Born: Sandra Harrower in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 16 December 1951, to British parents. Education: Graduated from Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, Los Angeles, 1975. Family: Married Michael Garratt in 1977; one son: Wesley. Career: Design assistant to Ossie Clark, London, 1971-73; design assistant to Bob Mackie, Los Angeles, 1974-75; textile research/design assistant, Holly Harp, San Francisco, 1975; first design assistant, Dinallo, Beverly Hills, California, 1975; textile designer, Mary McFadden, New York, 1976; window and showroom display designer, Halston, New York, 1976; first design assistant, Zoran, New York, 1976; illustrator, Giorgio di Sant'Angelo, New York, 1976-77; textile design, CMS Spectrum, New York, 1976-77; director, Texas Developmental Group, Dallas, 1978-80; director and designer, Units, Dallas, 1981-86, sold to JCPenney, 1986; artistic/creative director responsible for all aspects of design including textile, packaging, marketing, fashion shows and videos, Multiples, Dallas, Texas 1987-89; designer, New Gotham and Moda Vida collections, Greaten Corporation, Los Angeles, 1990; director and designer, New Tee, Inc., original line of 100-percent organic materials 1992-98; director and designer, Sandra Garratt Design 1994-98; head designer for new divisions, Spiegel Catalogue, 2000—. Exhibitions: Scott Theatre, Ft. Worth, Texas, 1980; 500X Gallery, Dallas, Texas, 1981; Milam St. Gallery, Houston, Texas, 1982; Wadsworth Atheneum Museum, Hartford, Connecticut, 1989; Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris, 1990; Natural History Museum, Los Angeles, 1990. Awards: Bob Mackie award for Outstanding Achievement in Design, Los Angeles, 1976; Female Entrepreneur of the Year, 1988. Address: 4501 Broadway, Suite 2G, New York City, New York, 10040, USA.
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I see my original modular concept as a classic—like Levi's 501 jeans. The empty-canvas-like appearance begs for personal touches. I'm taking a flat, square architectural design in a soft, knit fabric, which makes it pliable, then putting it on a three-dimensional form so there are contradictions. It stirs up dynamics. Stiff clothes lack body awareness. Through my designs, I offer people a tiny opportunity at self-expression which everyone craves.
Both Jean Muir and Zandra Rhodes have influenced me throughout my career but my favourite designer of all times is Paul Poiret. He really created a new approach for all of 20th-century fashion. Other inspirations that can be seen in my work come from Rudi Gernreich, who was also trained as a dancer, and Giorgio di Sant'Angelo. Working with Halston in the 1970s gave me a new direction. Halston offered a basic way of dressing that seemed suited to Americans. His clothes were realistic in the sense that they worked for you instead of your having to adopt the characteristics of the clothes.
I think people relate to jeans and simple t-shirts because they are functional and authentic. The challenge is to offer good design in an average price range for people. It is easy to work with beautiful, fancy fabrics but not easy to create things that work out of simple, pure materials. This is why working with organically produced fabrics is a great challenge for me and is where I want to focus my designer energies for the rest of my career.
Sandra Garratt's career evolved from an early interest in dance and costume design. Forced to abandon the ballet studies that took her to Canada and Europe, Garratt ended up in London as a design assistant to Ossie Clark during the early 1970s. Returning to the U.S. in 1973, Garratt worked on elaborate clothing out of luxury fabrics as a design student at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. As a senior, she was asked to design a line contrary to her then-baroque interest in costume dressing. She created a collection of slim skirts and bright tunics out of silk, which became the basis for her career.
After a series of design positions in New York, where she was influenced by Halston and Giorgio di Sant'Angelo, Garratt moved to Dallas, Texas. In 1978 her lifestyle as a busy working mother made her realize millions of women like herself were struggling with increasing demands on their time and resources. Most available clothing failed to address these issues so she began to cultivate ideas based on her senior show. Garratt pioneered the concept of modular one-size-fits-all cotton knits in basic shapes: t-shirts, leggings, tunics, bandeaux, and bikinis. The interchangeable, mix-and-match pieces were eventually called Units. Garratt marketed Units as "modular clothing for the masses expressing individuality through apparent uniformity."
Units were affordable, could be worn alone or layered, and made customers feel both casual and fashionable. The early 1980s were swept by an aerobics and jogging craze and Units offered an appealing, comfortable alternative to sweatsuits and workout clothes. Garratt's early interest in dance contributed to her ability to respond to a woman's need for comfort and flexibility in her wardrobe. She eventually sold her interest in Units in 1987 after a dispute with her financial partners. Units, which was later purchased by JC Penney, operated as a chain of stores in shopping malls.
Another company, called Multiples, was launched in 1987 with Garratt at the design helm. Described as a "system of dressing," Multiples was a collection of 20 knit separates sold in more than 350 department stores nationwide. Garratt monitored the production by the Jerrell company and helped market and promote the line vigorously. Multiples were more sophisticated shapes than previous forms designed by Garratt; cut out of square pattern pieces, the knit jackets often echoed the Japanese design concepts pervasive in fashion of the late 1980s. Multiples offered a versatile group of tunics, skirts, jumpsuits, leggings, and tubular accessories that could be worn as a scarf, cowl, belt, etc. The boxy shapes were sold folded in practical plastic bags at a low price to a huge cross-section of women.
Multiples could be casual or sophisticated depending on the mood of the wearer. Claire McCardell, an American designer during the 1940s and early 1950s, designed comfortable jersey knits similar to Multiples but her timing was unfortunate. Garratt, who also formulated her own ideas ahead of the market, was fortunate enough to be in step throughout the 1980s. Since 1989 Garratt discontinued her relationship with the Jerrell company and Multiples.
Garratt also took time to explore her other love: romantic dressing. She introduced a line of one-of-a-kind, hand-sewn original confections of lace, tulle, and taffeta referred to as "Viennese pastry" dresses during the early 1980s. While not sold specifically as a separate line, these designs were carried by specialist stores and had a devoted following.
Garratt opened a New Tee store in Dallas in 1992. Organic cotton t-shirts with a variety of silk-screened graphics and nontoxic dyes were a favorite of her customers. When the store closed in 1993, she continued to sell her 45-piece collection of simple, comfortable styles in specialty stores and to serve her private customers from a shop adjoining her studio. In 1994 she introduced two collections she called "lifestyle dressing" because the clothing could dress women for the office, an evening out, or a cruise. Her new signature label, Sandra Garratt Design, featured softly-tailored cotton and linen separates, cotton gauze pieces, and bias-cut dresses in silk charmeuse and silk shantung.
The newer label, Sandra Garratt Design, continued to reflect Garratt's concern for the environment, but was not strictly organic. She did, however, introduce an expansion of her New Tee business, which was lower priced and offered organic cotton styles in body-hugging dresses and leggings, big jackets, blouses, and pajama pants. Garratt closed both companies in late 1998 when her financial partners abruptly left the company. She designed on a freelance basis and did consulting work until she joined Spiegel Catalogue in August 2000. As head designer for new divisions, she is guiding the direction of new design for the company. The first of her collections, called "Transforming the Body," is scheduled for an August 2001 launch. Other lines will include casual clothing with the dressier feel of a Californian boutique.
updated by Janette GoffDixon