Several pairs of brightly coloured underwear are tacked up on the wall and a tattered pair of shoes sits in the front window of the unassuming East Cordova Street space. A random assortment of clothing dangles at eye level from a cobweb of clotheslines. The curator of this curious display emerges from behind a patchwork chamois shirt that hangs near the front of the room. She is dressed in matching blue-grey pants and top, the elastic-cuffed pant legs pushed up to reveal navy socks and green lace-up shoes. It’s an unusual outfit, in more ways than one.
For a full year, Natalie Purschwitz is wearing only clothing she has made herself, an adventure dubbed the MakeShift project and chronicled daily at makeshiftproject.blogspot.com. In addition to being a personal challenge, the project gives her artistic licence to experiment with clothing norms and explore the line between function and fashion. At the same time, she hopes to gain insight into how clothing affects our lives and vice versa.
Making clothes is nothing new for the Vancouver-based fashion designer, who used to run Hunt & Gather, a popular Gastown clothing boutique that featured pieces from her own label, as well as other local designers. Since she began the MakeShift project in September 2009, Purschwitz has overcome a dizzying number of obstacles, from restrictive cotton bras and irritating sock seams to braving airport security while dressed in conspicuous coveralls and homemade shoes.
She favours natural fibres like wool, linen, cotton, and silk over synthetics, and uses techniques like sewing, crocheting, and even felting. Her designs are often asymmetrical and heavy on snaps. “My signature hardware,” Purschwitz remarks. To make the most of her limited but growing wardrobe, she relies on layering and accessories ranging from belts and scarves to holey leggings and yellow leather spats.
Although her foray into cobbling has been a success on the whole, she’s grown tired of her green shoes. Purschwitz had high hopes for a pair of clog boots she made in the fall, but realized the design needed tweaking when she was unable to climb the steep ramp of her parking garage.
In the nearly five months since the project began, Purschwitz has developed a devout on-line following, with regular readers from as far away as Europe. Many have shown their support with comments and e-mails, and some have even bought MakeShift accessories, which are available through the project’s Super! Surprise! program. The catch? Pay now, find out what it is later. (Details can be found at www.huntandgather.ca)
Purschwitz earned a degree in intermedia from Emily Carr University and studied patternmaking at Vancouver Community College. “I kind of just fell into fashion,” she explains, noting that her real passion is for sculpture and installations.
In the coming months, Purschwitz will speak at Emily Carr and give a workshop at Langara College. She is also working on a light-themed art installation in the window of her studio for Bright Light, a series of public-art projects set to illuminate the Downtown Eastside before and during the 2010 Winter Games. For the Tomorrow Collective’s Brief Encounters performance series, she’ll collaborate with an artist from an entirely different genre in the fall.
Today, though, Purschwitz is focused on an upcoming trip to the Robson Square ice rink. She recalls gluing plastic knives onto little boots to make skates for her teddy bear as a child, but she isn’t sure how well this will translate into skates for humans. “I used to make all kinds of clothes for that bear,” she says, describing a vest she constructed simply by cutting two armholes in a rectangular piece of fabric. “The thing is, I still make that vest—except I make it for people now!”