CUT-OUT SHRUG WITH JUMPER DRESS of silk organza; random cut-outs into cloth, Fall 2012 collection. Photograph by Elizabeth Opalenik. Model: the artist.
Carol Lee Shanks

Refining the Silhouette




“I generally have a visceral reaction. I just kind of know what I like… It needs to be exciting to my eye and luscious in my hand.”

Carol Lee Shanks’s nomad coat looks like a simple garment. It is a staple of her recent collections. And with its collarless, crossover front closure and roomy, cuffless sleeves, the coat has the silhouette of a loose-fitting kimono. The hem, just above the knee, is slightly asymmetrical thanks to fabric panels inserted into the sides of the coat. The panels are a clever way to let the coat broaden to accommodate a purposeful stride. The panels also give a slight flare to the sides of the coat, making it easy to reach underneath into pants pockets. Shanks makes it in various fabrics, usually mediumweight woolens with touches of cashmere or other luxuriously soft and pliable fibers. Though meant for the outdoors, the coats drape. The winter versions are mostly gray, navy or black. The summer version is a combination of linens. Like the traditional jackets of Central Asia that inspired them, they are practical, highly wearable and completely oblivious to fashion trends.

Now take another look. Like all of Shanks’s garments, the nomad coat has detailing that, from six feet away, is easily missed. There may be pieces of other fabrics that match in color though not in texture patched onto parts of the coat, perhaps as sleeve or pocket detail. Elsewhere, sometimes on the back, you find a patchwork of small squares and rectangles arranged like a strip of free-form quilting. Finally, you are almost guaranteed to discover at least one selvage of the coat fabric confidently placed on the garment as ornamentation. Selvages are the raw edges produced on woven fabric during manufacturing and they protect the fabric from unraveling while it is on the bolt. But most clothing makers cut their garment pieces specifically to exclude the selvage from the finished garment. Selvages generally are rougher than the rest of the fabric, and they often include threads in contrasting colors or puckering. Designers generally consider selvages imperfect and therefore useless. Yet it is the irregular, snaggle-toothed quality of selvages that makes Shanks love them.






Robin Updike
is a Seattle-based arts writer who was delighted to spend a sunny winter afternoon with Carol Lee Shanks in Shanks’s enchanting studio. Berkeley, California, has always welcomed creative people who do not conform to standards, and Shanks fits right in. “Not only is Carol’s clothing singular in its architectonic-meets-romantic aesthetic,” Updike says, “but there’s an impressive element of environmental awareness in her work. For instance, Carol tries to use up scraps of fabric each season, sometimes using tiny leftovers as ornament on other fabrics. Or she simply makes two-dimensional artworks—fabric collages really—to hang on the wall. Lots of style, not much waste. It’s impressive.” Updike also contributes A Feast of Beads, recently showing at Facèré Jewelry Art Gallery in Seattle.



This article in its entirety appears only in the print magazine.

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