Shea Zahedi would not be preparing to show a collection at New York Fashion Week without Juneau.
Zahedi, née Wilcox, grew up in Juneau and is the designer behind the Opal Heart fashion line. The sensibilities that are taking her to the Big Apple for one of the world’s biggest fashion events were forged in the capital city.
“I’m really inspired by vintage sewing from the ’50s and ’60s,” Zahedi said from Orange County, California, in a phone interview. “I think a lot of that came from growing up in Juneau. Our families all had to sew a lot of their clothes and work with what was available to them. Just kind of inspired by the ethos of repairing your clothing and using high-quality methods to construct the garments.”
Zahedi, who lived in Portland, Oregon, for about a decade after moving from Juneau and now resides in California, said she is thrilled to be showing clothing in New York City during Fashion Week, which runs Feb. 8-16.
“I think it’s really exciting just to be in New York during Fashion Week,” Zahedi said. “Growing up in Juneau it seems so far away. The fashion world seems so far away and removed. To have the opportunity to show my work somewhere during fashion week is incredible.”
She especially relishes the opportunity to show off work that incorporates Slow Fashion mentality on such a large stage. Slow Fashion is a clothing world movement that is the equivalent of farm-to-table restaurants in culinary circles, Zahedi said.
It places an emphasis on creating garments that are made to last and employ excess, secondhand or repurposed materials. Despite the name, some pieces can be completed in five hours. Others might take as many as 30 hours, Zahedi said.
“Sharing the message of Slow Fashion is almost more important to me than selling my clothes,” Zahedi said. “I’m just glad they make people happy, just like anybody who paints.”
The collection Zahedi is poised to show is her largest yet. It is unnamed and does not focus on a particular season — seasonless appeal is one of Opal Heart’s calling cards. Instead, the collection builds on the voice Zahedi has established for the Opal Heart line.
She described that voice as bright, feminine and vintage-inspired.
Opal Heart clothing has a Mid-Modern, yacht party vibe that could strike a chord for fans of the costumes in the early seasons of “Mad Men.”
“I’m an extremely optimistic person, and I think the clothes reflect that,” Zahedi said. “They’re fun and lighthearted.”
The line generally eschews specific sizes and seasons to focus on garments with year-round appeal that can be fitted and customized for the customer.
Inspiration for the latest collection also comes from the more distant past — The Gilded Age.
“My collection was inspired by a valentine from the 1880s,” Zahedi said. “In the 1880s, women used to send valentines to each other. It was part of female friendship, so that’s what my collection is celebrating is kinship between women and just focusing on the positivity of that kind of stuff.”
The valentine was discovered by Zahedi in an antique store, and its design includes a pink umbrella, yellow flower and boardwalk scene.
“Some of my looks actually feature the valentine, and I also have a lot of vintage accessories from the 1950s,” Zahedi said.
The looks will include crocheted flowers by Juneau artist Sornja Pan.
“It was really important for me to bring accessory designers from Juneau to represent my Juneau roots and help shine some light on the fabulous makers we have in Juneau,” Zahedi said.
Even without the local contributions, Zahedi said Juneau would be reflected in her work.
“I just really thank my experiences of growing up in Alaska and having to save things and repair what you have,” Zahedi said. “That craftiness, being able to use things for off-label purposes, or put things together to have a solution for something that really informed who I am as a designer.”
• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenHohenstatt.