Naked redbrick walls, bare floors, zero lighting—any remnant of what once was a Seattle peep show institution is gone. The Lusty Lady these days is a little more dusty than sexy. Still, she’s got life in her yet. It’s where Janelle Abbott creates clothing for Femail, her art and fashion collaboration with college friend Camilla Carper.
Ten years ago, Abbott and Carper met inside their dorm elevator at Parsons School of Design in New York. After graduation they kept their friendship alive, ditto their fresh-from-school spirit of creativity. In 2012 the duo committed themselves to Femail.
The pair—Abbott in Seattle, Carper in California—send designs back and forth, each reassembling or adding or subtracting whatever feels right, then ship garments along. Pieces travel up and down the West Coast five to seven times, a nonverbal conversation through scrap fabric and unusual materials, like basketball nets and old duds from family. “I found this Seattle-themed umbrella on the street,” Abbott said in her studio on a recent winter afternoon as she held up a dress and inspected its Space Needle imagery. She hung it back on a clothes rack and grabbed another. “This piece is almost entirely made out of old tights and socks.”
It took a year and a half to make nine jumpsuits for their first line. Now, reflects Carper, “We’ve developed a language together.” In their third collection, they created over 40 strangely wonderful pieces in about eight months. Last year they made three pieces for a runway show at the Seattle Art Museum inspired by the Yves Saint Laurent exhibit. And the duo collaborated with Seattle fashion house Prairie Underground. Then Femail debuted its latest collection in February 2018 and has started composing more work for boutiques in New York. Even as production increases, the designers stay true to their process: “The mail aspect of Femail,” insists Carper, “is crucial.”
On that winter day Abbott sewed as she watched Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn. Then: “This one I struggled with, but I think I’m happy now,” she explained as she gazed at a patchwork dress made with her grandma’s sweatshirt.
“It’s really, wonderfully, heinous.”
Based in Seattle, Janelle Abbott fashions Femail garments out of the old Lusty Lady alongside Ty Ziskis, who designs his collection Zed; Camilla Carper creates work from her new home in LA.