Designer Spotlight: Naia Archer of Shadowbox Designs


"The Lola" - French Silk Mini Top

The Fashionista 411 Interview with Designer Naia Archer

Shadowbox Designs specializes in millinery, custom costuming and creative re-use. Designer and Owner Naia Archer took a few minutes to speak with us about her favorite passion.

In her own words; she learned to sew because vintage clothing is often tiny, and she is not. Being pretty much willing to try anything, she has made ten-foot-tall hoop skirts, an asparagus costume, and a surprising number of bear suits. While working as the costume designer for the Wanderlust Circus in Portland Oregon, she tripped and fell into the art of millinery in 2009, and has been pretty much in love with hats ever since. Naia currently specializes in making glamorous hats and accessories out of almost 100% salvaged and recycled fabric, and wants to encourage you to dress up more often.

Why hats? What appeals to you about them?

The transformative qualities of hats really appeal to me. We can identify a character onstage, their job, their status, whether they’re a good guy or a bad guy, solely by their hat. I also tend towards retro fashion, and the idea of not being “fully dressed” without a hat, gloves and accessories is quite appealing to me. To my mind, most people stop a little too soon when getting dressed.

How did you first get into making hats?

I costumed a small circus for several years, and in 2009 we did an Alice in Wonderland production. I was a little intimidated by making a Mad Hatter hat, but it ended up being one of my favorite pieces in the show, and I got so excited about hats that I made one for just about every costume. The joke was that everyone would end up on stage naked except for hats.

What’s your favorite piece? Why?

I’m very unfaithful. My favorite hat is almost always the one I’m currently working on. I am really enjoying the heavily textured, patchwork-y hobo-chic hats I’ve been making this spring. I like how you can keep discovering new details in them. I like hiding secrets in clothing, something that’s just for you.

Leopard Print Pillbox Hat

Adorable Leopard Pillbox with Fishnet Veil

Are you influenced by any music or art movements?

Art has always been very influential for me. I’m influenced heavily by Art Nouveau, as well as the creepy beauty of artists like Ray Ceasar, Mark Ryden, and Arthur Rackham.  I tend towards soft, “dirty” colors like you find in the art of Alphonse Mucha. I also find a lot of inspiration in the aesthetics of old vaudeville and burlesque, as well as a few graffiti artists. I especially enjoy mixing modern and antique styles together.

Are there any other areas of fashion you want or have plans to get into?

I feel like I make a little of everything. As flamboyant as I am, I’ve been focusing on costumes and stage clothes for so long that I’d like to try making some clothes that are more day-to-day wearable. I’m also fascinated by shoes… they seem so mysterious to me, and have so much potential for artistic expression. I was once part of an altered-shoe art show, and have been kind of in love with them as a medium ever since.

SBD Hat 2

"The Mock Turtle" - Vintage Lace & Silk Custom Top Hat

Describe your philosophy about the art of millinery:

Pretty much the same as my philosophies about everything else; Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Be yourself. Quality is always worth it. The Real Thing is always worth it. Don’t do anything by halves. Incorporate art into everything you do.  I think the most important thing to me about making clothing, including hats, is to use recycled and salvaged fabrics wherever I can, and only naturally shed or salvaged feathers. It’s important to me to be responsible in that way, and I feel that old fabric has some mojo, some story behind it. I love being able to tell people “this piece came from a wedding gown, this was a bedspread, this lace is a hundred years old”. I very rarely use new fabrics. Leads to me needing far more space than I have, though. Someday I’ll have a hobby where everything can fit into a suitcase, and make tiny, easily stored art of some kind.

How do you intend people to feel when wearing your hats?

Glamorous. Different from the rest. Confident. Like people are paying attention… these aren’t hats in which to blend into the background.

Describe your first piece. What does it look like? What material(s) did you use? Is there a specific colour scheme? How long did it take you to make it? What were your inspirations?

I started altering thrift store hats about six years ago, reshaping them, adding new trim, dressing them up, and then there was the Mad Hatter hat, which I built on a store-bought frame. But the first hat I made from scratch was for the Caterpillar in our Alice production. It was a mini scale top hat, but very tall. I used salvaged 1960’s upholstery fabric that I had been saving for “something special” for years. It’s a turquoise and lime green stripe with some texture. I added little sparkly antennae to it and laughed myself stupid the whole time. It took me about a week, as I was still figuring out the mechanics of building my own frame and had to take it apart a few times. Inspiration is hard to pin down to one thing, but I watched every version of Alice I could find, and they all found their way into my cornered little brain in one way or another.

If a celebrity could wear something you designed, who would it be and why?

I’m so out of touch with celebrity culture, that’s a really difficult question for me. I’d love to dress Scarlett Johannsen, because she’s got such an old-fashioned look, and always seems like such a lady. Celebrities are all staring to look the same. Thank the gods for Lady Gaga.

What’s next for you?

The next thing on my plate is branching out into wet felted hats. I’d like to be able to offer something more casual and durable, especially for men. So, fedoras, felt cloches, that sort of thing. My housemates aren’t going to know what hit them once I start making felt on the patio.

Naia models one of her favorite pieces.

Your lovely Milliner modeling "The Alexandra"

Naia creates custom designs for both men and women and has ready made pieces for sale as well.

For information on ordering and available designs please go to the Shadowbox Designs Facebook page or e-mail her at: Mention The Fashionista 411 to receive a special 10% Discount!

Justin Howard

Justin Travis Howard has traveled the world and loves diving into local night life where ever he happens to wander. His insights are designed to promote the hidden byways of Modern Culture.

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