Style counsel

True to Form

Questions for artist and designer Jonas de Varona.

By Laura Cassidy June 22, 2009 Published in the July 2009 issue of Seattle Met

With your upstart line, Meet Me Here, you explore men’s and women’s clothing. There’s a one- or at least few-of-a-kind aesthetic that comes through in artful imperfections, hand-painted details, and the simple fact that you work in really small batches. I like having control. I can be kind of stubborn that way, but mostly I like the immediacy of doing it all myself. I can sketch out an idea, paint fabric to achieve the effect I’m imagining, and then start sewing. The challenging part is actually creating what I envision.

That openness feels in line with your background, which is not design or fashion school. How does being self-taught color your style? I’ve been lucky to have some great pattern makers tutor me, but I do tend to stay away from traditional dart placement and things like that. When I was just starting, I would get myself into a tight spot and not know how to get out, but now it’s more a matter of choosing which way I want to take. I’m usually working at the edge of my ability, and that’s what keeps me interested and challenged. I have to feel like I’m covering new ground.

Where does that drive to try, try again come from? When I was growing up, my mom made belts and bags for her line, Janell, which was sold at Nordstrom and small boutiques like Design Products and Fini; she currently sells to Karan Dannenberg Clothier. She’s always been fearless and experimental. She would pin big pieces of pastel fabrics around my brother and me and use us in arty black-and-white photo shoots. At one point she had a work space with a hat maker and two clothing designers, and she had a couple of vintage clothing stores in the ’80s, one of which, the Man in the Moon, we practically lived in.

I like having control. I can be kind of stubborn that way, but mostly I like the immediacy of doing it all myself.

And yet I don’t think of you as someone who is particularly into a retro look. What have you been wearing lately? I’ve been going skinny on the bottom half and oversize on top. The T-shirt I’m wearing is something I’m working on, and I’m also making a variation of a bat-wing sleeve for men. It’s typically a feminine shape, but I think it’s supercool on guys.

What historical stylish figure would you invite to “Meet Me Here”? David Byrne from the band Talking Heads, circa 1984. On the surface he had an exaggerated 1950s salesman thing going on, with his dark-rimmed glasses and oversize suits, but there was an awkwardness about it that created tension and an edge.

And where in Seattle could “Here” be? I like industrial areas like Harbor Island. It’s like this forgotten place that’s not really trying to appeal to anyone or sell anything; it’s just taking part in industry. The energy there is just raw and neutral.


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