Meet Alyson Clair!

Hi! Today I’ve got a fun interview I had with Portland fashion designer, Alyson Clair, of Clair Vintage Inspired. One of my favorite things about Alyson is that she has such a big heart. The lookbooks she puts together are so special–much more than photographs of pretty dresses. For Spring/Summer 2011 Alyson featured happy rescue pets who had been adopted from the Humane Society or shelters. For Fall/Winter 2011 all the Clair Vintage Inspired models are amazing Portland small business owners. So inspiring! I’m also thrilled that she is a fellow Twin Peaks obsessive. She’s smart, funny and talented. You can find Alyson on her blog, Facebook and Twitter! See the Clair Vintage Inspired collection and stockists.

Who is your style icon?
I got this question a while ago and finally figured Zsa Zsa Gabor and Peggy Bundy! I love them both. I watched Married With Children from much too young of an age and was fascinated with Peggy. Big hair, crazy jewels, lots of eye make-up. Zsa Zsa is the more classy, but yet ridiculous—marabu slippers, big hair, eyeliner. My most favorite portrait of her is with a pink poodle, of course.

A couple of Alyson's style icons. The Log Lady and Zsa Zsa Gabor!

What’s your sign?
Aquarius all the way! I love swimming more than anything in the summer.

Tell us something people don’t already know about you.
I like to joke that I am a 12 year old girl, I love glitter, cats, unicorns, and bows. I guess most people know that though. I hate cooking so much. If there are more than 3 steps I can’t follow because I get bored. If someone could just feed me food I would be SO happy.

Where do you live? What’s it like?
I live in a house. Which is quite normal for some but I’m going, “OMFG OMFG I LIVE IN A HOUSE”, because I just bought it this summer. After apartment living for 13 years—I love it. It’s in Portland, it has a big yard, and my dogs like that. I like not living in a building with cockroaches (yes I’ve been in two of those—YIKES!), or above drug dealers (see last apartment). I’m from Newberg, Oregon. It’s in wine country, which is cool now as an adult, but not so much growing up. There isn’t much to do there at all, and when I lived there I couldn’t wait to get out. I actually lived 5 miles out of the town on a llama farm. Yes, that’s right, a LLAMA FARM. My Mom had a llama yarn business growing up, so I have been exposed to textiles, and making things most of my life.

Do you collect some specific things for your own home?
Oh, dear lord. WHAT DON’T I COLLECT!?! I have a huge Spaghetti poodle collection. Like, taking over an entire china buffet. I also collect Eames era cats, gravel art, creepy pet portraits (which my husband couldn’t deal with above our dining room table because I said that they were watching us eat dinner), fancy party dishes, fancy vanity items. My house kind of looks like creepy grandma’s, with an obsession with pink and gold. None of the rooms match, and each one is rather loud. I love Americana items from 20s through the early 60s, and I’ve been on a huge grandma kick for about the past year.

If you could have a super power, what would it be?
To pause time and not have to sleep. (editor’s note: YES. This.)

#1 pet peeve?
Poor textiles in pretty garments! Acrylic sweaters = BAD!! I swear I just look at them and they pill!

What are your fantasy design scores for your home and closet right now?
If I could have a rotating shoe rack of Irregular Choice and Poetic License shoes I would be in heaven. I actually mainly only shop at the Goodwill, and score amazing things there all the time. I joke that I have a homing device for amazing finds. I actually got super shriek-y when I found a pink and black resin spaghetti light that I had been dreaming of for a decade there for $12.99 a few months ago. I don’t have anything else on my list, since tonight I found a 1937 cedar hope chest that I had been looking for to use in my living room. There was a note from the former owner saying it was a gift from her first husband in 1937, which I thought was very sweet.

What do you regret NOT buying that one time?
White/Floral Magnolia pointed flats at the Nordstrom Rack 5 years ago, and several pairs of Poetic License shoes that sold out before I got my hands on them. I am an e-bay stalker for things like that. I may have a shoe problem.

How do you unwind?
I love going dancing, but don’t go nearly enough, nor am I very good at it. I’m an avid reader and like things that are way off from my daily life. I also currently have 5 pets in my house, one of which is a foster dog. I like to say I’m a friend to the animals, and they are pretty much the cutest things ever. I don’t have a TV and haven’t for 4 years. I do watch some shows, but I like being away from all the commercials and getting sucked into crap. (i.e. watching the 1st season of Rock of Love and being addicted to it was one of the catalysts for making the TV go bye bye). I also love shopping at Goodwill–I joke that I am a hardcore pillager because I love finding amazing scores.

#1 dream vacation?
Well, my 6th grade self says Prince Edward Island. As an adult I honestly don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever been on vacation that doesn’t involve work or someone’s family. I honestly have no desire to go anywhere tropical. I’m sure I’ll figure out one day when I actually get to go somewhere. I also like where I am at most of the time, so I don’t have a strong desire to get away. I love Oregon and the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Since I’m a native Oregonian the dark fall and winter months are my favorites and most fruitful when creating pretty things.

Current snack of choice? Current fave restaurant?
Bad question right now!! I’m currently on a 6 week detox from all known “allergens” to me. In short, I can’t have wheat, any and all dairy, sugar, chocolate, soy, eggs, coffee (even decaf), tomatoes or mushrooms. I’m also vegetarian. I stopped wanting to strangle someone for candy about a week ago. I haven’t eaten out since this started aside from some very bland salads. I think my naturopath thinks I’m nuts because I told her if I could eat candy for every meal I would, well if it didn’t make my stomach hurt and wasn’t bad for my teeth.

What’s your poison? Current cocktail or soft drink of choice?
I’m a cheap date, aka I have not much alcohol tolerance. Sticking with my cheap date status I go for PBR (before the allergies) and like mojitos, but usually just stick with gin and tonics. My poison is candy. I love candy. I also love Coke in a can. What they are made out of is scary, so I think we might be broken up for reals this time.

What is your ritual for doing your business updates?
Coffee, rainy day, music and friends (usually working on their thing) in my studio space. It’s fun, has wifi and most of my good buds are also entrepreneurial workaholics.

Work, work, work! At Alyson's PDX studio.

Dream concert. Living or dead, Top 5 bands who are playing for you.
Oh my, don’t laugh because my mixtape is nutty! Chromeo, Hepcat, Saturday Looks Good To Me, Death Cab for Cutie and Hi-Fives.

Are you reading or watching anything lately that inspires you?
I’m in love with Boardwalk Empire. Of course I’m always obsessed with Twin Peaks. And my husband and I are making it through all of the Twilight Zone.

What are some shops online that you love?
Summerland, Ebay (taking my $$ since 1997) and Irregular Choice. I’m kind of silly, but since I’m so tactile I rarely purchase clothing online, I like to touch everything while shopping.

What other designers do you admire?
I am such a bad designer in this way. I totally do not pay attention to runway shows much outside of Portland, or fashion magazines. I admire designers that have made it from the ground up, and love what they do. I went with a friend to see the Coco Before Chanel movie, and at the end it said she worked until the day she died. To some that may be depressing, but it is most likely going to be my obituary.

What would you say your focus/specialty is?
Knits!! I’d say my specialty is making clothing that is worn daily. I have a huge respect for fashion, but I get the most excited seeing my clothing on someone I don’t know versus on a runway. Which is also why when someone asks me what I do, I don’t answer “fashion designer”. Instead I say, “I make clothing”. I also like to fit a variety of body sizes, so I make it a point to offer XS-XL. Pretty and comfortable. I mean I have a skirt called the “No Muffin Top” skirt. Really, I just want to make pretty dresses all day long.

How long have you been designing your line?
I’ve been designing the Clair Vintage Inspired line, since 2007. Designing clothing in general? Since I was 10—according to a friend I recently re-connected with. She reminded me (and I vaguely recall this) having a sketch book around when I was 10 or so. I may or may not have been a little OCD about Little House on the Prairie and Gone With the Wind style dresses. I’m still trying to unearth said sketchbook, but I’m sure it’s of poorly drawn poufy dresses with many layers of ruffles and bows. When I was in college I also sold skirts just under my name at a few shops around town. So, you could say I’ve been selling clothing since 2004.

Have you owned or do you currently own any other businesses?
As of right now it’s just this line. I have a dream of starting a non-profit clothing line for women who are post mastectomy, and have not done implants. I need some financial and other assistance with that one, and would love if I could find a party that was interested in launching it. Many people don’t realize that I still have my day job as well. It’s in the industry, so I’m always learning from both.

Do you have a biz partner or helpers?
My dad is my “silent” 10%. He just retired this spring, so now he’s helping with a lot of the logistics of things, instead of just grumbling at me about the bank account and cash flow. I have also gotten to the size where I need helpers in my studio and with production sewing. Which is still odd for me not to be sewing every single piece, but I know that had to happen in order for me to grow.

Breaker, breaker. Alyson Clair and Carolyn Hart on her CB walkie talkies in their studio.

Do you have actual dreams that involve your business?
Most of my dreams involve my business. 95% of apparel is made overseas, I’d like to help change that. I manufacture in Portland and I take a huge pride in that. I want my business to grow, and to support the local economy here not just from shop sales, but by employing people. I worked in a factory for 4 years and I miss the daily noises of the cutting machine and sewing machines. Money is not what motivates me to do what I do. I have had business advice from several people, and it’s interesting how many of them don’t understand that money is not my bottom line–making a difference is. I’d quit doing the line if it meant having it made overseas. I also have a lot of respect for people who can design something, and actually fabricate it too.

What is the #1 most awesome thing about owning your business?
That I get to make pretty dresses all day. This kind of work isn’t always easy, and it has it’s ups and downs for sure. But when I wake up in the morning I’m excited to play (aka work), and even when it’s bad day, I know how lucky I am to get to do this.

Do you have any special announcements?
Not really, but I would like to thank people for being so supportive of independent lines, local shops, and USA made goods. Keep it up, each purchase helps!

Thanks, Alyson!

3 Responses to “Meet Alyson Clair!”
  1. Megan says:

    Great interview, Alyson is such a cool and inspiring lady!

  2. Melissa says:

    Alyson, we recently discussed Twin Peaks, and after reading this I’m pretty sure we were separated at birth. SPAGHETTI POODLES FTW. Also I played “Celebrity” not long ago at a dinner party and I wrote Zsa Zsa and no one knew who she was :'(

  3. Alyson Clair says:

    Melissa, I think we are kindered spirits!