When it comes to imagining, making, or mending unique clothing, Nadene Mairesse brings a world of experience to her craft.
The California native learned how to sew at an English boarding school, studied art at the Idyllwild Arts Academy, French Literature at the University of California, Los Angeles, and worked on a degree in architecture at Auburn University. Later, she joined a group of architects and designers creating affordable housing for Hurricane Katrina victims in Mississippi. There, Mairesse met Eric Gebhardt, a musician from Florence who persuaded her to move to Alabama, where she now combines her sewing, designing and architectural skills as owner and creative director of her Idyllwilde Studio.
“I lived in Los Angeles until I was about 7, when my family moved to England,” Mairesse said. “For about eight years I attended an English boarding school. We had classes during the week, and on Saturdays, they taught us how to sew and mend our clothes.”
Every summer, her family returned to California, where Mairesse studied at the prestigious Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts (now known as the Idyllwild Arts Academy) in the San Jacinto Mountains.
“It was a complete artists’ community with a great faculty — I took dance from Bella Lewitzky (co-founder of the Los Angeles Dance Theatre). That’s why I named my company Idyllwilde, because the school was a real influence on me,” she said. “It’s the source of everything I do.”
Mairesse returned to the States to finish high school and then attend UCLA, where she earned a degree in French. After a stint co-hosting a television show that covered the L.A. music scene for a French network, she started designing clothing full time.
“I had a design business for about 15 years,” she said. “Then in the 1990s, the whole industry changed when my suppliers and sewing factories started moving to Mexico. I couldn’t just walk down the street and meet with them anymore.”
But the fabric artist wanted to continue creating, and try a different kind of design. So she moved again, this time to Auburn to get a degree in architecture.
“I got offered a job with a group building affordable housing in Mississippi, and I met Eric,” she said. “He persuaded me to come to Alabama in 2013, and I got back into textiles. Since then, Florence has undergone a huge Renaissance in the number of designers, craftspeople and makers who live here.”
Mairesse joined that renaissance in 2014 when she moved to a small space in downtown Florence. There she created her Idyllwilde clothing and housewares collection, and started hosting pop-up shops and attending maker’s markets (such as the Southern Makers), selling her dresses, aprons and other handmade fabrics. In addition, she offered workshops, teaching others how to hand-dye indigo fabrics or repair and reinvent old denim clothing.
“I sell items on my website, but I like working at the markets and pop-up shops more because I love meeting the people I sell to,” she said. “That’s why I moved into a larger place last month, to have more room to create clothing and teach workshops.”
While she specializes in handmade cotton, silk and linen dresses and smocks, Mairesse has been pleasantly surprised at the popularity of another product — her aprons. “I’ve gotten orders for aprons from farmers, barbers, chefs and leatherworkers,” she said. “That’s the great thing about today’s craft movement, just about every profession now has an artisanal section made up of people who love creating unique things.”
The Product: Handmade silk and linen dresses and smocks; cotton sundries such as aprons and kitchen towels, and canvas tote and market bags.
Take Home: A sturdy chest-to-knees cotton apron with two large pockets and adjustable straps long enough to accommodate most sizes ($78).
Idyllwilde Studio, 1213 Chisholm Road, Florence AL 35630
Republished with permission of Alabama NewsCenter.