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The Call of Couture

Eugene designer Vanessa Froehling heads to her first Portland Fashion Week
Designer Vanessa froehling (second from right) with Rachel Ruiz (left),
Rachel Matagora (in Snake dress) and Kymberlee Meyers wearing Fraulen Couture;
makeup by Desiree Kuenkele; hair by Ashley Newport.
Photo by Todd Cooper

 

Vanessa Froehling rifles through racks of shimmering gowns and faux furs in her home studio. This, she says, holding up a metallic cocktail number, is the Judy Jetson dress. She grabs another hanger — a plunging ruby sequin dress — the Jessica Rabbit, she says. 

Froehling then raises a long silvery gown high above her head, dwarfing her small stature — the Snake Dress, she says, looking up at it. Several have told her it looks like something Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen, mother of dragons, would wear.

“I didn’t want to play it safe,” Froehling says. “If I want to go into this industry and really maybe make my splash, I want to be known as a couture designer. That’s my main focal point.”

All these designs are part of the Elemental Nature line from her Fräulein Couture label that Froehling will be showing at Portland Fashion Week (PFW) Oct. 3 in the couture runway show. A longtime Eugene designer, this will be Froehling’s first time showing at PFW, following in the footsteps of only a few Eugene-based designers from years past.

This step — going from selling her ready-to-wear line, Stitches by V, on Etsy and showing in smaller, non-juried local fashion events in Eugene, to being accepted to arguably PFW’s most prestigious runway event — is an important one. TIME magazine hailed PFW the “Best Indie Fashion Week in the U.S.,” and it’s considered an essential rung up the sartorial ladders that top off at New York and L.A. fashion weeks.

Froehling’s road to PFW should be a familiar one to many local artists and creatives. While she says she “played fashion designer a lot” as a kid in Missouri, she didn’t fully embrace making clothes until she began following Phish and Widespread Panic on tour, part of a traveling community of vendors she describes as close-knit. 

“They were wearing fashion and clothes that you can’t find anywhere else,” she says.

Froehling, 32, received her first sewing machine for Christmas at age 20. She taught herself how to sew from the machine manual and was soon spinning out apron tops, dresses, skirts, hoodies and a lot of “patchwork” garments to bring on tour.

“It was a good start, a pioneering way of getting you the confidence to think that you can do that,” she says of breaking into the industry.

At 21, she relocated with her partner to Oregon, her mom’s home state, and came to Eugene to see the band Moe in concert.

“It was on a Saturday and we came across the Saturday Market, and I was like, ‘Wait! They have a vendor’s market here!’” Froehling recalls.

They soon moved to Eugene. Froehling, when not touring, was selling her wares on eBay, and she strung together jobs at Jo-Ann Fabric and coffee shops as well as sewing for other people. When she opened her Stitches by V shop on Etsy five years ago, she decided to make it her fulltime job.

In 2013, she showed in Eugene Fashion Week, hosted at The Shedd. “It was my first fashion show ever, and I was sold on it,” she says. “I was jonesing for more.”

Froehling went on to participate in several local shows. She started a lingerie line and teamed up with local art photographer and frequent collaborator Tracy Sydor to show her work in spreads for Dark Beauty Magazine and Surreal Beauty magazine

The past two years running Froehling applied for PFW’s Emerging Designer Competition, but didn’t make the cut. 

After incorporating advice on her collections — they needed more cohesion — she decided 2015 was her year for PFW. “I submitted,” she says. “The producer got back to me really quickly and had a lot of nice things to say.” She would be showing in the couture night of PFW.

With the big night less than 10 days away, Froehling says, “I’m really perfecting the looks that I’m going to show.” 

The 10 looks are inspired by nature and a futuristic twist on her love of silhouettes from the ’20s through the ’40s. The fabric is lush and lux: gray velvets, slinky sequins, maroon lace, frothy tulle and faux fox-fur stoles.

And the silhouettes are dramatic — a champagne-colored sequined jumpsuit with a flowing split cape; a gray and scalloped gold strapless gown; and, of course, the snake dress.

To find out more, visit frauleincouture.com. EW will be following Froehling to PFW; look for updates at eugeneweekly.com