Natalie meets Jennifer Venditti in 2001 during the early days of Jennifer’s now-renowned casting agency, JV8 INC. At the same time, Jennifer, along with Mollie R. Stern, run M.R.S., a clothing company that began in the Chelsea Hotel, in the same apartment where Natalie was developing her own hand-sewn t-shirts. M.R.S utilizes knit fabrics that include hand-stitched details, and the three often joke that there’s a ghost in the 4th floor room which urges all occupants to hand-sew.
Jennifer and JV8 INC work with Natalie on Prom Night @ The Bowling Alley, and the two begin a decades-long friendship that includes many travels and adventures.
"I remember meeting Natalie/Alabama in the early days when she and her then partner, Paul, were working out of the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. What stands out to me most is the connection and inspiration I felt from her. There was a kindred spirit in terms of our love of character and storytelling within the everyday experience. I remember her working on the first collection which was inspired by her roots and the ritual of quilting and storytelling. I remember feeling I was in the presence of a true visionary. She was combining so many things I loved….ritual, “regular' folks, storytelling and clothing. I never considered her part of the fashion industry. I always saw her vision transcending fashion. Her philosophy and clothing is a way of thinking. Living and dressing that is timeless, it’s not a trend; it’s a way of BEING and EXPRESSING. Her clothing conveys a message; it holds an energy. It’s taken 20 years for the world to catch up to her vision.
I also remember working on her first show which took place in a bowling alley, and we cast all non-models. Real women of all ages and sizes. Again, this is very “in” fashion now, but at the time it was not. She was visionary. We bonded on the way we saw beauty and that we wanted to see more of a range of examples of it in the world.
Another favorite memory was a trip to Florence I took for a weekend of festivities…
She has this way of creating a beautiful experience that transports you into the reality of her vision. Easy rural living, artistic expression, craftsmanship, storytelling, good food, and laughter.
We also took a trip to Taos, New Mexico once for a sewing circle class for The School of Making. Both Natalie/Alabama and I love an adventure to discover a new place and the local treasures. We stayed in The Mabel Dodge Luhan House—a place steeped in creative spirits and history.
It was an artistic salon in the early 20th century United States, hosting well-known writers, painters, photographers, and musicians like Willa Cather and D.H. Lawrence, and artists and photographers including Ansel Adams, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Edward Weston. The house was later owned for a time by actor Dennis Hopper.
We were excited and inspired to be in a place that had such a history and looked forward to any inspiration it may offer. I loved watching her teach—the way she spoke, her attention to detail, and the personal stories she added that transported you to her experiences in life. I watched in admiration as I saw what a gift she was to each “student” she crossed paths with.
The last day of the retreat Natalie had woken to a spirit that told her to leave the premises immediately. In Natalie’s recalling, this ghost was not playing. She left the next morning. I stayed to explore other metaphysical experiences. Nonetheless, Natalie always listens to the “voices.” They have served her well."
—Jennifer Venditti, casting director, JV8INC
Learn more about Jennifer’s work at JV8 INC.
Follow along in Molly R. Stern’s adventures here.
Explore Jennifer’s award-winning documentary Billy the Kid here.
Slide 1: Polaroid collage from Prom Night casting and fitting with Jennifer Venditti and Lori Goldstein, photograph by Robert Rausch
Slide 3: Jennifer Venditti, forever with her camera, New York City, sometime around 2003, photograph by Natalie Chanin