Turn of the Centuries

A conversation with dress designer Maresa Patterson.

By Laura Cassidy January 20, 2010 Published in the February 2010 issue of Seattle Met

You’ve done creative displays for stores such as Butch Blum and Nube Green, but next month your first collection of dresses will debut at Jack Straw. How did you move from artfully showing dresses off to making them? In my teens I made clothing with my mom, who is an amazing seamstress. Later, while working on window displays, I constructed skirts and dresses out of paper when I couldn’t find the real thing to complete my vision, and women came in hoping to buy them.

Your line, Stella Love, is named for your husband’s grandmother and is rooted in the ’50s. The whole Mad Men thing recharged a passion for that look. What is it about the midcentury woman that makes her so inspiring? My enthusiasm for the ’50s and ’60s started long before Mad Men was on air–although I’m addicted, too. It’s not just the clothes. I like pineapple upside-down cakes and Eero Saarinen’s molded plastic Tulip chair–the whole aesthetic, really. It’s a simple, clean look, yet it’s still really interesting.

I like that your dresses refer to that era and then go somewhere else entirely. In fact, the Stella Love dress you’re wearing today doesn’t feel retro at all. My girlfriend Liz created a textile design company and gave me a bolt of this amazing hemp. I dyed it on my stove while I was doing dishes and supervising homework. This is actually the first dress I experimented with, and it’s also the most modern.

There’s a willingness in Seattle to be casual and to combine things in quirky ways. I respond to that.

Your line isn’t about costume. I don’t expect people to have ’50s hair and makeup with these dresses. I hope that they’re worn with modern elements–heels or boots or Converse, with wool tights or bare legs, under big sweaters or over T-shirts.

That’s very Seattle-friendly. My favorite piece last winter was this cranberry colored, heavyweight plaid shirt from the Japanese line Number Nine. I just wanted to wear it every day. We still have elements of the grunge look, but we’re more sophisticated now.

What’s your favorite thing about the way this city dresses? There’s a willingness to be casual and to combine things in quirky ways. I respond to that.

Yeah, I think even in our sophistication we can be sort of random in a way that really suits us. I think that’s what’s so appealing about my line; it’s feminine, but not sweet. I have three very spirited boys, four if you include my husband. I enjoy being the only girl in the house, but I like being able to dress up even when it isn’t necessarily…necessary. Stella Love is an escape from ski movies and fart jokes!


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