It’s possible that my two years living a block and a half from Alberta Street has made me a bit Northeast-normative, with the wealth of habanero-infused craft cocktails and curated vintage shops dulling my desire to head South during daylight hours.
It seems I may indeed have good reason to pick back up my old Hawthorne habit.
Sharing an alley with cool-kid paradise House of Vintage and a building with brunch/tea/booze spot The Hazel Room is Mag-Big, a retail store and fashion production studio putting out designs with big prints in familiar cuts. Mag-Big, messy in all the right eclectic ways, hosts a huge cast of local designers–art, jewelry, clothing–and hosts sewing classes, craft nights and trunk shows as well as co-producing several shows a year, including the increasingly well-known Alley 33 fashion show and the upcoming Engaged bridal show.
The duo behind Mag-Big is Becca Price and Cassie Ridgeway, two ambitious and visionary young designers. I stopped by the retail/studio space to chat with Becca about their upcoming show for Portland Mercury’s Open Season, designing on Hawthorne and perhaps most importantly–vintage spandex.
Becca: We got our start doing what we now call the heirloom collection, made from vintage one-of-a kind fabrics, but we’re trying to transition to multiples of the same garment, most sleek and put together. We are growing from our crafty origins.
Carrie: Toward more replicable stuff?
B: Yeah! At this point we have two separate collections–the heirloom collection and Mag-Big Originals.
C: Who is the woman you design for?
B: We honestly have a really wide range of women who come into the store, especially because of the brunch place next door. But who we design for is an easy-going rocker chick. You know, the ultimate babe. The metal head who loves exquisite jewelry! It’s important to us that the clothes are really easy to wear and not fussy. A beautiful component to round out your wardrobe and add something special. We make stuff that’s really easy to style in a bunch of different ways.
We are known for our bold prints. We want to build on that. We’re in talks with a local artist to do some custom printed fabrics, we just have to work out where we get that printed. For our heirloom collections we’ve sourced amazing vintage fabrics, including vintage spandex, which is amazing but limits us to a few one off pieces. We want to build out our collection in a more reliable way while still using these wild prints.
C: How do you and Cassie work? Do you guys collaborate on everything or do you brainstorm separately and then come together?
B: We do both. This is our first full collection; in the past we would make pieces here and there to fill in what we think is missing in the store. The Mercury wanted between 25 and 30 looks, so we got to work. So I drew up some things, Cassie drew up some things and we ended up with some similar sketches. What I do is photocopy everything and cut it up and lay it out and see how it fits together.
C: How do you feel the upstairs studio and the main floor retail space communicate? Do you generally feel like you’re designing for the store?
B: Absolutely. We take a look at what’s missing for the store We’ve worked with almost 700 local artists over the years. Tons and tons of people have contributed to the store.
We are really inspired by the fashion of the people on Hawthorne Boulevard. There’s a lot of different styling happening here. It’s cool being right next to the House of Vintage too because we see something and say: We can use that yolk in a dress.
C: So where you are physically located in Portland influences your designs?
B: Absolutely. This is a cool neighborhood with a lot going on.
C: What kind of design background do you and Cassie have?
B: My degree is in design from UC Davis. The degree was not specifically fashion, but I emphasized fashion. Cassie has her degree in poetics and is largely self-taught [in fashion design]. It’s been interesting to see how much she’s picked up versus how I was taught in an academic setting. Sometimes I will be like: ‘Well, the right way to do it is this…’ but she’s been doing it just fine! Rachel Murry, our other employee, is a really talented seamstress, so we really all round each other out. All of our skills work together. We work so well together and have so much fun–we’ll hole upstairs together and drink wine and listen to loud music and design.
C: Sounds like a really fresh approach to something that can be a little serious sometimes. Design can have a serious edge to it and it sounds like you guys bring a real lightness to it.
B: We have fun with it and I hope that comes across in our designs. We don’t want to make things that are stuffy and rigid. We want to make stuff that everyone can wear, all the time. We try to keep our price points really low too, so it’s approachable and accessible.
Upcoming Mag-Big Events:
Portland Mercury Fashion Show Open Season at Mississippi Studios/Bar Bar, May 13.
Engaged: A Bridal Runway Event at Doug Fir, May 20.
Alley 33 fashion show in the alley at 33rd and Hawthorne, July 26.
Cassie Ridgeway as artist-in-residency at Museum of Contemporary Craft presenting In the Working Woman’s Uniform, July 15-26.
Other Upcoming Fashion Events:
Portland Garment Factory showing at Rontoms as part of Portland Mercury’s Open Season, May 14.
Fashioning Cascadia: The Social Life of the Garment, at the Museum of Contemporary Craft May 9-Oct 11.