High Style in Freedom and beyond
Originally published April 3, 2015 in the Santa Cruz Sentinel
|“It’s never a good idea to start a small business. People see you|
as ‘living your dream,’ but It’s been really hard,” says Carla Goldman.
But she’s been making it work, and providing Santa Cruz County
with fine fabrics for 18 years.
She moves on. “This is a Belgium linen and this is a Belgium linen. I sell these at $26 [a yard] and these are $105 in the book.” She moves again. “And then we get something like this that’s just outrageously gorgeous and it’s $18.”
We walk across her shop to the clothing fabrics. “As you can see here, this is a fabric from Germany,” she says, unfurling a roll of fabric sitting upright in a barrel. “So this is a beautiful hybrid—a wood fiber that has been treated to the point of stretching.”
|Elsa Schiaparelli and Andre Perugia,|
evening ensemble and shoes, 1933-1935.
“And then this is a rayon that I burn to see what kind of poly and synthetics are in it. And they’ve done it so perfectly, I can’t get any synthetic in the burn. This is very rare to have German fabrics,” she says. When Goldman buys her samples fabrics, the labels are often removed, so she tests it for fiber content. Synthetic fibers like polyester will usually melt. Natural fibers will burn.
I’m caught up in her enthusiasm for fabric content and quality. I’ve browsed in Crossroad Fabrics on and off over the years, but have rarely bought anything. It dawns on me now that I didn’t really know what I was looking at.
Crossroad Fabrics is hard to find in its newest location because it’s not where you’d expect it to be. It shares a corrugated metal building on Airport Blvd. in Freedom with a plumber and a motorcycle repair shop. The ceilings are high and the floors are concrete. Most of the bolts of fabrics are on long rolls which you have to pull out from a stack to really see. Other bolts stand on end in barrels around the store. There are no pattern books and a limited supply of notions.
A seamstress since age 7, Goldman honed her sewing skills at Watsonville High School under the tutelage of Diane Severin and Mary Kay Chapel in the late 70s. “We had a wonderful sewing program at Watsonville. They forced me to clean up my sewing. I still French seam my clothing,” she says, showing me the inside of her sleeve. After graduation, with “starry eyes,” she enrolled in the Fashion Institute in San Francisco, but a career in fashion design never worked out.
I kept my eyes out for unique fabrics when I recently saw “High Style”—the current special exhibit at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor—which traces the evolution of fashion with 125 influential pieces from 1910 to 1980. I was fascinated by the variety of fabrics used in 20th century women’s clothing—many of which I didn’t even know how to pronounce. There were dresses made from silk faille (/fīl/—a soft, light-woven fabric having a ribbed texture), evening ensembles made from silk charmeuse (a soft light-weight fabric woven so that the front is lustrous and reflective) with filet lace (a decorative netting), and hats made from fur felt (apparently rabbits, beaver and nutria are the contributors).
You can’t help but wonder what it must have felt like to be the original wearer of these lovely creations at their debut. I was drawn to the everyday sportswear—a fresh concept born in Depression Era America, created by a pioneering group of American women designers who understood that women wanted greater comfort and adaptability in their clothing, with fewer costume changes. Bless their hearts for setting in motion the concept of unpretentious, functional, yet chic clothing made from washable fabrics.
And then there were the iconic evening ensembles by famous designers like Dior, Chanel, and Givenchy—undoubtedly intended to make a woman feel stylish, sophisticated and sexy, in equal measure.
The labels on clothing today with longer fabric-content lists, made me think that fabric has changed a lot since I first learned to sew, combining more types of fibers. All fabrics seem to have been made stretchier with the addition of Spandex. Carla Goldman set me straight. “Are you telling me the ice skaters in the 1950s didn’t wear Spandex? It’s just a brand name, it’s a label. We’ve always had stretchy fabrics. Labeling textiles has only been [required] in the last 15 years. You might have been buying it before.”
She reminds me that fashion (like the fabric it’s made from) is always moving forward, but it’s also tied to the past. “Fashion’s a massive circle; it’s constantly looping around. What goes around comes around.”
All photos provided by Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, except Carla Goldman portrait by Tina Baine.