“My Dad gave us a budget of $3 per garment, so it didn’t take me very long to start sewing my own clothes,” says Andrea Aranow. The fashion designer grew up as a tomboy in Massachusetts (the shoe-manufacturing capital of America) and spent her time at high school and college making leather clothes for friends using offcuts discarded by the local factories. Later she moved to New York and opened Dakota Transit in the West Village where she began making bespoke leather suits for the (swinging) general public and stars like Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix, who once bought an entire snakeskin ensemble. “They were very flashy clothes; we made clothes for people who really wanted to be seen. It was a good period, very creative.”
Burnt out from running the shop and bringing up two young boys, Andrea moved to Peru where she spent her time observing local clothing traditions. “I was always interested in the people and the clothes together; studying the women who were making them, how they chose their clothes and how the colours changed. No girl ever wanted to wear her grandmother’s clothes, but they don’t have radical innovation like we do in the West. It goes from flowers to stripes, but with incremental changes to show that life is moving forward.”
This keen interest in textiles and their cultural relevance has led Andrea to amass one of the world’s largest collection of fabric samples – currently numbering 40,000 pieces. Her son Caleb has spent five years scanning, sorting and digitising the entire catalogue and they’re now on the hunt to find it a suitable permanent home.
For this issue Andrea has kindly selected a few of her favourite samples from this vast archive. Was it difficult? “My tastes change and my fascination changes by the minute, depending on what I’m looking at in my house, on the street, at films, at art shows – different things just pull me in.
“When I get a piece that’s very magnetic I usually put it up on the wall for a week or a couple of months, and then when I stop looking at it I know that I’ve absorbed it. Obviously I collected all these pieces one at a time, so at some point it grabbed me and I bought it, but I think it’s about how we live, our eyes change every day somehow.”