We were so incredibly excited to find out that we were chosen to be members of Portland Fashion Week’s Style Collective this year. I’m pretty sure both Jade and I squee’d out loud when we found out. Jade’s history with fashion has been much longer then my own. I wasn’t exposed to real true adult fashion until I met Jade. I thank her everyday for teaching me the ways. I have had the opportunity to go to photo-shoots where Jade was modeling or photo shoots that Jade was actually shooting so many times that it has only had a positive impact on my taste. Plus we have both watched plenty of Project Runway together, so I can tell you who is in and who is out. We had a few places in mind to feature on our blog this week from around the Portland fashion scene, but we jumped at the opportunity when Portland Fashion Week contacted us to meet with Karen Davis of Moulagerie. We had seen her collection of designs on her website and knew that we would love to see the behind the scenes of these classic but modern looks.
Karen is one of those people that when you first meet her, you know you’ve got to be lifelong friends with her. She’s charming, welcoming and way too humble for her own good. We were invited over one morning to her beautiful home to see her work-space and chat about the fantastic things she is doing with her collection. We sat down over freshly squeezed orange juice and some delightful homemade scones with plenty of butter and jam. Karen has lived in Oregon her entire life. She was raised in Ashland in a time where you dressed your best to go out with your family, or really anywhere at all. Her mother had been a model and wore all the most fashionable of classic styles of outfits, many which Karen now owns and takes inspiration from in her own designs. She was taught how to sew and hem at a young age. She would occasionally make or reproduce garments or wedding dresses for friends and family, but it wasn’t till after going to Cambodia to do some very important missionary work that she decided to do more with her talent in design.
Karen went to Cambodia on a whim some years ago with the want and need to help those not only less fortunate than she, but to do her share in the fight against unfair and unequal treatment in human rights. What she witnessed there was something that changed her indefinitely. She visited children at orphanages, who wanted nothing but to please and honor their guests with fruit and vegetables from their community garden. She saw how giving and welcoming those people were without having almost anything to give. She found the conditions for female workers in shops to be incredibly inhumane. These women would be indebted so deeply to the business owners they worked for, they would eventually have to turn to prostitution to make extra money on the side. That is not an uncommon thing to find in Cambodia. She developed a close relationship with the workers and the organizations there which only inspired her more to do whatever she possibly could to help.
Upon returning home, Karen was forever changed. She had decided to do something with her gifts as a designer and seamstress which would benefit those she had befriended back in Cambodia. She took an accelerated fashion, design and business program to hone her skills. There were definite challenges in the program which forced her to look at the things she was designing in different perspectives. She was even discouraged at some points to discontinue with certain designs, but she remained true to her ideas and steadfast in what she believed was fashionable and in good taste today. She finished her program at the top of her class being offered a position as the house designer, but she had bigger goals in mind, so she politely declined and decided to start her own fashion design label and business. Moulagerie has been the culmination of the important values and ideals that Karen holds dear in helping those in need as well as utilizing her eye for classic design and modern style. She takes profits from her sales and donates to two very important charities who directly help those whom Karen has become close with in Cambodia.
After we finished our scones and juice we were invited back into her quaint workspace. The pale blue walls and clean setup seemed like the perfect place for fantastic ideas to come to life. She had a board of design ideas from her design program hanging on the wall, which served as kind of a testament to where she has come from and where she is going. The collection on that board of designs is called the bicycle diaries, in which each piece had a story and idea behind the design and type of lady who would where it. It is obvious that Karen is making more than just simple clothes but is designing looks and styles for the women with a conscience. She has chosen to use sustainable fabrics in her designs that she sells to create a low environmental impact. This is something she was inspired to do not only in memory of the missionary work she has done, but also to keep in mind that what you wear as a environmentally conscience person does not have to be hand me down fatigues and bag like hemp shirts, but can be stylish and fashionable. On the tags of each of her garments she has a responsibility breakdown. This allows the person who is buying the garment to see just what went in to making each particular dress, whether it is made of fabrics that come from animals and to understand the environmental impact. She was inspired to add this accent to her marketing design after working with a model who was vegan. She wanted to make sure that her clients could buy a garment and style that fits their lifestyle completely.
Karen’s designs are inspired by both classic styles like the dresses her mother wore, one of which is fitted on the dress form that resides in her office, and modern ideas which she is exposed to all around her today. She has made stylish upscale designs for the working professional like her purple tweed dress and jacket to her Spanish pleated dress which was inspired by the trellis design in Provence, France. She believes in the idea that one must be true to themselves and hold integrity and truth above all other ideals. It definitely shows in her designs where allowing the heart to guide you can take your ideas from sketches on paper to beautiful life sized works of art.
Karen’s next big event is the Serving up Style event where she will be taking some beautiful donated teal and white fabric and creating a ball gown to grace the runway. We cannot wait to see how it turns out and are so excited for all of the success Karen has in store for her in the future. We were truly honored to have the opportunity to meet such a creative, kind and absolutely wonderful humanitarian like her. We’ll definitely have a close eye on her this week while covering the events at Portland Fashion Week.
And of course Jade couldn’t resist trying on a few of her gorgeous pieces…
Karen, thank you for your generosity, hospitality and talent. We can’t wait to chat over coffee or dine on French cuisine with you soon!