Peasant memories: When California native Gei Chan was in fashion school in the Bay Area in the late ’60s, she had no idea that her inherent relaxed design inclination would have a lasting impact on the world of style. Her use of mixed patterns and lightweight upholstery fabrics—coupled with empire waists and maxi dresses of the hippie zeitgeist—defined the look that is now known as boho chic. “Fashion was more conservative back then,” Chan says. “In general, my designs were not supported when I was at school.” Once Chan graduated, then unknown entrepreneur Jessica McClintock tapped her as a designer for her newly acquired company, Gunne Sax, where Chan defined the brand’s famed prairie look.
Trailblazer: Chan was a part of an early wave of successful Chinese-American designers (along with Kaisik Wong, whose designs were carried by Henri Bendel), but she has always loved the Japanese design aesthetic. “I like the colors and patterns, as well as the simple and clean lines and unusual mix of shapes. Lucky for me, Seattle’s weather is conducive to layering, because I tend to want to throw on all my favorites, then head out the door.”
Northern Comfort: “I don’t spend that much time deciding what to wear. Or take myself that seriously,” says the always chic Chan. “I like well-made clothes that are different. Maybe they’re pricier, but stylish clothes remain stylish even after several years. The bottom line for me is comfort, being age-appropriate and dressing for oneself. My advice to anyone: Don’t worry about the trends; wear what you like, what makes you feel good.”
“Seattle marches to the tune of a different drum, thank goodness! There’s a lot of individuality here. Part of the reason may be geographic: We’re far enough away from the major fashion centers to create with more freedom. It won’t surprise me if in a few years the rest of the world will look to Seattle as innovators.”