Permanent Collection on Lasting Design
by Alexa Hotz
The story of Permanent Collection, a line of clothing and objects based on “historical and contemporary originals,” is unusual. It involves two women, Fanny Singer and Mariah Nielson, who first met in London but grew up 46 miles from one another on opposite sides of the San Francisco Bay—Fanny in Berkeley and Mariah in Inverness. Daughters of chef Alice Waters and artist J.B. Blunk, respectively, Fanny and Mariah were both raised in idiosyncratic households: Fanny, in the kitchen of Chez Panisse with parents who “wore exclusively Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons, and Matsuda in total contravention of the bohemain-hippie aesthetic that prevailed” and Mariah, in a house altogether handmade by her father, J.B. Blunk, out of salvaged materials. In both worlds, art and design was interactive. “The absence of preciousness in our childhood homes was a shared vocabulary,” says Fanny. “To collect, or make, beautiful things, but also use them. That’s how aesthetic values really permeate.” So when Fanny and Mariah met in a London bakery wearing near-identical navy blue vintage coats, familiarity begot collaboration.
When they started Permanent Collection, the designers looked to the tradition of museum curation, applying those principles to the idea of a personal “permanent collection.” Thinking different, Fanny and Mariah avoid obsolescence and forgo the vagaries of fashion. It’s the lasting pieces from their own lives that inspire new designs: a set of porcelain cups slipcast from J.B. Blunk originals and forthcoming Egg Spoon inspired by Alice Waters’s own kitchen implement are two.
When asked what three objects they’ve kept close over the years, Fanny notes a cast iron pan from a college boyfriend, English cranberry-colored glass tumblers, and a pair of vintage Walter Steiger heeled slippers; Mariah keeps her father’s ceramic plates, a redwood salad bowl by artist Bruce Mitchell, and her favorite navy blue vintage coat. Quality hand-me-downs also make the cut, like the grey wool cardigan Mariah wears when in Inverness. It was her father's that he bought in Tokyo in 1954. “It’s still in great shape,” she says. “A quality that Fanny and I would love to replicate in future pieces for Permanent Collection.”.
My father always said ‘nothing is precious’ and so we lived with and used his art. We ate and drank from his handmade ceramics, sat on his carved redwood stools, and I grew up playing in and around his sculptures. This integration of art and life has encouraged me to live with—and use—beautiful objects.
Says Mariah: “This photo was taken in 1986. I remember the moment. My father needed something to describe the scale of the redwood burl I’m standing in front of. A client had asked for a photo so my father had me pose in front of the burl.”
Says Fanny: “This photo was taken in the back garden of the house my mom still lives in. The other girl is my godfather’s daughter [at right]. My mom is feeding us fruit, of course, which is something she would always do: peel the peach or trim the strawberries and then pass them around to all gathered.”
Explore another chapter in The Stories:
Free Spirit: The Modern Vision of Charlotte Perriand