WORDS Kailla Coomes & Jyssica Yelas | PHOTOGRAPHY Ali Megan
Vanessa Froehling is a true artist who finds inspiration from emotions and experiences to create garments that speak volumes. In 2002, at age 20, she received her first sewing machine as a gift, and soon spent countless hours teaching herself how to sew. Not long after, she started her own brand, Fräulein Couture, which rapidly garnered attention in Eugene, Oregon.
Froehling moved from Eugene to Portland in April of 2017 to immerse herself in the rapidly growing Portland fashion scene, and her designs were noticed immediately. Her most recent accolade was being nominated for Best Emerging Designer for the Portland Fashion and Style Awards. We sat down with her and talked about everything from growing up as a competitive ice skater, to the place in Portland she is most inspired by. Her passion is exhilarating, and her smile is contagious.
Describe the Portland fashion scene. What kinds of people in Portland inspire you? The Portland fashion scene is a collage of different styles and cultural influences! There’s an abundance of community support, and lots of opportunity for collaboration. I would say the people of Portland who inspire me are all the independent artists working towards their own goals; the independent shop and boutique owners who offer a place for emerging artists to showcase their work, and even the established entrepreneurs who paved the way. Because together, they all contribute to what makes this scene thrive.
Is there something in the physical environment of Portland that speaks to you, like the bridges, or the architecture of a particular building? There’s not a particular building, but visually, the Welcome to Portland neon sign always elicits an interesting reaction from me. It’s always so bright, alive, and in motion. It has that perfect Portland feel – there’s a lot of drive and movement there.
What made you want to design in the first place, and how did was the process of teaching yourself to sew and design unfold? I was in college at the time for accounting, and after the first year I was left feeling like my calling was with something else. So, I started doing a lot traveling and found myself part of a more counterculture, artisan community. I was drawn to the handmade textiles, and wanted to see where I fit in with that. So, I asked for a sewing machine one Christmas and dove right in! I used the manual that tells you all the stitches and how to use them. It came pretty natural to me and I was picking up techniques quickly by good ol’ trial and error.
Do you think being a competitive ice skater taught you how to stay disciplined in what you wanted to accomplish in your designs? Are you inspired by the costuming? My background with figure skating helped with determination, and discipline in regards to setting goals and working hard to achieve them. Ice skating was such a huge part of my growing up, that I would agree the costuming has influenced my design aesthetic. Not necessarily visually, but expressively, and figure skating is about expression.
Can you tell me the meaning behind your brand, Fräulein Couture? I approached the meaning of Fräulein being comparable to the English title of “Miss.” So basically, translating to “Miss Couture.” Also, Fräulein is also quite similar to the pronunciation of my last name, Froehling.
Your newest collection is called “Destinations” which features menswear and womenswear for winter, both edgy and sophisticated. Could you explain how you came up with these designs? My inspiration wasn’t necessarily taken from a particular visual or physical element. It was more from a feeling about myself. Destinations represents me as a designer, and the drive or will to be “going places” in life, and in this industry, the purpose for which I’m destined. With each new collection, it’s always working toward a goal of progressing my designs and presenting something new; opening doors to more possibilities.
What was the inspiration behind your “Carpe DeNim” collection? My inspiration behind Carpe deNim was city life. The urban-ness, the people, the feeling of progression. There is always something happening in the city. City dwellers ‘seizing the day.’ And while observing city lifestyle, I noticed that the most common type of fabric worn was denim. So, I decided to produce a collection with a different take on the denim garment. You either love or hate denim, so my goal was to create garments that made consumers surprised to learn they were made from that textile.
You designed for bodies of all sizes in your “Nightshade” lingerie collection. What can we do as consumers to promote a fashion industry where all bodies are beautiful? It’s very important to be able to offer my wares to all types of people. There is not just one type of person, and I want to celebrate what makes us unique. If I can be a part of the movement to help shape societal views on what is ‘beautiful,’ then my designs have been created with purpose. Throw out all previous expectations on what is considered beauty, and what different body types are ‘supposed’ to wear. A lot of consumers stop themselves from wearing certain garments because they are concerned with what others will think, or that society has lead them to believe that they “can’t wear that” due to age, weight, location, etc. We need to be more accepting of self-expression, and allow others to do the same.
What is your favorite piece you’ve ever designed? I don’t know if I have one favorite, but I would say my most challenging and fun to make piece was a dress I constructed from magazine pages, where I folded each page into origami fortune boxes, and connected them all together! It was fragile during the whole process, but ended up being the most fulfilling to complete and to have it be wearable!
You describe yourself as being a part of the “slow fashion movement” what does that mean to you? And what other designers are following suit? The slow-fashion movement is about being purposeful and realizing that fewer is better. It’s allowing the consumer to deliberately make the choice to buy better-quality items less often. Buyers know where their clothes are coming from, and these items are often handmade by artisans. This movement could very well counteract the ethical and environmental havoc caused by the fast-fashion industry.
Most independent designers in the PNW are following suit by keeping batches small and having garments locally made. Even many larger brands are a part of this movement. A couple examples are Patagonia, fair-trade certified and uses recyclable materials, and Synergy, which offers eco-ware that uses low-impact dyes and sustainable fibers.
Where can people find your clothes? You can find my designs online and locally at Anne Bocci Boutique & Gallery, and One Imaginary Girl.
Fashion Designer: Vanessa Froehling w/ Fräulein Couture
Photographer & Makeup: Ali Megan
Photographer: Rachel Salisbury
Models: Chelsea Lapham
Makeup Artist: Jordan Raften
Chain Jewelry Designer: Fräulein Couture
Rings Provided By: Enchantment Goddess Boutique
Location: Cape Kiwanda Coast
Photographer: Ali Megan
Models: Devinity Robertson, Eduardo Reyes
Makeup & Hair: Ali Megan