The French Seam Project

I discovered the beautiful French Seam Project via Art South Africa and I just fell in love with everything the project stands for:

THE FRENCH SEAM PROJECT encourages a slowed-down approach to clothing. Behind every garment is a thought process and there is a reason for every detail – the choice of fabric, the use of a zip or a button.

Quality of fabric & craftsmanship, attention to detail and integrity of design are the roots of THE FRENCH SEAM PROJECT, the aim being to return to the elegance, sophistication and thoughtfulness that our grandmothers took as a given, but that is so often lacking in our own time.

I immediately contacted the owner Jacqueline Nurse who told Handsome Things more about the shop, its philosophy, the designers and the art of the French Seam.

The project’s name.

A French seam is one in which the raw edges of the fabric are completely enclosed by sewing them together first on the right side and then on the wrong. Before the advent of the overlocker this was an effective way to finish raw edges, but is quite labour intensive. It requires the seamstress to fold over and press the first seam in order to sew the second. An overlocker, however, finished the edges in one go after the straight seam has been sewn. Hence, it’s become the much more popular way to go about things these days.

The reason why I chose to use this as a name for the project is that, as an analogy, it fits quite nicely into what I’m trying to do – which is to encourage a slowed-down and more thoughtful approach to clothing in general. And to focus attention on the role of each item of clothing in shaping a person’s identity, however eclectic.

The lady behind the project.

I come from an arts background, so it’s in that arena that the roots of the project (and my thinking) can be found. Having studied English and Art History at Rhodes University, I threw myself headlong into a curatorial and arts writing career. Through this process I’ve developed a keen interest in the ways that we construct our identities like narratives, and the importance of the clothes that we wear as little paragraphs or chapters, if you will, in our stories. In my mind it is not so big a jump from what I have been doing in the arts to what I’m starting to do on the outskirts of the fashion arena.

 Because I have developed my skills in the arts arena quite finely, it would be very difficult (and ultimately undesirable) for me to change direction to fashion and retail. So the way that I’m approaching The French Seam Project is very much from a project point of view, and with a fine art slant. There are elements of fashion that relate very well to ideas of fine art – the catwalks of Paris and Milan stand testament to that. However, what I’m trying to engage with is the idea that “normal” clothes that are accessible to most people are worthy of just as much thought and attention as the magnificent creations of Alexander McQueen or the fabulous masterpieces of Neo Rauch, for instance. My love for particular and complex aesthetic, with a keen interest in the processes of fabrication and the narratives that inform any construction of an identity have paved the way.

The designers.

 At this stage, the whole thing really is in its infancy – the space itself has only been open for about 6 weeks, and only in the evenings. I am representing three designers, aside from my own collection, which appears in the form of the odd prototype, the creation of which I fit into the work that I still do in the arts.

 Nelle is a young designer based in Cape Town. All her garments are hand-crafted and most are one-off pieces, as she likes to change the patterns slightly with each construction. Nelle’s work is quite edgy and quirky – I especially enjoy her use of quite traditional patterns, such as hounds tooth check, in twill and tweed textiles.

Suzie Diamond has been around a little longer, and has developed a keen but relatively small following, also based in the Cape. Her main interest is in fine fabrics – silks and lace – which is what has intrigued me. All her garments are also made lovingly by hand.

Fatiema Martin is well-established in the area of bridal and evening wear. Her family has been in the industry for generations and all skills have been passed down from one to the next, which I love. I have taken on Fatiema’s corsets, which are constructed using traditional methods, with good quality boning. The craftsmanship is impeccable, and I am infatuated with the historical aspect of the garment.

 There are of course other potential collaborators, with whom my discussions are too much in their infancy to elaborate on. But there are two people in particular with whom I have had lovely conversations that I would love to take further – Lorenzo Nassimbeni, textile designer and artist; and Kurt Pio, artist and milliner.

I love it, take me there.

Visit The French Seam Project in The Courtyard at Heritage Square, corner Bree & Shortmarket Streets, Cape Town CBD or have a look at the website:

At the moment the shop is open in the evenings between 5.30 and 7.30 (or so), Monday – Friday.

Thanks Jacqueline!

The beautiful photos of the shop are by David Ross.

Model left – Beth Amstrong. Photo by Jacqueline Nurse.

Model right –  Sarlee van den Berg. Photo by Caren Wiid.


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