December 3rd, 2010 / posted by paularath

Andy South pins and tucks Nancie Caraway's inaugural dress. This is the muslin, not the fabric the final dress will be made of.

Hawaii’s first lady-elect Nancie Caraway and designer Andy South have a certain synergy, an understanding and appreciation of each other. It makes for an easy and stress-free collaboration as South works on Caraway’s inaugural dress. It helps, of course, that neither is a prima donna, in spite of their growing roles and being so much in the spotlight. They each have an easy, natural, lack of self conciousness about them that is so appealing. I feel fortunate to be sharing in this process.

Before Caraway arrived, Andy expressed a little nervousness about the muslin. (A muslin is the fashion term for a mock-up, a sort of first draft that will give the client an idea of how her dress might look when it’s pau.) A muslin is done in a similar fabric as the final dress, but in a different color. It’s meant to imitate the drape and feel of the final dress without the expense of the final fabric. 

South’s nervousness stemmed from the fact he was afraid the dress might look a bit dowdy on Caraway. It might swallow up her petite frame and lovely figure, he feared. 

South had discovered that the silk they chose was not going to pleat well. It is too soft and supple and simply would not hold the pleats. Since pleats were a part of his initial sketch, and their initial plan, that made him nervous too. 

 “Maybe I can talk her into a different waistline. I don’t want to freak her out but I might,” South said with an uneasy shrug. He wanted to be sensitive to her needs and reaction, but also felt the need to guide her gently toward another style.

Nancie Caraway's "Cinderella shoes," the Niihau shell lei she will wear and a swatch of the fabric for her inaugural dress.

Caraway arrived with her shoes and necklace. She calls the shoes her “Cinderella Shoes,” a lovely floral linen with green eyelet details, perfect for a garden event. She borrowed a beautiful Niihau shell lei from her friend Lynn Johnson, which is why South kept the neckline simple, to accentuate the shells. Earrings? Hmmmm. What about Tahitian pearls, piped up the ladies in her entourage. “Oh pearls would be lovely, but you have to check on their provenance,” Caraway insisted. They must be PC pearls, grown humanely and collected using fair trade practices. Her commitment to human rights and good environmental practices is never far from the surface.

The fitting was a bit of a giggle fest. As Andy tweaked the waist, bodice and, hemline, Caraway talked back and forth with him about what worked – and what didn’t.

South: “Lets eliminate the seam and play with the waist.”

Caraway: “How about making the sleeves a little longer, more like a cape?”

Caraway: “Could we make the skirt flatter, without pleats?” Relieved smile forms on the mouth of South. 

Caraway: “What would you think of an empire waist that goes straight all the way down…” and a friend adds” To show off her curves.”

South: “It’s what looks best on you that matters.”

Caraway: “Something clean and simple.”

South: “I could even do separates and the top could be like it is now, but the dress won’t really look anything like this, not the same texture or silhouette but the same fabric weight and drape.”

The waist gets shorter and sleeker, the hem comes up, the sleeves get a little more flounce.

Caraway: “I like texture done in a refined way. How about a pencil skirt style that goes straight down?”

South beamed and pinned the skirt straight down.

The result of all the discussion, give and take, will be a far different dress than the one in the original sketch. That’s natural and normal. The process in creating a custom dress should be collaborative, evolving through lively discussion. Caraway and South provide an ideal example of how it should all work. There will be another fitting Friday, as the inauguration will be held on Monday, on the grounds of Iolani Palace, in the bright sunshine.  Yes, that creates another challenge – a dress that can handle extreme heat.

After Caraway had left, I asked South how he felt about the exchange. He was delighted. They had mutually arrived at the same conclusions about how the dress needs to evolve. “I don’t want to become a seamstress,” he said, meaning he doesn’t want a client to entirely dictate to him what she wants, putting him in the position of simply sewing the dress without offering any of his design input.

This first fitting enabled everyone to walk away satisfied and excited about what the next fitting will bring. South’s next stop: Kaimuki Dry Goods, to find a silk that can hold up to a skirt that’s fashioned like a pencil skirt.

– Paula Rath

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Patrice Collins
December 4th, 2010 at 12:19 am

Andy is doing a great job! Can’t wait to see the finished dress. Thank you for giving the readers a birds eye view of Andy’s creative process.

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