Art & Culture

The Artisanal Eye

PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST Designer Erica Tanov opened her first store in Berkeley in 1994. (Photo by Alanna Hale)

Designer Erica Tanov’s aesthetic curation

Those whose fashion passion slants towards an attraction—OK, let’s say an addiction—to serene and sublimely high-end women’s wear and meticulously curated home goods made by artisans worldwide, should be cautious when exposing themselves to designer Erica Tanov. The California native studied at New York’s Parsons School of Design and, after working for designer Rebecca Moses, ventured out on her own in 1990. Beginning with seamed slips and chemises made with fine fabrics that gained signature style in holistic, organic designs in part inspired by Tanov’s attraction—say again, addiction—to vintage clothing and antique buttons, she returned to the Bay Area after nine years on the East Coast. Opening her first shop in Berkeley in 1994, originally located in a building that once housed her grandfather’s laundry business, Tanov later moved the store to its current, larger location on Fourth Street. In 2010, she opened a second store in Marin; in 2017, a third store opened in Los Angeles.

Clearly, the Tanov collection’s followers have grown exponentially and geographically, which is why crossing the bricks-and-mortar front door or landing on the Erica Tanov website is an at-one’s-own-risk proposition. Soon after doing so, visitors begin organizing their weekend schedules and Southern California vacations around store hours. They will want—after a successful buying spree—only to wear for weeks the chunky cordera wool saddle cardigan in camel that is “ethically and carefully manufactured in La Coruña, with Japanese knitting machines and finished by hand” and uses yarns that are “cruelty-free certificated and obtained only from mulesing-free wool and have a low environmental impact production cycle,” according to the website. If it sounds pretentious, it’s not. It is genuine comfort and warmth to wear all over one’s body, every day. After months of lockdown, someone deserves to splurge this holiday season.

Or maybe one’s allegiance is pledged to the monochromatic outfit of the pillowy-soft cordera shearling pant and matching cardigan, both in buttery camel hues that make a person feel like a human golden retriever wanting to exude puppy love in all directions.

On sturdier days, it’s difficult to imagine going without the slim-fitting 5-pocket closed baker Jean in black, made of light Italian denim by Candiani, with mid-waist rise and drainpipe cropped length. Paired with a Breton shirt-inspired Bellerose Gopear sweater that features bold black-and-cream-white stripes, a raised collar and mother-of-pearl buttons, and sports Italian-made officine creative leggera sneakers in taupe grey, one might kick up the color palette with the antipast AM-493A sock, a midcalf checked-pattern sock with a ruffled top available only in mustard, unless the pumpkin-orange is back in stock.

That we all need accessories is a given: a metallic leather shiny silver wallet crafted in Bolivia might be slipped with contrasting brilliance into the eve shopping tote in gold metallic leather. Set off the gloss-matte, black-cream-taupe-silver-gold total look with jewelry; the arielle de pinto bead earrings in haze are made with clustered hand-crocheted Italian gold-vermeil chains and form into irregular gold balls that sit like empress treasures on one’s lobes. Add a block shop temple scarf in coffee, and the outfit is complete.

Stylishly but casually and comfortably dressed, we visit the farmers market, filling our wide-open eve tote and maybe stopping at an outdoor café where the scent of a nearby oak tree mingles synergistically with our Fougère Perfume by Erica Tanov. The fragrance, Tanov’s website posits, “emerges from silver fog” and carries remnants of “earthy vetiver and oak moss” suggestive of damp earth. With additional tones including orris root, sandalwood, lavender, rose geranium, and “a hint of cleansing smoke from sacred palo santo,” the designer’s debut fragrance gradually dissipates scents of nature over three-to-four hours’ time.

Is it really this easy to become mesmerized and accessorized and to decide to follow Tanov to the ends of the earth just to become clothed beautifully and smell delicious? Yes, it is. Once dressed, though, thoughts drift inevitably to home. After all, a person can’t just sit on a discount-store sofa in a Henrik Vibskov pipette dress in dark peaches made in Portugal, creating deep divots and frayed fabric where their bottom rests, while binge-watching the latest Netflix or Hulu series. They must also have Tanov’s durable, sublime, eco-friendly collection of home goods.

Among the vintage collection on display online: the antique Chinese enamel box with coral inlay, a pair of early-20th-century Hitchcock chairs and a sterling-silver bizarre serving utensil speculatively used to eat fish and worth purchasing for its name alone. If one must, due to economizing, own a second-hand sofa, decorate it with the best of Tanov: Edgar Allan Poe throw pillows in natural/prune, a printed hand-stitched kantha quilt in indigo or a hand-spun, hand-woven khadi wool throw in natural. Under one’s tennis shoe-clad feet, a handwoven nap mat in neutral tans and off-white, made with found and recycled materials.

A dining room with botanicus wallpaper in gold leaf/hot pink or more soothing fern wallpaper in charcoal/gold on the walls forms the perfect backdrop for a line of notary ceramics tableware, hand-woven rattan placemats, WRF large mugs in ash and an unusual centerpiece—perhaps a Sinafu small stand bowl in hasori made by hand in Yamanaka, Japan, using a centuries-old technique. It is the perfect vessel for a single, floating blossom suspended in water.

After bathing with Tangent GC organic tulip hand soap and pampering oneself with kahina facial lotion—fingers and toenails emboldened with a swift application of J. Hannah nail polish in ghost ranch hue is a given—be sure to burrow under temple linens and a totem hand-embroidered duvet cover in off-white linen and drift into dreamland. Maybe the Lovebird collection of shams, quilts and pillowcases is one’s preferred style? Either way, Tanov has us covered for sweet dreams.

If we must be addicted to something, at least Tanov is an addiction well-shared. Offering fine design, sustainable materials, environmentally respectful practices, and production and goods that honor traditions and cultures worldwide, the Tanov collection can be considered a celebration of humanity. Besides, for those who cross the threshold into one of her shops—virtual or in-person—there’s no retreat. The message is not buyer beware; it’s buyer be ready.

For more information visit www.erica

Share This Post