While Texans are known for their larger than life personalities (hair-do’s) and New Yorkers are known for their matter-of-factness, in our corner of the Pacific Northwest, we are known for our low-key attitudes and somewhat reserved natures. We stand out culturally with our smiling faces and our inability to be the first to dance at parties.
A friend of ours has a theory about the topography of the Pacific Northwest affecting our regional personas. The theory posits that the Northwest native doesn’t naturally incline to expressing themselves outwardly due to the largeness of the terrain. The towering trees and mountains are plenty expressive enough. The waterways that divide our neighborhoods and keep a strict north to south corridor parallel to I-5 and the Pacific coastline, miraculously create insular pockets of creative innovation. Despite this recent streak of sunny weather, we typically further our arts practices through winter-long hibernations. We have fantastic creative and tech communities as a result of our incubation during the long, grey winter.
Photographer and curator Charlie Shuck describes an exhibition he recently curated (and is now on display) at Bellevue Art Museum, “The New Frontier: Young Designer-Makers in the Pacific Northwest,”
“We are up in the corner. A very out-of-the-way place. You have Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver basically each about 150 or so miles apart from each other, running north to south. Go any direction outside of this and you are pretty much in the sticks or the ocean. A long way until the next place. An abundance of natural resources has been a key influencer on design since the First Nations made this place home. You still see this today with physical object design and production: People are literally surrounded by the natural world and the materials they use. Being surrounded by nature in a relatively new urban environment also creates heightened comprehension of humanity’s vulnerability to overconsumption. The natural beauty of this area has also tended to attract those who are more altruistic and less concerned with showing wealth. Our billionaires are more likely to be driving a discreet electric car than be chauffeured around in a Rolls Royce. Outward displays of wealth are not the norm. The Northwest is small and its cities still very young. Designers tend to know each other and share resources. It’s a rich environment for thinking, creating, and experimentation." —Charlie Schuck
Top: designs by Knauf & Brown (Vancouver) in "The New Frontier" exhibit at Bellevue Art Museum
Left: chairs by Fritz Hansen (Copenhagen)
Right: Stokk lights designed by Urbancase (Seattle) at "The New Frontier" exhibit
Similarly, Scandinavia has a long, dark winter with plenty of incubation time to perfect one’s craft. The fjords and mountain belts were created with similar tectonic shifts as the landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. The great terrain humbles and forms a simple way of life that is mirrored in Scandinavia’s aesthetic and approach to design. At once functional and modern, with due respect given to the successful designs of the past, the Scandinavian aesthetic is both natural and rugged, restrained in decoration, and made with an inclination to produce apparel with solid craftsmanship. This certainly sounds familiar, as Seattle, Portland, and beyond come stacked with hand-crafted whiskeys, knives, cured meats and specialty apparel.
Top: Private residence in Vega, Norway by Kolman Boye Architects (Sweden)
Bottom: Delta Shelter by Olson Kundig Architects (Seattle)
At Baby & Company, two Danish designers spring to mind when comparing the Seattle aesthetic with the Scandinavian. These two brands gorgeously combine function and logic as skillfully as they romance form and emotion. Both Hansen Garments and By Malene Birger bring simplicity to clothing, echoing the modernity of mid-century furniture and architecture. A focus on high quality materials and fluid natural lines help the aesthetic stand the test of time. Designer Malene Birger has said, she does not aim to invent the future shirt: she would rather design a well made garment that stands the test of time and is worn well into the future.
Hansen Garments AW15
By Malene Birger 2015 collections
This reservedness in style is actually a reflection in confidence. When we are wearing good materials crafted into timeless styles, we can focus on the day to day demands knowing our understated garments support our every move, even onto the dance floor.