Fashionable Maine

Maine’s fashion scene features home-grown artisans with wears fit for the runway
Words By Heather Chapman

There’s an illustration by The New Yorker cartoonist Julia Ross Suits that best describes what havoc 2020 wreaked on our dressing habits. A humanoid figure slumps in a chair, gazing absently at clothing hung in an immaculately organized closet. The caption reads: It’s been a while. I thought I’d stop by and see how you all were doing.

If you’ve recently found yourself staring into a closet that seems to house only heathered sweat suits and fuzzy socks, fear not. Maine’s creative reach has a strong hold on the fashion industry, and this month’s Drive is for those of us who have gotten perhaps a little too comfy this past year. Take the warmer weather as the perfect excuse to hit the road in pursuit of your next uniform—whether that’s a smart (and comfortable) work-from-home suit, an en vogue evening dress, or a flowy getup for the farmers market. Whatever you’re looking for, these Maine-based designers are sure to have you covered.

Our journey begins in the historic heart of Biddeford, where comfortable, plant-based women’s clothing reigns at Suger, located at 5 Washington Street. Crafted from biodegradable fibers and handmade in Maine, each garment from the Suger and Angelrox collections “breathes and soothes,” says designer Roxi Suger, adding, “The psychology of fashion and how to encourage the celebration of inherent beauty and self-worth is our goal.” This July, shoppers will delight to find several new designs including the fresh Farmer Jumpsuit and the Gleam Gown, along with tried-and-true favorites like the Angelrox Hourglass scarf hood shaper and the Suger Coco comfort blazer. “Being able to engineer a simple bit of cloth into something that can transform the way a woman feels about herself is powerful and humbling,” Roxi says.

If your closet is craving refined breezy pieces, look no further than Herself, a half hour away in Cape Elizabeth. “Uncomfortable clothing is not what my customer is looking for,” explains designer Heather Stilin. “They want to look put together but feel relaxed.” Inspired by vintage design—think high waisted, wide legged, and all that flatters without the flash—Heather’s pieces are crafted with the contemporary customer in mind. At the core of the collection are dresses made with soft natural textures and available in a range of earthy palettes. “Dresses are so versatile—they’re really a foundational piece in the wardrobe,” Heather says, noting that her clothing line has expanded to include other wardrobe workhorses like a wide-leg pant, circle skirt, and a vintage-inspired button-down. Her favorite piece? “The pants,” Heather says. “I wear them daily—under dresses and with other separates—for their comfort. They have a full elastic waist but also a great fit and shape.”

Those seeking an interactive experience will find it minutes away in bordering South Portland, at Alaina Marie’s newly launched Design Bar. “Because I love the design process so much, I wanted to create a customer experience that would allow others to step into the role of designer—to tap into their creative side and make something they love,” Alaina says. With a beloved bag brand known for a minimal-nautical aesthetic—the iconic mesh clutches were first inspired by lobsterman bait bags—AM babes (Alaina’s endearing term for her customers) can now book private appointments with family and friends to create their own handbags while sipping rosé poured by a “bag tender.” This summer, shoppers will rejoice to find Alaina’s classic bag styles—the clutch, day tote, and cross-body—in a variety of bold new prints and bright colors that remain true to their creator’s mission to construct quality, handmade products inspired by the nearby sea.

Day totes and clutches by Alaina Marie: A feminine twist on Maine practicality.

Day totes and clutches by Alaina Marie: A feminine twist on Maine practicality.

“Personally, I’m excited about wearing dresses, or rather, excited about retiring the sweatpants for a while,” says Sara Bertland, owner of Zane. Located on Portland’s historic Exchange Street, Zane boutique carries functional, feminine, and fashion-forward women’s clothing from contemporary designers. This summer, Zane will offer highly anticipated pieces by Australia-based Bird & Knoll, whose cotton poplin (a perfect summer-weight fabric) dresses—designed in neutral palettes accented by shades of light pink—embody a simple sophistication that defines it as the “fabric of the season” according to Sara. Also in stock (in a variety of vintage-inspired washes) is Sara’s must have wardrobe staple, the London High-Rise Straight Leg jean from SLVRLAKE Denim. Paired with a lightweight summer blouse and 70’s-inspired footwear—like the Tropical Tapestry Blouse from Farm Rio and Tatum leather sandals from Kork-Ease—the versatile jean is sure to elevate balmy nights out for an effortlessly chic look.

Worldly pieces add vibrancy and culture to Waterlily on Milk Street. Photo by Lauryn Hottinger.

Worldly pieces add vibrancy and culture to Waterlily on Milk Street. Photo by Lauryn Hottinger.

A leisurely amble around the block takes us to Waterlily on Milk Street, where color, culture, and vibrancy mingle with the rich mission of shopkeeper Renée Garland. “My design sense is intertwined with spiritual and ethical purpose. It’s a weaving of all of my adventures, my ancestry and life as a Mainer, and my life in Asia,” Renée says, noting that her extensive travels have included experiences such as discussing dogma with monks in northern Thailand and visiting the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala, India. Within the shop, visitors will find bright block-printed dresses from Rajasthan, Fair Trade Certified mala prayer beads—made in collaboration with a multigenerational mala-making family from northern India—and even items made right here in Maine, like paintings, soaps, and candles. Coining her business philosophy as “conscious trade,” Renée works only with artists, family-run businesses, women’s co-ops, designers, or creatives directly, taking her around the world. And taking us with her by way of the products she stocks.

A five-minute walk carries us to Portland Dry Goods, where owner Michael Force has curated a highly sensible and stylized collection of men’s and women’s clothing. The shop feels both excitingly cutting-edge while maintaining timeless distinction and comfort at the core of each and every careful selection. As Owen, the shop’s charismatic dog, greets visitors, an impressive collection of vinyl records—featuring Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, and Metallica—sit on display and spin, adding ambiance for shoppers. Despite the relaxed and genuine atmosphere, the selection of goods for sale ranges from smaller local companies to luxury Herno jackets, Portuguese Flannel, and Carhartt WIP. Come July, Portland Dry Goods–goers will have another spot to shop. “We’re opening a shoe store, which has been completely customer driven,” Michael says. Look forward to finding R.M. Williams, XTRATUF, Muck Boot, and more—a selection that echoes the sophistication and function characteristic of the original store.

Function meets high fashion at Kurier, where Swedish-style clogs reign. Photo by Elle Darcy.

Function meets high fashion at Kurier, where Swedish-style clogs reign. Photo by Elle Darcy.

Once worn upon the feet of Scandinavian workers nearly 700 years ago, Swedish-style clogs have since transformed into a high-fashion apparel item. Thanks to artisan Jasmine Clayton, handmade varieties of the shoe—in lush colors like rich plum, deep emerald, radiant ruby, and smudged coal—are available right here in Maine at Kurier on Portland’s Congress Street. “We want our items to be your go-to season after season, year after year,” says Jasmine. With a philosophy rooted in function, the brand includes other well-made leather items, like the Cora cross-body bag (in shades of blue, brown, marigold, or mushroom; ideal for holding essentials like keys, wallet, and a smartphone) and the new BFF slip-on clog. As a maker, Jasmine always has new ideas in the works. “Currently, I’m designing a collection of clogs for wedding season. They’re stylish, comfortable, and they can be worn long after the wedding is over, making them the perfect keepsake,” Jasmine says.

The Sofia jumpsuit by Jill McGowan has become a fast favorite among staff members and Jill herself. Photo by Lauryn Hottinger.

The Sofia jumpsuit by Jill McGowan has become a fast favorite among staff members and Jill herself. Photo by Lauryn Hottinger.

“We call them ‘shirts,’ not ‘blouses,’ for a reason,” Jill McGowan says of her timeless, stylish, nearly indestructible women’s apparel. Going by her Exchange Street shop’s longtime success, it seems that hardworking women in Maine and beyond want their garments to put in as much effort as they do daily. This season, you’ll find Jill sporting the Shannon T-shirt paired with the Sofia knit jumpsuit. “The jumpsuit is so comfortable, versatile, and beautiful. As we start to move around and reemerge, I want to be seen!” says Jill. Shoppers can look forward to perusing Jill’s classic spring and summer looks—like staple crisp cotton white button-up shirts and cool linen trousers—through September, while those with well-worn favorites needing a little TLC will exude gratitude for Jill and her team’s slow-fashion ethos. “All of our patterns are archived, so we can usually replicate older pieces or cut them in a new fabric,” Jill says.

“I have been shaped as much by the rugged wilderness of my native Maine as I have by the art and music communities of Los Angeles, New York, and Boston,” explains James McLaughlin, the maker behind Portland-based 33 By Hand. With styles characterized by a unique blend of functional durability and bold street style—look no further than the Bayside Tote and Zip Tote, each sporting a hardy, yet colorfully splattered facade—33 By Hand’s leather and canvas totes, wallets, and weekenders feel at once classic and refreshingly contemporary. This summer, shoppers will find a brand-new unisex cross-body bag, the Somerset Slim, available in the online shop. “It’s an everyday-use sibling to our best selling Somerset Dopp Kit, available in gray suede, black, brown, or basketball leather, with more colors to come,” James says. And for those who crave 33 By Hand’s designer looks in the home? “This summer, I’ll be releasing the brand’s first hand-painted floor coverings,” the artisan divulges. Shoppers, stay tuned.

Travel in style with a 33 by Hand premium weekender bag. Photo by Ezrah Churchill.

Travel in style with a 33 by Hand premium weekender bag. Photo by Ezrah Churchill.

An hour away resides Blue Feet Studio, where Amy Smith—a researcher-and-writer-turned-fiber-artist—weaves unisex fine scarves and wraps with Tencel (an eco-friendly fiber made of wood pulp) and sells her luxuriant multiseason wares online. Although her studio resides in remote Arrowsic, her woven wares mingle within the wardrobes of discerning neighbors and U.S. Congress members alike. “With their play of color and texture, my pieces are designed to be fascinating up close and from a distance,” Amy says. And indeed, her textiles do fascinate. With one design path rooted in the expression of subtle color gradations and shifting light in twilight skies, ocean waves, and wind-tossed trees, and another design path focused on local geometry—think architecture like lighthouses, docks, beacons, and bridges—there’s a bit of Maine eager to be explored in each piece. For those wanting to caress the soft fabric and see select pieces up close, Amy welcomes masked and socially distanced, appointment-based visits to her studio.

Another hour northbound along the coast—long on sea views and billowing salt breezes—takes us to Black Parrot, a distinctive clothing and lifestyle boutique in downtown Rockland. The brick-and-mortar location—originally a high-end department store circa 1893—boasts original flooring, cast-iron columns, and 15-foot ceilings, making the chicly updated space an attractive setting to peruse Black Parrot’s collection of luxury goods. “I source many European and Japanese lines,” says owner Sherrie Gibson, adding, “After so many years in the industry, I rely on my sense of what feels fresh, what makes sense in Maine, and what is really good design to stock the shop.” Favorites among Sherrie and her customers include Narumi dresses, Japanese handwoven cotton and linen with elegant pleating, and large printed scarves from France with vivid imagery. Don’t miss the shop’s selection of home goods and stationery, including impossibly soft Wallace and Sewell wool blankets from England.

Nearby, fourTWELVE, a boutique on Main Street in Rockland, beckons with garments, accessories, gifts and more. With what shop owner Beth Bowley describes as being defined by “well-edited collections of soulful, stylish pieces,” the fourTWELVE brand ethos reverberates among each item, some of which are handmade in Beth’s on-site studio under the Studio 412 label. Following her extensive career in New York City’s fashion industry, Beth’s designs embody the elegance of the runway while remaining true to her Maine roots. Customer favorites include the Classic Shirtdress—crafted in washed Italian linen and available in a plethora of calming colors—and Beth’s personal favorite, the Studio 412 Boyfriend Shirt. The shop’s top pick for the summer season? “We’re really in love with the Boho Dress and top this season … especially in our newest shades: Juniper, Cement, and Aqua,” Beth says.

“I am so lucky…I wake up every day to a project, team, and career that I love and will enjoy for many years to come,” Beth Bowley says. Photo by Lauryn Hottinger.

“I am so lucky…I wake up every day to a project, team, and career that I love and will enjoy for many years to come,” Beth Bowley says. Photo by Lauryn Hottinger.

At fourTWELVE on Main Street in Rockland, Beth Bowley curates and creates “soulful, stylish pieces.” Photo by Lauryn Hottinger.

At fourTWELVE on Main Street in Rockland, Beth Bowley curates and creates “soulful, stylish pieces.” Photo by Lauryn Hottinger.

If you’ve booked yourself a private appointment or studio visit, our journey concludes 20 minutes north at Emily Shaffer Studio in Lincolnville. Crafting clean, modern, and versatile jewelry using traditional metalsmithing techniques, Emily works intimately with each piece prior to packaging and shipment. Although each item is a singular work of art—Emily has gallery representation to boot—customers claim that pieces from the Line Collection have become foundational staples in their own wardrobes. “Personally, my favorite pieces reside in the Edge and Stripe collections. While still minimal and timeless, these collections feature high-contrast oxidized lines, which are seamless and striking,” Emily shares. If dressing to impress is on your summer agenda, don’t overlook a larger pair of hoop earrings to complement any attire. “My signature matte finish surface will glow in the sunlight, complementing whatever you choose to wear,” Emily says.

 
Now that you’re kitted out with bags in tow and new looks at the ready, take Emily’s advice. Cinch the waist of that new linen dress with a belt or some rope (for an extra nautical touch), buckle up the ruby-red clogs, and slide in a pair of matte hoops. If they can catch the sunlight and glow, so can you.