5/05/2014

Copake designer redesigns her business model

HUDSON–Come fall Vilma Mare, the Lithuanian designer known for her idiosyncratic textured and pleated “wearable art” clothing, will no longer be a presence at her atelier on the corner of Warren and 7th and will instead focus on design and production.

During the past six years, her feminine but powerful hand sewn fashions with their hallmark web of exposed seams crisscrossing the body, inspired as much by Rei Kawakubo and Jill Sander as by her Baltic roots, have attracted a host of fans. Some enter curious about the mysterious pleated and slashed red wool banner outside and the rack of assertive garments on display on the sidewalk west of the park.
Unlike many in today’s fashion industry, Ms. Mare is not afraid of large sizes, and that has endeared her to many professional women from lawyers to artists and has led her to an additional market niche. Although expensive--pieces run from $350 to $900--customers say her clothes do not go out of style.
At first she shared a space with photographers Nicholis Kahan and Richard Seleznek. Later she took a smaller space, her current location, at the rear of the store with an entrance around the corner
She says she was inspired by the example of actress Karen Allen, who opened a store in Great Barrington to sell her hand-knit sweaters and other designers’ clothing.
Starting next fall deMarchin in Hudson and Zephyr in Rhinebeck will carry the Vilma Mare Sartorial Goods line of clothing. Deals are pending in Great Barrington and elsewhere. The Hudson store will close at the end of the month, and she will concentrate on creation and production while delegating responsibility for sales and marketing.
Ms. Mare also has a flourishing custom business, working directly with customers who choose fabric and styles for clothes cut and sewn to their taste. Those customers will continue to work with her at her studio in Copake. Those who sewand wish to work with Vilma Mare can take lessons and create a designer vest for half the price. Others can order clothing and choose fabrics from her catalogue available by mail and through her website, www.vilmare.net, or can find her clothes on Etsy.com.
Ms. Mare, 50, arrived in the United States in the 1990s, finding work as a seamstress earning $4 per hour at a factory in Monroe that made wedding dresses for the Hassidic community. Later while working as a draftsperson, she met fashion designers and was inspired to take courses at the School of Visual Arts and the Fashion Institute of Technology, after which she created a line of jackets made out of leather and synthetic fabrics customized to accommodate high tech accessories. She sold pieces at small boutiques to pay the rent and--a perfect size 8--worked as a pattern model for J. Crew.
She collaborated with engineers at MIT on a wearable paper jacket equipped with a computer chip that could display images on arms and sleeves. The jacket is now in the collection of the Cooper Hewitt Museum of Design in New York City.
In 2000 the designer and her husband, Slink Moss, an artist, came upstate looking for a more rural environment where they could start a family. They settled in Copake and were thrilled with the “visually oriented” community they found in Hudson and Columbia County and are equally happy with the Hawthorne Valley School where, their grade school age children are students. The move inspired her to draw more on her indigenous Baltic cultural roots for inspiration and to work in wool and earth tones.
Her business plan is to remain small scale so she can continue to serve customers almost one by one, although she says one of her goals is to dress a female president. She has networked with women in the local business community, getting help and business advice. "My custom approach allows me to create clothes for anyone and to remain true to myself and to my artistic needs,” said Ms. Mare.

Written by DEBORA GILBERT
01 May 2013