Once our garments are born and leave the nest, they have rich lives. At least that is what we hope—what we believe. We work hard to design and construct pieces that will last for many years and become heirlooms, passed down from one generation to the next. For owners of Alabama Chanin garments, it’s common that the garments are integrated into their lives for years and years. In celebration of this sentiment, we decided to highlight garments from our archives—and, where possible, to follow their journeys and see where they have landed.

My closet seemed the natural place to start, and so we begin with a very personal dress from my life:

Project Alabama Garment #5387
Built in August 2002
Pattern:  A-67 Slip Dress (18 pattern pieces)
Stencil: 116 Star Flower
Fabric: Recycled T-shirts in shades of Navy
Seams: Outside Felled
Thread: Navy
Knots: Inside
Size: Medium
Owner: Natalie Chanin

The Starburst Dress was built in December of 2002 for the Spring/Summer 2003 Project Alabama collection. (Project Alabama was my first clothing company—and the beginning of what was to become Alabama Chanin.) Unfortunately, the only photographs that exist of that entire SS03 collection were taken for documentation—just garments on their hangers, hung onto a nail in the wall of our original production office at Lovelace Crossroads. We used these photos, shot on 35mm film, to create production from sample garments that were made from combinations of recycled t-shirts. Photos of my contact sheet and original negatives are above, and include the Starburst Dress at top left.

The sample—in a size medium—wound up as a part of my personal wardrobe and eventually became the uniform of my pregnancy with Maggie (my daughter who is now 9-years-old). You can see the dress in the photo below left, taken in December of 2005 and about three months before Maggie was born. This dress lived with me through the extreme changes in figure (and life), and it remains one of my favorite dresses today (shown in the photo below right). I’m proud to design and build a collection that can stand the test of pregnancy, ENORMOUS life changes, and still be a part of my wardrobe.


P.S.: Twenty-eight versions of this dress were made, in an array of colors, and were sold in 2003 to Jeffrey Atlanta, Distractions in Aspen, Susan in San Francisco, 10 Corso Como in Milan, and L’Eclaireur in Paris. Only two of these dresses were ever made in this Navy colorway. If you have a garment like this, or know someone who does, send us a picture; or, if you have other pieces from our archives you’d like to share, email photos to us here.


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Click to read 7 comments
  1. Nicole Ozawa

    This is beautiful, thank you. The AC pieces I’ve made were some of the only clothes I was able to wear throughout my pregnancy, and remain the few that still fit comfortably postpartum. Now that I think of it, I was wearing one of your long skirts, pulled up over belly, when I went in the hospital to deliver!

  2. Ina

    What an absolutely beautiful tribute to the legacy of creating garments that last and stand the test of time!! Thank you so much for tipping of this journey! Here’s to loving the thread and stitching the life!

  3. Vicki

    Oh, how fascinating and wonderful. I love this because I do this with my clothing — if it’s well made, fits me well, and I love it — it’s in my closet for years. And years. I’m looking forward to more in this series. Thank you!

  4. Susan Haines

    I LOVE that your clothes have a story and a documented history. An inspiration to start the same idea with my closet and favorite clothes. The Valentine Museum in Richmond, VA once did a display with the clothes and a painted portrait from one of their donors – really made them seem more human/real. As always, thank you for sharing your ideas –

  5. Linda Sutliff

    Many years ago I discovered a swing skirt that I loved at Barney’s Co-op in New York and bought it for my daughter. The label was marked, Project Alabama. I had never heard of the designer but loved the piece – the softness, grace, lovely fit and detailed stitching. My daughter who was about 20 at that time loved the skirt and wore it frequently.– About 3 years ago (20 years since the original purchase) while helping her move, I discovered the skirt in the bottom of a packing box. She said she didn’t wear it anymore, so I reclaimed the skirt, had the waist altered to fit my added inches, and began wearing it again. It is still my favorite go-to garment!! — A couple of years ago I thought I might be sorry if the skirt wore out, so I contacted the Alabama Chanin office and asked if my skirt could be duplicated. I emailed photos. Questions were asked around the factory,and it seems that there is a talented pattern maker/sewer who has been with the company since my Barney’s purchase. She pulled the pattern from the archives and her memory. My favorite skirt has been duplicated two times since then!!! I now have it in soft taupe, navy, and light gray/blue. All are wonderful, but my favorite is still the first, which has been worn happily for about over 20 years by my daughter and me!

  6. Hope Carr

    Natalie, what an inspiration and exactly what I want these handmade pieces to become in my life and for the one who discovers them in my closet one day and understands why it must be theirs. I have already passed on to a couple of grandchildren what I am learning about hand sewing and the process of slow making. Thank you for sharing with us all these words and inspirations.