Julie Gilhart - Barneys New York, 2001

Julie Gilhart - Barneys New York, 2001

Julie Gilhart and Natalie meet for the first time in 2001, shortly after Barneys New York becomes the first stockist for the new t-shirt collection. Over the years, they share many meetings, conversations, and adventures.

The below conversation between Kimry Blackwelder and Julie occurred via email on May 3rd, 2021. Thank you to Kimry and Julie for taking the time to talk about the history of Alabama Chanin and 21 years of Natalie’s work in northwest Alabama.


Kimry Blackwelder: What is your earliest memory of Natalie and/or Alabama Chanin?

Julie Gilhart: I remember it well. I was in my office at Barneys and literally had two big stacks of lookbooks about different designer collections that people sent me. In those days a lookbook was an “invitation“ to come see a collection during the fashion week market dates. It was such a laborious effort to go through them all; but, as the Fashion Director of Barneys New York, I was always on the hunt for new designers. When I came to the lookbook from Project Alabama that was inviting me to come to the Chelsea Hotel to see the collection, I stopped. It was like no other. I immediately made an appointment. The moment I walked in and saw the beauty of what they were doing with hand stitching and naturally dying cotton, it seemed cool and at the same time innovative. We immediately placed a big order.

KB: How do you think Alabama Chanin has impacted and/or influenced sustainability in the industry over the past 20 years?

JG: Natalie has created a thriving, innovative business outside the fashion system that is sustainable. She created a lifestyle brand that embodied ethical, responsible values. She had authentic brand storytelling before it was a critical part of what any brand needed to have!

KB: Do you have a favorite AlabamaChanin piece, collection, or collaboration? If so, why does this stand out to you?

JG: The original t-shirt she did was one of the most widely copied styles. At the legendary New York restaurant, Bar Pitti, the wait staff is still wearing the iconic T-shirts.

Her stitched bustiers became collectibles. The easy fitted dresses were great sellers, as were the loosely tailored jackets and full skirts. Natalie was one of the very first designers to embrace women of different sizes and have it look completely natural.

She created cotton “couture” with her shapes and embroideries.

KB: Do you have any fond memories or experiences during which you recall wearing Alabama Chanin?

JG: Twenty years later I fell in love with the pieces she did with Patagonia. She actually created a collection of scarves and wraps from Patagonia’s unusable down jackets. Each piece was hand-made and hand-sewn. To me, this is the iconic essence of Alabama Chanin.

KB: Can you describe your most memorable encounter or experience with the Alabama Chanin brand?

JG: I think our buying appointments were the most memorable. From the Chelsea Hotel in NYC to L’Hotel in Paris’ Left Bank. It was always a catch up on not just the current collection at hand but on business and current culture at hand.

KB: What do you feel is Alabama Chanin’s most enduring quality? We want to know what comes to mind first and what resonates with you?

JG: I’m still in awe of the culture and community Natalie created around the brand. The fact that she created a supply chain made up of women sewing at home is unheard of in the fashion industry. How she created a lifestyle brand not in NY, LA, or Paris, but in Florence, Alabama. She has many enduring qualities, but one of her superpowers is endurance and a true love of beauty. The combination of the two is dynamic and impactful.

KB: As our industry evolves, what do you hope to see for the future? Where do you see Alabama Chanin in this vision?

JG: She is so ahead of the curve, and my dream is that more people know her story and values. She is an American classic that lives and works in a way that we all need to learn how to incorporate into our own lives.

KB: Finally, is there anything you'd like to say to Natalie or the Alabama Chanin team in celebration of their 21 years?

JG: Thank you for not following the fashion industry but leading. Thank you for not compromising your values but setting new examples for us all to follow. You may not be the largest fashion business in the industry, but your authenticity, sustainability, and human values rank highest and will leave the greatest impact.


Shop the 21 Year Collection—including the Alabama Chanin upcycled Patagonia pieces—here.

Follow all of Julie’s adventures here.


Slide 1: Reclaimed Down Bandana by Alabama Chanin in collaboration with Patagonia, 2018, photograph by Rinne Allen

Slide 2: Vogue Magazine article featuring Julie Gilhart from September 2003, photograph by Robert Rausch

Slide 3: Bar Pitti, 268 Sixth Avenue, New York City, 2006, photographed by Sissi Farassat, photograph by Robert Rausch

Slide 4: Julie Gilhart during the Covid-19 global pandemic in New York City wearing an Alabama Chanin Reclaimed Down Bandana, 2021, photograph courtesy of Tomorrow London; Bar Pitti, 268 Sixth Avenue, New York City, photographed by Sissi Farassat, 2006, photograph by Robert Rausch