BY CHRISTINE BENEDETTI | November 21, 2014 | People
Anna Trzebin brings a taste of the tribal to the Colorado Rockies with a new flagship store.
Kenya meets Colorado: After more than 20 years in the business of artisanal, handcrafted fashion, Anna Trzebinski, shown here wearing a hand-loomed cashmere shawl from West Africa, opened her first-ever storefront, in Aspen, this fall.
Anna Trzebinski is the first to admit that she makes an unlikely fashion designer.
“I’m not a shopper,” she insists. “Have I been to design school? Absolutely not. Do I know how to pin and drape? No. Do I know how to draw very well? No. But I know how to work with people who do.” The design crew she’s referring to is made up of tribal artisans in Nairobi, Kenya, who bring to life Trzebinski’s intricately handmade line of womenswear and home goods. While she is bound to Kenya by her business, started 21 years ago, she’s also inextricably tied to the land and its people through her family—she was reared there and still runs a safari camp, Lemarti’s Camp, with her husband, Loyaban Lemarti, a native Samburu.
“If you look at anything that’s handmade, there is something totally different in it than something that is machine made,” she says. “That’s not to say that machine-made clothes don’t have their place. But the process of making it [by hand] always involves traditional rituals or ceremonies.”
A friend of Trzebinski’s models a python-patterned shirt and guinea fowl feather-trimmed scarf from the designer’s collection.
Trzebinski, 48, grew obsessed with this idea more than two decades ago and became one of the first female fashion designers from Africa to receive legitimate press in the United States, gaining notoriety worldwide through grassroots trunk shows and boutiques. This summer, she opened her flagship store on the Cooper Avenue mall.
“We want to be a connector that’s not always about pumping money out of people,” she says. “We want to be a portal into another world that’s not just retail.”
In her store, a life-size photograph of Trzebinski, Lemarti, and members of the Maasai tribe sits behind the register. Throughout the store hang luxurious cashmere coats, ostrich-feather scarves, and beaded ponchos, each uniquely assembled by the Kenyan crafters. Materials are sourced from all over the world—glass beads from the Czech Republic, crocodile from South Africa, and turquoise from New Mexico—before being cut and stitched in Africa.
Hand-crafted apparel and accessories hang in Trzebinski’s new Aspen store.
Instead of being an inventor, she says many of her designs are translations, culling a variety of elements from different cultures and styles to make her own. Her touch was enough to catch the eye of designer Ralph Lauren, who’s been helpful in the development of her brand. She was originally set to open a store on New York City’s Madison Avenue last year, but a series of events and investor relationships led her to Aspen instead.
“Aspen is full of genuinely engaged, interested citizens who want to change the world,” says Trzebinski, who had been coming to the Roaring Fork Valley for nearly 30 years and felt that it was the right “mind-set” for the launch of her United States store.
An evening bag inspired by traditional Maasai necklaces with a cow horn button and handle ($950).
During the off-seasons, she plans to continue trunk shows and visit Kenya and her studio. (She splits her time between Kenya and the United States, and lives part-time in Aspen.) Though much of her line is classic—nothing ever goes on sale—Trzebinski continues to find inspiration around the world. “There is so much stuff on this planet that is so beautiful… it doesn’t have to be mass-produced,” she says.
And that’s an ideal she’s taken into her own hands. 414 E. Cooper Ave., 970-925-2848
photography courtesy of anna trzebinski; by c2-photography (blouses, bag)