Savannah Yarborough isn’t your average Southern belle. After studying menswear design at London’s storied Central Saint Martins and rising to head menswear designer at Billy Reid, the Nashville-based, Alabama-native opened AtelierSavas, a boutique operation that produces bespoke leather jackets.
We caught up with Savannah on her recent trip to New York and she gave us the lowdown on her Southern background, the meditative qualities of walking, and the badass appeal of a good leather jacket.
Where are you from?
I’m from Birmingham, Alabama. Now I live in Nashville, Tennessee.
How old are you?
I’m 28, I think. Last week I thought I was 27, but I’m actually 28.
What brought you to New York?
So this week in New York I was doing fittings for my first event, seeing clients for the first time in New York City. That was the main focus of the trip, but also just catching up with friends and people in the business and seeing what’s goin’ on.
Does it feel like an escape coming to New York, or do you go elsewhere to kick back?
I don’t know where I would go if I needed to take a break. Every time I leave Nashville, I come here, or go to LA for work. If I could, I’d probably go somewhere with easy access to the ocean and just sit. Anywhere, I’d probably be happy.
Since you travel so much, how do you stay healthy on the road?
Hmm, I’m not really very healthy. I’m not really into pilates or anything else, although I probably should be. I walk, even in Nashville. That’s my thing every day.
What do you think about while you’re walking? How different is it walking the streets of New York?
I use that time to reflect on what’s going on, because it seems like every time I’m here, everything changes. Something crazy happens and it changes the cycle of what I’m thinking about. So I try to stay silent and meditate and figure out how I’m going to analyse whatever’s going on, based on the trip.
You sound like an old soul.
Yeah [laughs]. I’ve always been told that.
Where do you find inspiration for your pieces?
Since I work with individual clients to create these one-of-a-kind pieces, they each sort of inspire me in their own right. Creating one piece at a time that you know is actually going to be worn- rather than designing like three hundred pieces and hoping that twenty get bought- is an interesting way to design. That in and of itself is the driving force for what I’m doing.
We have clients from financiers to musicians. It’s one of the most iconic pieces of clothing, except for maybe a pair of stilettos for women. It’s this garment that everyone wants, but it’s really hard to find the right one. Men and women say ‘Oh, I’ve been looking for one for fifteen years and I can’t find one.’
Did you always know that fashion design was the route you wanted to take through this life?
I grew up in the South which wasn’t very creative, so I went down the journalism path at first. Once I left and lived in San Francisco, I realized that design was actually possible.
Did you get any formal schooling in design?
I studied menswear design at Central Saint Martins in London. I spent five years constantly sewing and learning how things were made, how different patterns go together. Then I spent time in the factories actually seeing how things are made. Then, for the last year and a half, I’ve been sitting there sewing and sewing and sewing and sewing trying to make it work.
Why leather jackets, out of all the different garments?
There’s something about leather jackets. It’s a garment which gives you power. You put it on and it takes any basic outfit to a totally different place, and it makes you feel good about yourself. You put it on and you’re like, Okay I’m at least a little bit badass. Or at least a little bit more than I was before.
Do you listen to tunes while you work? What kind of music are you into?
I’m into really obscure older jazz music. I just like to hear rhythm behind me. I like all ranges of music, but usually in the studio I’m listening to something that has a good flow and isn’t too intense. Unless it’s like four in the afternoon and I’m tired and then it’s like, ‘Okay, turn on the Rolling Stones, so I can wake up a little.’
What’s your favorite piece that you own?
I would say it’s my black zip-front biker-ish jacket. It has two chest pockets and silver hardware. When I made it, it was the most in-your-face piece I had ever owned. Now I wear it like everyday.
And what’s your favorite piece you’ve made?
They’re all different. That’s the thing: each one is a new challenge, so I have favorite things about each one.
Can you walk us through your process?
We start by selecting leather for the client and talking through the different jackets that we have. We take their measurements, then we make a pattern for them and do fabric sample and a mockup of what their jacket will be. That allows me to make sure the fit is right and make any tweaks before we actually make the leather one. And then we make the leather one and we give it to them.
What are the biggest challenges in the process itself?
The biggest challenge is learning and adapting to each leather piece as you’re making it. Because each one reacts totally differently, so you have to be on your toes about it, and make sure you’re taking your time. That’s the other challenge- trying to not rush through. If we rush, we’re gonna mess it up.
There are always little things that happen and you don’t want to call them imperfections. They’re just part of the process of someone doing things by hand.