This is the first in what I hope to be a series of posts about women artists, designers & small business owners whom I admire. And of course I just had to start with my best friend and creative conspirator, Ursula Dean.
Ursula and I met in 1999 when she started dating her husband Jeremy, and I was dating his best friend Kirk.
She was gorgeous: slim, with dark hair, and high, dramatic cheekbones. I was intimidated by and in awe of her ‘it girl’ style. But I quickly figured out that she was also warm and interesting; a lover of vinyl, all things Italian, Iain Banks novels. She had a testy Siamese-mix cat named Ushi, whom she adored. Best of all she made her own clothes.
Pretty soon that was all we talked about. At the time she was working a day job, and making vintage inspired dresses in the evenings and weekends, which she sold to a couple of shops in San Francisco.
Jeremy had come up with an Italian-inspired name for her line, Modaspia.
She made the dresses on her commercial Juki, the coolest machine I’d ever seen, in her sunny, third floor apartment. Her downstairs neighbor complained incessantly about the tiniest noise; Ursula put her boots on in the hall when leaving for work, but wasn’t about to stop sewing.
I had just started working for a textile printer, and Ursula encouraged me to try a design of my own. She was incredibly enthusiastic about the results, so we kept playing around with my printed & dyed fabrics and her silhouettes.
It was the beginning of my design education, and a creative relationship that has nourished me through our years collaborating on Modaspia & now my solo work, and for which I am deeply and profoundly grateful.
We talk for hours about fabric; Ursula has an unerring eye for high quality textiles, and a sophisticated color sense. She taught me the elements of flat pattern drafting, grading and production sewing and she’s the first person I turn to when I have trouble with the fit or construction of a garment.
These days, Ursula runs Modaspia out of another sunny, third floor space, this one in a tall brick building in downtown Placerville, CA.
She and Jeremy moved there in 2007, and are raising two gorgeous and quickly growing kids.
Last year they purchased a craftsman style house, that was built into the side of a hill looking over the town, in the 1930’s. She’s decorated it in her clean and casually stylish way.
Modaspia recently turned 10 years old, with a bustling retail website, wholesale collections which are carried in 35 stores nationally, and a blog where Ursula shares snippets of her life with her devoted followers.
Just for fun, the other day I wrote and I asked her to answer a few questions about her life and work:
What was the first piece of clothing you made?
i started sewing in my 20’s. i remember making a short, tight dress with extra long sleeves out of a thick black bathing suit material in the 80’s.
Which designers’ work do you admire?
akira minagawa (mina perhonen) is a constant source of inspiration even if my style is unlike his.
Who were your childhood idols?
i used to snuggle up with library books about old hollywood stars. i still love greta garbo.
What part of your business do you find the most rewarding?
being able to lay down and take a nap whenever i feel like it.
What part do you find the most challenging?
the book keeping
Which piece you’ve designed are you most proud of?
the biba jacket. very tailored, in silk velvet. almost impossible to sew but beautiful results.
Anything you are looking forward to?
the annual sample sale in sacramento on february 4th. there’s a whole rack of clothes from the classics collection, spring samples & fall prototypes and everything is 40-70% off.
How would you describe your personal style?
If money was no object, what item (object, piece of furniture, tool) would you buy for your home?
the practical answer would be a kitchen remodel but i’d love a new couch, something in grey velvet.
What’s the first thing you do when you get home in the evening?
have a glass of wine and listen to 2 kids talk at once.
Yeah, I still have a girl crush on her.
**If you want to get on the invite list for her sample sale, you can email her: ursula[at]modaspia.com**
For more about Ursula, check out these two interviews: