Tina Lutz and Natalie meet for the first time in 2005 when they are both finalists in the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund competition and find immediate connection. In 2015, Tina moves back to her native Germany, settling with her husband and son in Berlin. In 2017, working with local artisans, Tina launches her Lutz Morris collection of beautiful leather bags.
Tina and Kimry Blackwelder recorded the conversation below via zoom on March 9th, 2021—Tina from her home in Berlin, and Kimry from her home in New York City.
Kimry Blackwelder: Thank you, Tina, for speaking with us. I know you have so much history with Natalie and the brand, and we're excited to celebrate 21 years of defining sustainability with Alabama Chanin.
I’ll kick it off: What is your earliest memory of Natalie and/or Alabama Chanin?
TL: I met Natalie when it was still Project Alabama; I want to say it was in 2005. We were both part of the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. And once you are in the final 10, you have to do a lot of tasks. I remember that we had to make something purple for a Cartier event and I was pregnant—I think that's the first time I met her. We also had to fly to LA and do a show at the Chateau Marmont. I have fond memories from these travels with the other finalists. Natalie and I spent quite a lot of time together in LA, and after that we just always stayed in touch. Natalie was spending a lot of time in New York; I feel like she was always there. And her previous business partner lived just five minutes from where I lived. He would host these huge dinners at his place—he had the most incredible townhouse. And, whenever Natalie would come into town, we would try and see each other. Sometimes I would visit her showroom, wherever it may have been at any given time, just to give her a hug and look at the collection. I loved seeing it develop over the years.
KB: How do you think Alabama Chanin has impacted and/or influenced sustainability in the industry over the past 20 years?
TL: I think she is one of the first. At the beginning, she was making her pieces using recycled t-shirts—I don't know anyone else who did that. The repurposing, the zero-waste footprint. I feel like Natalie is really the first one who has pursued and embraced this mission, and then really stuck to it. So easy, right, start with something and then, when you're successful, suddenly say, “Oops. Now I can’t repurpose.” But you know, if she doesn't repurpose, then it's still slow, it’s sourced ethically, and it's organic. The cotton is domestic—from Texas and California— so it's not traveling very far. She has always been super consistent. She has spread her vision over so many categories since those early days. So really, I’m super impressed.
KB: It is impressive, what she’s accomplished and her consistency.
TL: I have been wanting to go and visit her for so many years. And I get her newsletters, so I see Building 14, The Factory… And I'm like, how big is this now? It's hard to imagine, but I feel like the school part, the café, the cooking, the home furnishing... It's one red thread that goes through everything she does.
KB: I know. It's wild. We do need to take a visit down there. I'm dying to go. Obviously the pandemic has really thrown a wrench across the world.
Do you have a favorite Alabama Chanin piece, collection, or collaboration from over the years? If so, why does it stand out to you?
TL: I have always loved her corsets. I also love the patchwork pieces—she has such a great eye for color. Even the tonal ones that are made with Black and Navy or neutrals and creams… It's always so beautiful. All that the patchwork pieces need is a frame to be an actual work of art… I would totally frame one of her cream pieces. Just so beautiful.
KB: Oh yes, those are amazing. And do you have any fond memories or a time where you had one of her pieces on or you wore it to an event?
TL: No, I never owned one. I remember a black patchwork corset top that I fell in love with at her showroom once in the East Village.
KB: I know Natalie is going to make you one now. You've touched on a little bit of some memories with Natalie and the brand. Is there a specific encounter or experience you’ll always look back on when you think of Alabama Chanin?
TL: I have to say this dinner that I mentioned earlier, with her former business partner. I’ll never forget it. The incredible location and food, the conversations… It was all so memorable. My husband mentioned that dinner just the other day, not even knowing that you and I would be talking. He was like, “Do you remember that dinner we went to?” I’m like, “Yes. Totally.”
KB: How funny. And I love this next question, as it really encompasses a lot of what this project and retrospective is about: What do you feel is Alabama Chanin’s most endearing quality? We'd love to hear what comes to mind first when you think of Natalie and the brand, and what resonates with you most?
TL: It's a community, it's a world. It's not just a line of clothing. It's a whole philosophy, and it's a lifestyle—a wholly authentic one, at that.. It is Natalie’s vision—a very focused vision—that makes it so unique. Because, while it started with clothing, it really became more about the craft and how the clothing was made. I don't know anyone who does that like her. And I don't know anyone who then teaches people the craft so that they, themselves, have the skillset and knowledge to make the pieces they could just buy, already readymade. Her generosity of sharing the “do it yourself” approach is super unique.
Everyone is so protective of the work, not wanting to give their secrets away or share how things are made. Because it's your own special sauce, right? That's why we don't know how to make Heinz ketchup or Coke, because that's the secret of their success. But the fact that Natalie decided to just open it up and say “I want everyone to be able to make what we make”—it really portrays her generous character.
KB: I think that's a really beautiful sentiment. As your industry evolves, what do you see for the future? And where do you see Alabama Chanin in that vision?
TL: So many people are jumping on the “green fashion” bandwagon now. Green fashion has a lot of different categories: repurposing, using sustainable material, producing with artisans... Natalie is doing all of it. But the problem is there are a lot of companies out there who are greenwashing now. And, and the word “sustainability” is used so frequently and casually that it has lost its true meaning. Hearing it almost makes people roll their eyes now, you know? Nothing is truly sustainable. The moment you produce something—it doesn't matter if it's from repurposed garments, or from an organic fabric—it's not sustainable.
KB: You are creating a product.
TL: You are producing, right? So I feel like a better word is responsibility. And, and Natalie has been so responsible about every step along the way. Her mission was always to tread lightly and to make every decision in the process extremely thoughtfully. I don't know any brand that is as 100% committed to a responsible process as Natalie and Alabama Chanin. I feel that's why they have a bright future—it is difficult to reach the level of responsibility that Alabama Chanin has. And, believe me, I am trying so hard with accessories. But, because we have to use hardware, it makes it all the more difficult to be 100% responsible in production.
I was so happy when I heard that Natalie got support from A Common Thread, because I feel like it really gave her this stamp of approval, and helped shed light on her place in the future of fashion. And that everyone whose vote helped brands receive this financial support really believe in what Alabama Chanin does. That this work is proving to be fair competition for fast fashion.
KB: Right? I’m in the throes of various projects and addressing conversations about sustainability in the media. To your point, once you produce something, it's not sustainable. That word, “sustainability,” everyone is throwing it with a lack of conceptual understanding. There are so many layers, and I think you really summed it up beautifully in speaking about responsibility. And how Natalie is 100% responsible through every phase. Who else can say that, right?
Finally, is there anything else that you would like to say to Natalie or the Alabama Chanin team?
TL: I feel like Natalie and I have always been connected in a special way. There is this beautiful story… and I got confirmation from my husband that this is exactly what happened:
It was New York Fashion Week, and my husband and I were going out. We jumped in a taxi and as we arrived, paid, and began to get out, I saw a credit card on the cab floor. I picked it up and told the driver, “Oh, somebody lost their credit card.” And as I was handing it to him, I saw it was Natalie’s name on the card. I told the driver I knew her and called Natalie the second we got out of the cab—she was also in New York for Fashion Week. “Natalie, I just found your credit card in a cab”... She hadn't even realized that she'd lost it yet. It’s funny how things happen. She must have been in the cab—maybe even the ride or two before us. So, we met the next day at Pastis to exchange the card and catch up.
KB: Wow. And, you know, it's those fleeting New York Fashion Week memories...We miss those right now. It feels like a different world. Tina, thank you so much for sharing these amazing memories and being a part of Natalie’s 21 Year celebration.
Slide 1: Portrait of Tina Lutz—ever stylish—in a timeless black ensemble, photograph by Daniela Müller-Brunke