We recently met with the lovely Rachel Rector at her studio to talk about her handmade lingerie.
Duplex: Are you from Portland?
Rachel Rector: I’m from Florida
D: What brought you to Portland?
RR: I graduated in FL and I wanted to move. I kind of took a risk coming out here; I’d never been before and I’ve been here almost 3 years.
D: What is your background? Did you sew?
RR: No, I started learning to sew only 4 years ago. Before moving here I stopped in Indianapolis to visit my dad and get to know his family. I had a free place to live. Thrifting there is insane, so I had started a vintage Etsy shop and learned to sew. I came out here and decided Etsy was not going to work for me because everyone has their vintage store you know?
D: Yeah that’s true. It is very saturated out here.
RR: It’s hard to thrift out here. So I started working at Lille Boutique for a couple of years. I learned what I could from there and now I am doing this!
D: Do you wear your own lingerie everyday?
RR: Not everyday, I have quite a collection from buying everything I could from Lille, but I try to wear it because I am fit testing it. It is still really new, I don’t feel ready for it to be out in the market yet until I am sure it is going to hold up. So I am trying to figure that out, seeing if I need to take this in or change this about it and I want my friends to be doing the same thing.
D: When do you think you will be prepared to put it on the market?
RR: I think in the next couple months.
D: Wow that is exciting!
RR: Hopefully, hopefully. I am trying not to rush myself. I don’t want to get bogged down by the little things that I don’t like doing. Like trying to figure out the business side of it. I’m really enjoying the creative aspect of it and I want to focus on that. So I think I am going to just keep designing, maybe find a pattern maker and some seamstresses.
D: What was the hardest lesson you had to learn? I saw you had a post about mesh fabric colors being off, that must be really frustrating.
RR: Yeah, it worked out. But I was super excited, I made a mood board based on the colors on the website and I was super stoked about them and planning everything, when I got them they were nothing like what I saw online. But I ended up using them. I mean I didn’t love that fuchsia when I first saw it, with the rust I thought it looked ok and same with the teal. I wanted muted colors, but when I mixed those bright colors with the neutral shades it worked. That was a bummer but it worked out. Right now I am just finding sewing lingerie to be the most frustrating part.
D: I can imagine with such fragile material that it is a whole different beast.
RR: It stretches, so it is really hard to keep it consistent, especially with a domestic machine. So that is what I am dealing with. Since I don’t have a formal education in construction and design, I am just trying things and when it doesn’t work just trying something else. It’s fun and I love making the samples.
D: Are these designs things that while you were working in the lingerie shop, imagining or wishing they had? A lot of your designs, especially the bodysuits, you can’t really find those.
RR: There are a lot of things that I didn’t know until I worked there. I was learning what people are buying, what sells, what color sells, what fits, and what materials. I tried to take as much of that knowledge and put it toward this. So I want to do a lot of body suits, and I would like to do things that aren’t as sheer that you can wear them with a skirt or high waisted pants, under a dress. I really want to make some cool sheer silk dresses that can go with the lingerie. All summer long I just want to wear that!
D: Portland has a really strong community within its makers; have you found other lingerie makers to bond with here?
RR: I know they exist here, my friend Cassie Ridgeway, started a fashion show that was a few months ago at Secret Society, (Unmentionable: A Lingerie Exposition) so I know there are designers here, but working at Lille, we never really came across local designs that fit in with the aesthetic there and I haven’t really met anyone else that is making lingerie.
D: That’s one thing that made us really excited about you, because we haven’t seen that either. There are lots of boutiques that cater to Portland designers in general, but not enough lingerie and hardly any swim wear too.
RR: What I have noticed about the lingerie that is coming out of Portland is that it is really novelty. Bloomers and things like that which I don’t find as practical. But it is cool, a lot of girls are doing things with up cycled materials and that is pretty neat.
D: How was your video experience?
RR: It was super fun, my friend Jeff who shot the video, his girlfriend also works at Lille, and so I got hooked up with them. He wanted to do a lookbook as an example of the service he could provide. Which is cool since it was free. And that’s made all these designs happen. I had a couple super basic panties and I didn’t have anything else. We had a week and a half until we were going to shoot the video. I was really focused on concept and stuff like that. A couple of days before, I was like “Oh, this is a video for my lingerie.” So I just made some designs, I didn’t have a studio then, I was working out of my tiny bedroom. So we did the video, it was 40 degrees and raining outside, it was weird, but really cool. We did all of our makeup in the car, it was stressful and awesome. When I saw the 1st cut of the video I didn’t love it, but then we sat down together and went through it. I really didn’t want it to be about our bodies and oversex ourselves. We tried to a lot of close in shots and not a lot of us just hanging out doing nothing. That was a big thing; a lot of lookbooks are pretty boring.
D: It seems like a testament to the design as well, you can have a sheer material, you notice you can see through it, but there is so much going on in the piece so it’s not just some girl naked.
RR: It’s weird the variations in lingerie, there’s lingerie for sex, then there is lingerie for comfort, support, sportswear, and then there is fashion lingerie which is the direction that I find myself going. I am always thinking: is my bra going to go with this dress and is it going to match my lipstick? I am not seeing the nudity too much. Even though it’s me, and my parents have seen the video and that as kind of weird. I felt nervous about talking to them after I put it up. My mom told me “don’t model it yourself”. I told her I was really proud of what we’ve done and I am not going to be shy about my body because I am not shameful about it. This is how it is and I feel ok.
D: The video really is beautiful.
RR: it was really fun and I want to make a million more.
D: I really like bodysuits, I wish I had more.
RR: When I was doing the vintage store I was finding a lot of them, and those were always my favorite pieces. I would love to wear these out eventually. I was thinking of adding nude lining to these to make them functional in that way.
D: Most of your designs are vintage inspired, is that how you would qualify them?
RR: I haven’t really thought about it, I would say my inspiration comes from traveling a lot. I was in Europe last summer looking at museums and cathedrals finding a lot of stained glass work. Which is inspiring to me with all the panels, colors and you can see through it. I would say the silhouettes, the long line bra, the high waisted panty, the cinched waist in the bodysuits are vintage inspired.
D: Oh I like cathedral inspired. That sounds nice.
RR: I just got some new fabric. Two blues and a gray I want to work with. Reminds me of the Portland sky. I am really inspired by the gray weather actually. Then I have all these oranges and pinks I want to play with too.
D: It’s interesting the designs themselves, in black and white, they can be very vintage, but once you add the colors, all the sudden, I don’t think of them as vintage, it’s a contemporary take on a vintage cut. You see a lot of vintage recreation of clothes and it puts them into a time period. To have something that is really modern that has a classic cut is more exciting.
RR: There is a reason why the cut is so classic, they work. I got started learning to make patterns for lingerie right around when I was finishing up at Lille, with Tani Thompson, who is a pin-up swimwear and lingerie designer in town. So I learned from her, and her designs were very much retro inspired. That’s not really my style, going for the full pinup look, so I found what I could take from that.
D: What would you recommend washing lingerie in?
RR: Really gentle detergent. I use Soak, it’s a no rise detergent. Soak it for 15 minutes. You should do that will all of your lingerie, bras and panties. Anything you don’t want to break down. The elastic degrades really quickly, especially in the washer and dryer. Even just on your body, the oils on your body are working against it all the time. You have to be really proactive about washing right away too.
D: Do you have other designers or artist to look at when you need inspiration?
RR: When I was picking out fabric, I was looking at a lot of Georgia O’Keeffe paintings, some of her other work when she was living in the desert. So I was using that for some of the muted colors. I am inspired a lot by all the designers at Lille, but I want to do something different. There is so many other small designers that they carry, like Unforeseen Circumstances, Fortnight Lingerie, which are really inspiring. I don’t look at magazines or runway shows, but I am inspired by my friends and the colors I see.
D: Well you do a good job of it.
RR: Unfortunately I don’t get in here as much as I would like to. I have a job at a restaurant. Working there helps me afford the studio and materials and I meet a lot of people who are interested in what I do and encouraging and want to tell their friends and that is really awesome.
All images by Duplex