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UVM Grad Steps Out in the Fashion Biz

State of the Arts


Published July 23, 2008 at 5:09 a.m.

Rachel Comey and Pascal Spengemann, C. 1996 - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • Matthew Thorsen
  • Rachel Comey and Pascal Spengemann, C. 1996

Heads up, parents of art majors: If you’re skeptical about whether your offspring’s chosen field of study will lead to a paying job — and their own pad — check out the August issue of domino. The hip magazine dedicated to “living with style” touts a three-page spread on Rachel Comey, a 1994 graduate of the University of Vermont, and her ultra-cool converted-laundromat home near a beach on Long Island’s North Fork. Once an art major with a focus on sculpture, Comey is remembered in Burlington’s art scene for designing fake-fur furniture, starting the nascent Exquisite Corpse gallery at Jager Di Paola Kemp Design, and launching a line of funky women’s underpants before she headed down to New York City.

Turns out the undies — along with wit, a willingness to work hard and a bit of good fortune — ushered Comey into the world of fashion design. A world in which magazine features about you become possible. At 35, she’s made a name for herself — literally — in this highly competitive marketplace: Rachel Comey is the name of her collections of clothing and shoes, samples of which can be seen at rachelcomey.com, at style.com, in spring and fall runway shows, and in more than 100 stores internationally. Domino refers to her “trademark brand of utilitarian chic with an artful bent,” and applauds the Comey hallmark of “unorthodox pattern mash-ups.”

Says the designer by phone from the “cave” she rents in NYC, “I spend a lot of time in research; fabrics and craftsmanship are really important to me — the materials research is a reference to my sculpture background. I strive for it to be kind of elegant, not too decorative,” Comey adds, “but there’s a sense of humor, a playfulness.”

In fact, Comey’s design sense is remarkably practical; her comfortable-looking dresses, skirts, blouses and tunics come off as both modern and timeless — clothing that normal women might actually wear, rather than impossible, expendable haute couture. It’s a long way from simple cotton underpants, though learning to make those, she says, taught her some design basics. And Comey is quick to give credit where it’s due: “Pascal’s mom helped me develop patterns,” she notes, referring to the mother of best bud Pascal Spengemann. In the mid- to late ’90s, Spengemann was Comey’s fellow curator — at Burlington’s Firehouse Gallery. These days he’s co-owner of Taxter & Spengemann, a Chelsea gallery that’s about to relocate to Union Square (further encouraging evidence for parents of arty types . . .). The two are still great friends.

Another former-Burlington friend has done well in the Big City, too. Comey initially moved to New York with Eugene Nikolaev, now Eugene Hutz, leader of the Ukrainian-flavored gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello. Though the couple’s romantic relationship ended, Comey says she did “art direction and clothes for Eugene” for a couple of years and still occasionally works with the band. “But he’s kind of got his own thing going now,” she remarks. Indeed. And so does Rachel Comey.