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Ready to wear. Made to measure. Adam Arnold is a local fashion designer who makes garments known for their impeccable fit. Part tailor, part designer, fully custom—Adam does everything analog, and for the past 20 years, he’s been in business for himself, dressing clients and guiding them through the intricacies of the made-by-hand process. It’s one he says his clients have come to appreciate, or at least, admire once the garment is done and uniquely theirs.
While his interest in clothing design began when he was just a kid, it’s been decades of learning by observing and honing his “old school” skills in a rapidly evolving, fast-fashion-forward industry. Adam has a degree in fashion design and spent a few years working on the corporate side of the industry in San Francisco before moving to Portland. While he knows this isn’t a city necessarily driven by fashion, he works with the type of people Portland so greatly attracts—those who care about craft, about creativity, about seeing a person’s vision and finding a personal connection within it. While his notable collaborations with the Portland Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Craft, and Oregon Ballet Theatre show off his skills in a bigger way, it’s those one-on-one creations, where he can demonstrate his impeccable construction, just for you, that drive his inspiration.
How is the creative process different for custom clothing than for designing a collection?
In custom design, I begin with the person who I am making the garment for—their personality, likes, dislikes, colors, fabrics, end use of garment, etc. I mostly create custom clothing from my own designs, which are typically fabric or construction-driven. These are the same forces that spark a collection. It almost always begins with either a fabric/texture/color direction, or the unique and challenging ways in which a garment can be constructed. Sometimes both.
In your custom designs, how much of you is reflected in them, and how much is it the person the garment is for?
Inasmuch as I am using them "as a person" as inspiration. Or my interpretation of who they are as a person. I will fit this into my idea of what good design is and see what comes out.
How do you think doing this work by hand makes it different than if you were to do so digitally?
It takes longer, I assume. But most importantly, I am present during every stage of the process, and I can make subtle decisions and changes based on the culmination of years of experience. There is no separation between me and the finished garment, so the garment, I believe, has a “soul” in the end.
What makes for an interesting collaboration, and which in your career are the most memorable?
I think it’s working with someone who has a similar work ethic, but is moved by different forces than myself. Two that come to mind as the most memorable are costuming Gioconda Barbuto’s “BringingOutsideIn,” as performed by Oregon Ballet Theatre last spring, and designing a range of custom slipcovers for Schoolhouse Electric.
In what ways do you think your artistic voice has changed over the decades of your career?
My core beliefs about design integrity and workmanship have remained the same, but my motivations have matured. I am making more informed design, construction, and fabric decisions. I don’t feel it’s necessary to “flex” with every single garment. I appreciate subtlety.