her father, the artist J.B. Blunk, in the forest in Inverness –– everything down to the furniture and ceramics were made expressly for the house; it’s a Gesamtkunstwerk. Fanny’s, by contrast, was a modest, turn-of-the-century Victorian bungalow in Berkeley. Still, few children would have grown up in a kitchen custom-fitted with a megalithic brick hearth, replete with grill, rotisserie and pizza oven –– her mother is chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse –– or eaten out of colorful antique café au lait bowls collected at various marchés de puces throughout France. Both houses were full of unique and treasured pieces that were nonetheless in daily rotation: our parents shared the belief that beauty should be lived with, not made precious.
Before we started the brand, Mariah was working as a freelance curator and director of her father’s estate (artist J.B. Blunk), and Fanny was working as a freelance writer. We wanted to start a sustainable business of our own that would provide an outlet for our various creative interests.
How did you decide to start Permanent Collection? Do you remember your first conversation about the idea?
We founded Permanent Collection in June of 2015 after meeting in London through a mutual friend. Though we’re both from the San Francisco Bay Area and have many things in common (friends, upbringings, interest in art and design), we didn’t meet until we’d moved halfway across the world. At the time, Fanny was completing her PhD in Art History at Cambridge and Mariah was completing her MA in Design History at the Royal College of Art and the Victoria & Albert Museum. The day we met –– at a street party in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee –– we were both wearing vintage navy blue coats. These coats became the starting point for a conversation about a design label based on design classics.
We started working together on an exhibition of two seminal Californian artists and through that process discovered how much we loved collaborating –– it was a sort of conceptually frictionless experience, building the brand together, but more importantly perhaps, it was also a lot of fun! In the midst of the exhibition process we decided to start a business!
What are some unique things you have learned as the brand has grown?
We’ve learned to rely on our professional and personal networks – we are lucky enough to be steeped in the art and design world and can invite artists and designers whose work we’ve curated or written about to contribute to our collections. Not to mention the host of writers, critics, poets architects and editors who have contributed to our art & design journal, Works on Paper.
Importantly, we’ve learned to emphasize the fact we are art and design historians and curators. We are not calling ourselves ‘designers’ because everything we produce is based on an existing object or garment: vintage coats, artworks and objects by both historically-significant and contemporary artists and designers. So for us Permanent Collection really is a curatorial project.
What has been the biggest struggle in executing your vision?
Our mother’s (Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse, and Christine Nielson, founder of Coyuchi) instilled in us the importance of ethical and sustainable values and how to incorporate these values into a business. Starting with small, high-quality, ethical manufacturing is a focal point of our business model and determines our decisions around what products to make and how to make them.
This is not easy – it’s an expensive and slow process so the struggle has been to stick to our values and not be influenced by the pressure and speed of the fashion and design industries. This project is a long-term investment!
What has been the most rewarding part of running your own fashion label?
Mainly, that a fashion label can be so much more than fashion! Permanent Collection accommodates all of our various creative interests, from working with artists' estates and contemporary designers, through to publishing a journal and scholarly books to complement certain historical products. It also allows us to think of the home as a kind of figurative exhibition venue –– a place to bring together a collection that extends from the kitchen to the closet.
Photo by Marlen Keller
Tell us a little more about the inspiration behind Permanent Collection.
When we started Permanent Collection, we were guided by the ethos of collecting institutions such as MOMA –– we wanted to think about our project as a way to create pieces that would never go out of style or fall out of favor, pieces anyone would want to have in his or her personal “permanent collection”. This is why the starting point for our first collection, and for all of the garments we’ve made and plan to make, are not new designs but vintage patterns, taken from pieces we’ve owned for years. But, because we work with artists’ estates to reissue or produce historical designs, what we do also has an element of pulling from those museum permanent collections to make classic pieces available to the public anew.
Our first two collections were influenced by California, especially in that both included pieces based on designs by the influential Inverness-based artist and sculptor, J.B. Blunk: the Blunk Double Hoop Earrings and Blunk Bangle and ceramic Blunk Cups. With our third collection we wanted to honor our other stomping ground: Europe. We live in London about half the year and much of our work as writers and curators has been rooted in our European community and connections. Collection Three includes a set of glasses designed by Mariah’s neighbor and collaborator, Martino Gamper, an Italian designer based in London and produced outside of Vicenzo in Italy. We decided to shoot our Collection Three campaign in Martino’s beautiful London studio, an aesthetic departure from the Blunk House for sure, but nonetheless a place that felt right for this collection. Two of the textiles used for our Collection Three tops also reflect this European connection: A black silk jacquard from London clothiers Holland & Sherry and a woven wool from luxury Italian textile manufacturers, Loro Piana.
How does art play a role in creating new pieces?
We collaborate with artist and designer estates and contemporary artists and designers to produce new pieces for our collections.
For example, the ‘Blunk Double Hoop earrings’ are named after the artist J.B. Blunk who made the original earrings in 1975 for his wife, Christine Nielson (founder of Coyuchi!). We made the new set of earrings from recycled gold, bone and sterling silver. Clare Clum, a jeweler in Montana, made each earring by hand, true to the original design, in her home studio.
For our fourth collection we’re collaborating with award-winning, London-based designer Martino Gamper. We asked him to produce a set of glasses, ‘Acqua e Vino’ (‘Water and Wine’), similar to a set he had gifted to Mariah Nielson as a wedding present. ‘Acqua e Vino’ includes differently-sized glasses conceived for specific types of drinking: narrow for sparkling wine, short for white wine, wide for red wine, a carafe for water. Handmade by master glassblower Massimo Lunardon in San Giorgio di Perlena, Italy, each glass is wrapped in a colored band, a reference to the rainbow hues that so often find their way into Gamper’s work.
What is the five year, ten year vision for Permanent Collection?
We’d like to be doing exactly what we’re doing right now…just with less stress! We’ve also discussed folding curatorial activities into the brand’s remit. As long as this project can remain elastic enough to encompass all of our interests, we anticipate working together indefinitely! We always joke that we’ll open a brick and mortar store when we’re in our seventies and have gotten the globetrotting out of our systems.
What is your advice for those who want to pursue their passion as a career?
Finding a business partner –– someone you really have a deep respect for and connection to –– was for us totally essential. And being extremely passionate about the product doesn’t hurt!
Can you recommend a couple of your favorite slow fashion shops?
Momosan Shop in London and Anaise and General Store in San Francisco.
What is your favorite Coyuchi product?
The 220 Percale sheets and Air Weight bath towels: classics and so luxurious. And, as far as we can tell, those are the only towels that actually dry out between showers in perpetually damp London!
We’re thrilled to have collections in development that will expand the selection of products: Collection Four will see the production of a blanket by an historical English mill outside of London based on a 1960s-era painting by Inverness-based painter John Anderson. We’re also planning to release a small collection next year in collaboration with Fanny’s mother, Alice Waters, for which we plan to remake some of her most favorite, unique antique kitchenware. We’re also excited to be reissuing, in slightly different textiles, two of our bestsellers from Collection One: Barbara and Agnes, a practice of honoring the most-loved designs from each collection that defines in part how we plan to evolve this project.
Photo by Mariah Nielson
This summer Coyuchi hosted its first first trunk show in partnership with Permanent Collection. A big thank you to everyone who joined us for an evening celebrating slow textiles with a meet and great of both brands.