Couture du Jour—February 14, 2006

By Sarah Cohan

Project Alabama is not your everyday, high-end fashion-design house. It’s more like your little old Grandma’s best friend’s quilting group that is suddenly making it big.

It all started when Natalie “Alabama” Chanin and Enrico Marone-Cinzano met in New York and decided to create a fashion house. Since then it has become a large-scale, hand-made, high-end company with an amazing spring/summer 2006 line that has introduced Project Alabama to the masses.

After Chanin met Marone-Cinzano in 2000, she went to Alabama to design the start-up T-shirts to launch the company. These vintage T-shirts are one of a kind, each decorated with miscellaneous material. Marone-Cinzano loved all of them, and they were an instant success. Since then, many new items have been added to the collection, expanding the company from just T-shirts to skirts, pants, shirts, jackets, dresses, and accessories.

The company itself remains in Alabama and seems very close-knit. The business runs out of the house where Chanin grew up. Local quilters and seamstresses craft the clothes. Every piece of clothing from Project Alabama is completely hand-stitched. Some dresses take up to one week to make, with over 12 employees working on it. Every product demonstrates the time and work that has gone into it.

Chanin even used her workers to model the items for her 2004 ad campaign. A farmer posed in her clothing and wrote a postcard explaining who he is (the guy who owns the land where Chanin’s house is built). Employees’ husbands, kids, aunts, and uncles all posed dressed in Project Alabama. It doesn’t get much more homey than that.

During New York Fashion Week last September, Project Alabama taught a workshop on sewing. Marone-Cinzano believes it is important for the consumer to know how much work goes into each product at Project Alabama, and during the workshop, people began to realize it. “They saw the passion of the hands sewing the thread, and people really got it. It’s more than fashion—it’s something personal.”

This explains why Marone-Cinzano describes his company as a tree: “I tend to the ground, and Natalie tends to the leaves.” They each do their part in getting things done, but they want to keep the company familiar. This idea continues through to their product. “These products are supposed to last for more than one season,” Marone-Cinzano explains. “Our product is soft and comfortable; the more it’s washed the better it fits your body.” Last I heard, Gucci wasn’t bragging about their product’s longevity. That’s what makes this company different.

The clothes themselves are absolutely stunning. My favorite from this season is a red dress with an A-line cut that ruffles at the bottom. A petticoat sticks a few inches below the hemline, creating a “Southern belle” nuance. Sequins are sprinkled on the bust to draw the eye up to the neckline (which is classy and sexy at the same time). I can wear this dress to the University of Chicago senior prom and to a picnic in Washington Park the next day.

Project Alabama is working on a book while filling orders for their spring/summer line. They are also working on a line of machine-made and hand-embellished T-shirts that will be out in the fall. This little company has become so large, and I look forward to seeing what they have to offer in the future. I also can’t wait to buy one of their dresses and wear it for years.