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Featured Shop: Dahl

Feb 8, 2013

by alisondahl

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Hello, I’m Alison Dahl Kelly and my clothing line is called Dahl, named after my Swedish maternal grandmother. I design and create vintage-inspired dresses for party-goers, bridesmaids and brides. I live in an old Victorian home in Brooklyn, New York, with my husband Dane and Sargent, our Shiba Inu puppy.

I’ve been designing and sewing clothes for myself and others since age 12. When I was about 21, I visited London’s Portobello Market and was awed at the strong presence of independent designers. There were countless little pop-up shops stocked with exciting handmade clothing, sewn with love by the people who were working there. I’d never seen anything like it before, and knew that I had found my niche in the fashion industry.

As a woman designing for women, I aspire to make dresses that my friends would be pleased to wear again and again. Dahl dresses are streamlined to fit a variety of occasions, body types and personal styles. They can be easily dressed up for a wedding, or pared down for a weekend. Over time, I’ve created an arsenal of tried and true silhouettes that work well on many different body types. I’ve graded my patterns so they can be produced in an array of sizes, but I can also apply a client’s individual measurements to a pattern to attain a custom fit, which is something you can’t experience in the ready-to-wear market. Because I tend to work one-on-one with many of my clients, I am forever coming up with new ideas based on a woman’s individual needs – an invaluable tool to help improve my designs.

The client I have in mind is a shameless romantic, an offbeat bride, a bohemian at heart. I use hand-dyed silks in a lovely array of pastels and jewel tones, and when feasible I’ll use vintage lace, tulle, and other delicate textiles. I prefer to let the fabric sing and stay away from too much fuss. I adore the personal process of creating a garment from start to finish — settling on a silhouette, choosing fabrics, stitching it all together, and then being able to wear it.  I strive to design timeless silhouettes that outlast seasonal trends.

Having produced collections for the wholesale fashion industry in the past, I find my current process fluid and liberating. I don’t follow trends per se; I am more enchanted by vintage silhouettes and fabrics. I try to incorporate romantic and whimsical accents into my dresses, and I’d like to think that I’m not only creating a dress but a mood that is at once nostalgic and modern. I strive to make dresses with a lived-in feel, or that at least look a bit vintage-y. I want my pieces to seem like they have a past or a story to tell.

In some form or another, I have always had my own clothing line, though it wasn’t until recently that I didn’t have to supplement my income with outside work. I persevered on my own because I can’t imagine working as a ghost designer in a prestigious design house, feeding the ravenous machine that is the fashion industry. I prefer an old-fashioned approach where I work out one design at a time in a sustainable fashion.

When I graduated from college (pre-Etsy), I would drive around Los Angeles with a trunk full of my handmade one-of-a-kind dresses, seeking out cute boutiques to consider selling my dresses on consignment. I barely even had a website. Today, I think of how excited I would have been back then to have had a resource like Etsy. It’s an ideal platform for independent designers to showcase their work. I appreciate that Etsy offers the transparency I value in my one-on-one transactions with my clients. Because of Etsy, I have been able to work with women around the globe who are looking for that special handmade or customizable piece to complement their vision.

In the modern world of fast, disposable fashion, there’s something to be said for a handmade item – it has a more whimsical spirit than a mass-produced item. It’s so special when someone takes the time to consider every little detail, and chooses to work in small batches. I think that more and more people are intrigued by this shift in consciousness, and have begun to choose that specialty handmade item over a big brand name, knowing that they are buying into a quality experience and helping to support artists directly.

Maker photo by Tory Williams, all other photographs by Dahl.

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