It’s unsurprising that Mariah Nielson and Fanny Singer, the duo behind Permanent Collection, met while studying design and art history. Their clothing, accessories, and design objects have a clear nod to history yet are completely modern. Daughters of legendary Northern Californian artist J.B. Blunk and world-renowned chef Alice Waters, respectively, they credit their parents for an early interest in aesthetic beauty and sustainability, which is also reflected in their collections. Today they are releasing their third collection and we’re excited to be sharing a first look. (Psst- you can see it in person at Hero Shop in SF on June 28th or on July 20th and 22nd at Coyuchi, where 10% of sales go to environmental non-profits. Or see it in the slideshow now!)
Tell us, what is the meaning behind “Permanent Collection”?
The name “Permanent Collection” pays homage to the collecting ethos of museums like MoMA, whose role is to collect, preserve and exhibit the most important works from a given period in history. Such institutions not only make works available to the public via exhibitions, but, through their permanent collection acquisitions, also become essential curators and keepers of our artistic heritage. Of course, no one can be 100% certain of which contemporary works will retain their relevance over time, but a great deal of research, contextual sensitivity and aesthetic fluency can help ensure the enduring integrity of a collection.
When we started Permanent Collection, we were guided by the mission of these collecting institutions –– we wanted to think about our project as a way to create pieces that would never go out of style or fall out of favor, pieces anyone would want to have in his or her personal “permanent collection”. This is why the starting point for our first collection, and for all of the garments we’ve made and plan to make, are not new designs but vintage patterns, taken from pieces we’ve owned for years. But, because we work with artists’ estates to reissue or reproduce historical designs, what we do also has an element of pulling from those museum permanent collections to make classic pieces available to the public anew.
How has coming from the art world affected how you create Permanent Collection?
We don’t see ourselves as “designers” per se –– our set of concerns is more curatorial in nature. Not just in the sense of selecting designs we feel work together aesthetically, but because we bring to the table a collective twenty years of experience studying and working in the art and design worlds as curators, writers and researchers. We were also both raised in unusual circumstances: the daughters of parents whose professional notoriety in many ways owed to their respective aesthetic sensibilities and commitment to a certain kind of sustainable, but also very beautiful, lifestyle. The products and pieces that make up Permanent Collection are an expression of these decades of work and life experience and are meant to bring a feeling of beauty, quality and thoughtfulness into the homes of their collectors. The way our “perennial wear” collections build upon one another –– rather than supplant each other –– is another thing that makes Permanent Collection unique. We are committed to sustainable and ethical practices on the production end, but also on the consumer end: we want the women and men who buy our pieces to love and live with them forever, and to not feel pressured into constant acquisition. It’s slow fashion of a different sort.
You two split your time between London and California, how does that affect your designs?
Even though people are always shocked to learn that two California girls would ever choose to live in London over California, it’s remarkable how similar the Northern Californian and Southern English climates are –– which it to say: the clothing we make really works between both geographies. Just as you might be wishing for a boiled wool coat on a foggy summer evening in San Francisco, a mercurial London summer might encourage you to do the same. It’s why we feel our collections are so versatile: they’re conceived to be perennially relevant, both through the seasons but also through the years. That we both feel, at this point, equally Californian and European is also a kind of aesthetic subtext: we need clothing that feels chic enough for the London art world, but casual enough for the Bay Area. Refined, but relaxed. We’ve discovered that our Californian clients have the same appetite for our designs as their London counterparts –– everyone seems to be hungry for clothing that makes them feel elegant in an unstudied way.