Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Florence fashion designer closes doors

By Theresa Shadrix
The Anniston Star

Natalie Chanin has been on a six-year journey that has inspired her beyond measure. So on Friday, when she and partner Enrico Marone-Cinzano closed the doors of Project Alabama, it was not easy.
“It was a financial decision,” says Chanin, who was born in Florence. “I am extremely proud of the work that we have accomplished over the last six years.”

Chanin and Marone-Cinzano started Project Alabama, a fashion design company, in 2000 and based it in Florence. But Project Alabama was more than a fashion design company. As its name signifies, the founders wanted to involve the local community while also making clothes.

At one time, it employed 150 local seamstresses who sewed one-of-a-kind garments made by hand. A week before the closing, it was down to 15.

Chanin did more than provide a job to locals in the rural town of 36,000 and create buzz in the trendy fashion metropolis. She taught the seamstresses how to take a piece of material and create beauty. Project Alabama fashions were on runways in New York and displayed in fashion magazines such as Vogue, Elle, Town & Country, Glamour and Harper's Bazaar. Her designs hung in more than 50 stores in 10 countries.

While most fashion designers dream of New York, Milan and Paris, Chanin drew positive attention from the fashion world by staying true to her Southern roots, offering Southern flair with big-city motif. They were creations the couture world could marvel about and the everyday woman could appreciate.

She also had what most women only dream about — a career where she worked from home, was a part of the couture fashion world and was surrounded by family and friends.

Today, with the closing of Project Alabama, it is friends and family that she remembers.

“(Project Alabama) has been a beautiful path filled with friends, family, stories, laughter, love, frustration, tears, joy, incredibly talented artisans, great food, a supportive audience, and, in essence, just amazingly good people,” she says.

For now, Chanin says she will take some time to let the closing of Project Alabama sink in before planning her next move.

And Alabama will wait with anticipation.