Mention Nashville, and it’s impossible not to think about music. Heralding its sobriquet of Music City since local radio station WSM broadcasted the Grand Ole Opry in 1925, Nashville, Tennessee, boasts the world’s highest per capita concentration of people working in the music industry. What may not come to mind is fashion, and yet Nashville ranks third in the country—after New York City and Los Angeles—in number of independent fashion-centric companies. “Fashion design in Nashville is part of the city’s greater creative whole,” explains Libby Callaway, an independent creative consultant and former fashion editor. Callaway now serves on the board of directors of the Nashville Fashion Alliance, a trade organization that supports the city’s emerging style-based initiatives.
Within the past decade, fashion creatives have flocked to the city for its lower rents and enviable location—Nashville being more toward the middle of the country. A synergy formed between the fashion and music industries when Imogene + Willie, makers of women’s and men’s denim jeans, set up shop in a former service station in the now-tony 12South neighborhood in 2009. Musicians started sporting Imogene + Willie jeans, and artists, designers, and musicians began collaborating in what Van Tucker, the CEO of the Nashville Fashion Alliance, calls “a beautiful mashup.”
Bright Side // Specializing in gemstones imported from across the globe, Judith Bright crafts heirloom jewelry on-site. Photograph courtesy of Judith Bright.
Like countless of the city’s designers, Ashley Balding at Ona Rex has no physical retail outlet. She sells her vivid women’s clothing online and by appointment in her shoebox of a studio in Berry Hill. “I don’t follow the rules when it comes to color,” admits the designer, referring to her rack of pumpkin-orange, lime-green, and fuchsia garments. “I like any fabric that has a visual interest, so I tend to work in thick, structural materials like twills and nubby wools.”
Bright Side // Specializing in gemstones imported from across the globe, Judith Bright crafts heirloom jewelry on-site (above). Photograph courtesy of Judith Bright; Ceri Hoover makes shoes and leather goods (below) for women, a skill she stumbled into by accident. Photograph courtesy of Ceri Hooper.
Until last month, Jamie Frazier and Hannah Jones of Jamie + the Jones also depended on Internet sales of their made-to-order womenswear. In September, they opened a showroom in a small house adjacent to the Melrose studio where their garments are made. “We’re all about textiles,” Frazier says of the hand-woven T sweater—the company’s signature garment. Their boxy, comfortable dresses and tops come in a rainbow of raw silks, some of which are hand-marbled in nearby Franklin, Tennessee.
Given its stature as one of Nashville’s chicest neighborhoods, 12South naturally harbors a host of independent design shops. Jewelry designer Judith Bright moved her home business to a lovely little house on 12th Avenue South in 2010. Specializing in gemstones and the meaning behind them, Bright utilizes stones from all over the world to craft affordable heirloom-quality rings, necklaces, earrings, and bracelets on-site. All her stones are hand-cut in India to her specifications.
The earthy, masculine scent of leather takes you when stepping inside Peter Nappi, the 12South shop where Mississippi native and founder Phillip Nappi plies his trade. During a trip to Italy to learn shoemaking, Nappi discovered that his grandfather Pietro—the Italian name for Peter—had been a shoemaker in Italy before immigrating to America in 1904. One look at the store’s fine handmade Italian leather footwear will dispel any notions regarding Nashvillians’ predilection for cowboy boots.
Across the street from Peter Nappi, Ceri Hoover displays women’s shoes and leather accessories, and hosts monthly pop-ups with clothing designers (there’s that collaborative Nashville spirit again) in her tiny flagship storefront. The former interior decorator stumbled into her métier by happy accident. “I was making a pillow,” Hoover sheepishly recalls, “and I suddenly realized it was a purse.” So she started making leather handbags––her fall line flaunts soft Spanish pink and vibrant mustard hues––and branched into shoes, crafted in a style she calls “casual but pulled together.” With a square heel shaft long enough to hit the center of the foot, Hoover designs her shoes to be worn all day.
Material World // (above) Dana and Phillip Nappi, owners of Peter Nappi, offer handmade leather footwear and a range of clothing and accessories. Photograph courtesy of Dana and Phillip Nappi; The textile mavens behind Jamie + the Jones(below) ship made-to-order womenswear right to your door. Photograph courtesy of Jamie + the Jones.
A rack of custom muslin jacket patterns hangs in the workroom at AtelierSavas, the Pie Town studio of leather designer Savannah Yarborough. Structured specifically to the wearer’s dimensions, Savannah’s jackets are sewn predominantly in Turkish lambskin and Italian calf leather. From Birmingham, Alabama, Savannah studied fashion design in London and worked for Billy Reid in New York City before landing in Nashville. By appointment only, Yarborough meets with clients to discuss their visions before constructing a muslin model, then moves on to the final leather piece. Sought out from coast to coast, her bespoke jackets start at $6,500 with a six to eight week production time.
Chic City // Creator of custom muslin jackets (above, below), Savannah Yarborough of AtelierSavas designs her pieces to the wearer’s dimensions. Photographs courtesy of Savannah Yarborough.
On the west edge of downtown, Cavanagh Baker is launching a third collection at her posh studio in the Cummins Station complex. A Savannah College of Art & Design graduate, this 25-year-old is heating up the Music City couture scene with her limited-edition, made-to-order clothing. Items are sewn in New York with fabrics she sources in France and Italy. “We focus on extreme novelty pieces with classic silhouettes [a funky long vest in gold metallic fabric, a black-and silver-sequined coat] that you can throw on over an existing wardrobe item,” Cavanagh explains. In fact, a piece she designed for singer/songwriter Kelsea Ballerini currently resides in a Country Music Hall of Fame display. “My customer is a woman who isn’t afraid to put something on and wear it. She’s going to work it no matter what.”
Chic City // 25-year-old designer Cavanagh Baker launches her third collection of made-to-order clothing with fabrics from France and Italy. Photograph courtesy of Cavanaugh Baker.
And work it is what this city does, flaunting its fashion scene like a model on the catwalk. With designers, musicians, artists, and organizations like the Nashville Fashion Alliance nurturing the city’s creative soul, Nashville is changing the country’s conversation on couture, one bespoke design at a time.