Emerging Designer

Alicia Wood Weaves Family and Earthy Elegance into Every Ensemble

Surrounded by kids and chickens while collaborating with her husband, the designer sews family into every seam.

By Eden Dawn December 21, 2010 Published in the January 2011 issue of Portland Monthly

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For fashion designer Alicia Wood, the "work" day doesn’t start until 7:30 p.m.; after she’s put her daughters, 3-year-old Anais and 1-year-old Jade, to bed and fed the family’s 85-pound Rottweiler-shepherd, Rukus, and pair of yard-dwelling chickens.

And after she’s kissed husband Ben good night in the woodworking shed next to their 1,000-square-foot North Portland home. Only then does Wood retreat to the 10-by-20-foot sewing studio Ben built for her in their front yard to draw and pin and stitch into the small hours, her only company the soft croon of Billie Holiday.

The dedication and sleep deprivation have paid off: in September Wood vaulted onto Portland’s fashion stage by winning Portland Fashion Week’s Catapult: Emerging Designer competition. The victory put a second notch in her belt—in May she wowed local experts, like judges Adam Arnold and Dawn Sharp, at the Modified Style competition with the help of her husband, who carved a dramatic pair of wooden wedge shoes to complete her ruffled miniskirt and velvet crop jacket combo. The sophisticated, elegant look seemed a long way from its humble North Portland roots (amid the chickens)—and yet, somehow, also one that could only happen here.

The 37-year-old traveled a winding path to her current success. In the early ’90s, during that whole unfortunate flannel episode, she studied fashion design in the heart of grunge at Seattle’s Central Community College. Cap and gown earned, Wood skipped town for New York and a design internship. One year later her wallet felt empty, the apartment felt cramped, and the born-and-bred West Coaster missed the sight of trees. So she headed back to her hometown of Seattle, where she spent more than two years at Tommy Bahama before realizing an office cubicle put a choke hold on her creativity. She met Ben Wood at a New Year’s party and shed Bahama’s Hawaiian prints, opting to wait tables and design costumes on the side. Four years later, the couple moved to Portland to start a family.

When Wood entered the Catapult competition with her Ms. Wood line, she hadn’t stitched together an entire collection since college. No one would have guessed from the results: stunning ensembles with softly draped kimono sleeves set off by edgy leather and wood elements (Ben’s handmade delicate, geometric wood jewelry and, of course, those wooden wedges). 

“We share a passion, a vision, and goal,” Wood says of the couple’s design partnership. “It brings us closer together.”

And it brings Portland fashion another rare flower born of the city’s rich bohemian soil: designs that are earthy yet inspired, elegant, and downright beautiful—from the ground, another breathtaking bloom.