With soggy weather and hilly cobblestones, Seattleites have a reputation of prioritizing comfort, functionality and practicality over high-style. But this historically casual city has been developing a distinct, internationally inspired fashion scene. Several up-and-coming designers draw their haute couture inspiration from the cultures in which they grew up.
One young designer, Afiqah Amil, 21, launched her own clothing line, Amil of headscarves earlier this week. The line is aimed both at Muslim women who wear the hijab — or headscarf — and non-Muslim women who can wear the scarves in nontraditional ways. Amil is from Malaysia and she hopes to attract consumers with a piece of her culture.
“Most of the hijab lines [in Seattle] focus only on hijabs, but I thought that people who don’t wear hijabs can also be fashionable with normal scarves,” Amil said.
“I like knowing how I’m bringing in a different culture, and a different style,” Amil said.
Amil’s scarves are made from cloth from Malaysia. She has scarves for every season, and the scarves incorporate different styles, colors and materials. Amil’s campaign photos represent different color ranges and a diverse selection of models.
“I was looking at people from different backgrounds, cultures, and skin tones,” Amil said. “I was introducing how all sorts of skin tones can match with different color schemes.”
Amil, who is Muslim, hopes to show how wearing the hijab has the potential to be worn with versatility, and to open people’s eyes to new ideas.
“I want to inspire women in my religion … We wear headscarves, but doesn’t mean we can’t be fashionable,” Amil said.
Like Amil, Suk Chai, a Seattle-born designer, has always wanted to implement her Korean and Japanese background and stories into her passion for couture.
She has always been intrigued by Seattle’s preference for outdoorsy clothing with athletic appeal. But her clothing line, Schai, adds her own personality and heritage.
“My dad was born in Japan, and he worked with Japanese people all his life,” Chai said. “We are Korean though, so I have both Korean and Japanese influence in my clothes.”
Chai says her style of diagonal, angular lines and geometric shapes is the key to a lot of Japanese designs, or Asian trends in general. She says she believes in Seattle’s potential to promote independent designers, promote stories, culture, and arts.
“I think there’s so much going on here, it’s the next one that’s brewing,” she said. “We have Nordstrom, REI, Eddie Bauer.”
Armenian Seattleite Nune Hov’s design draw from high-end fashion. Hov has been involved in the city’s fashion scene for seven years, recently launching her own production line called MXN. Focusing mostly on jackets and denim, the label focuses on creating clothing with environmentally aware practices.
“We specialize in high end, high quality construction,” Hov said. “The short term goal is that we’re going to be cruelty-free and trying to force as many organic and recycled materials as possible.”
Like other designers, Hov too notices a change and growth in the interest of the fashion industry in Seattle. More people are trying to do fashion shows, trying to get into modeling, designing and fashion photography.
Seattle Art Museum’s curator and deputy director, Chiyo Ishikawa says that Seattle’s fashion tastes are evolving. Seattle has had a longstanding reputation for “casual attire” — even being named one of the worst-dressed cities in the U.S. — and Seattleites famously would dress to unimpress.
That’s changed, Ishikawa said.
“I see a range of styles of dressing now,” Ishikawa said. “If I go out to eat, if I go to a play, if I go to a concert, I see a bigger range than I used to see.”
Despite the anti-couture reputation, fashion has been big business in the region. According to the Economic Development Council of Seattle & King County, Washington state has over $8.3 billion in the fashion and apparel industry.
Ishikawa believes that local designers are really starting to address what people in Seattle want to wear — flattering garments that also support functionality with the rain and winds.
Ishikawa worked for two years to bring the exhibit “Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style,” to the Seattle Art Museum, because of a heightened local interest in style from local designers and from consumers.
“I’m really enthusiastic about the designers working here, and I really hope that Seattle will support them,” Ishikawa said. “I think anything that can make our environment more visually interesting is wonderful.”
Correction: an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Afiqah Amil’s age.