Andrea Aranow and her son Caleb Sayan

The small room stuffed with fabric hides behind an unassuming white door in a downtown office building. Shelves full of neatly folded cloth line all four walls. Each has a white label with thick black letters: ‘Old French Floral’ or ‘Conversation pieces; American tablecloths.’ Tapestries drape the walls, and knotted loops of fabric hang from the ceiling. 

Sample materials from the Hive

This is Textile Hive, a collection of more than 40,000 different textiles from 50 countries, crammed into 700 square feet on NW Davis Street. Andrea Aranow, a former New York fashion designer who created leather
and snakeskin outfits for stars such as Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis during the late 1960s, has been amassing the materials since childhood. 

Over the years, Aranow’s designer friends, like Alexander McQueen and Tommy Hilfiger, used Aranow’s collection for inspiration. After bringing his mother’s haul to Portland in 2009, Aranow’s son Caleb Sayan digitized and cataloged it, hoping to find an institutional home. Unable to interest a museum in using the collection as a teaching tool, he decided to launch a private archive for fashion designers, students, and enthusiasts. Sayan will charge about $200 a month for limited access to the physical archive and unlimited digital access. The stockpile’s specimens range in era from 1760 to the late 1970s, with many Japanese textiles but also pieces from around the world. (Aranow, now 69 years old, still adds pieces from her New York home.)

The exhibit Past Future Textile Design (Oct 9–31) will  highlight Textile Hive’s diverse collection at the Steven Goldman Gallery at the Art Institute of Portland.

“The problem with museum databases is that you have to be a specialist to know how to search for something,” says Annin Barrett, a fashion educator at the Art Institute of Portland who uses both the physical and digital archives in her classroom. “With Textile Hive, you don’t need that background to understand it all, which makes it perfect for students.”

Beyond serving as an educational tool, the collection also preserves and communicates the passion and sensibility of its creator, turning one woman’s collection into a cultural asset. Sayan has taken extra steps to preserve his mother’s original organization scheme in the archive.

“Maybe every piece here isn’t museum quality,” he says, “but it’s a personal collection, and I think that’s what makes it special.”

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