Alice Swann opens shopPublished 11:00pm Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Dowagiac native Alice (Williams) Swann parlayed a postal job into studying fashion design in California, where she lived for 16 years.
Since returning to Michigan, she outgrew a home-based tailoring business after six years on M-51 South in Pokagon Township.
Her husband, Walter, the boxing coach who served more than 28 years in the Navy, retired from the Long Beach shipyard.
She was teaching illustration when she decided to move home.
Swann worked in clothing stores in Benton Harbor and Portage for seven years while selling watercolors through her studio at the Box Factory in St. Joseph.
She opened Monday in downtown Dowagiac after considering a Niles location.
Bob Haas, owner of the former Dixon-Livingston insurance agency and Shirley’s Flowers building on Commercial Street, leased her space.
“The number of people who wear suits to work is very low, so when I get a suit I’m really excited,” like when author Michael Collins brought her suits he bought in London, she said Wednesday. “It was a pleasure to work on something high-end like that that you don’t see too often. Men’s clothes are made out of better fabrics and last longer — even the cheap ones — than women’s because they don’t make as many. Men don’t like to shop or try on clothes. Men’s clothes are made to alter. I liked studying menswear in college.”
Swann obtained her fine arts degree in fashion design and illustration from the Otis Art Institute of Parson School of Design in Los Angeles.
Her family — parents Jake (“my dad loved farming”) and Mildred and older brother Chester — moved here from Chicago in 1956, when she was a year old.
The 1973 Union High graduate grew up a “country girl who always wanted to go to California. I always liked the movies and Hollywood.”
After DUHS, she worked at the Dowagiac post office for three years, swapping clerk positions with another postal employee who sought a return to Michigan.
“I didn’t do costume design,” she said, “but sportswear companies. Students in my class did go into costume design. Bob Mackie (who dressed Cher) was one actual designer we worked with who picked sketches, then you had to make that for your final project and we had a fashion show.”
She won a “gold thimble” from a men’s suit designer known for work in bright orange and yellow fabrics.
Relocated to the expanded site, she plans to invest in equipment that will allow her to work on heavier materials such as leather and handbags.
She also works on slip covers and performs light upholstery work. In the future, she may also offer embroidery.
Swamm specializes in bridal and prom alterations, and also provides custom sewing, along with repair work. Distressed denim jeans are a specialty.
As a seamstress and artist who likes to collect old things, Alice enjoys sculpting dolls from paper clay, which she outfits. There is an area within the storefront to showcase her dolls.
“My mother taught me to sew and I liked it, so I stuck with it. We didn’t have a whole lot of money, so if I wanted a garment, making it was my best way to get it.
“I practiced and practiced because I didn’t want it to look like I made it,” she said.
The tailor shop at 102 Commercial St. is open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Tuesday and Thursday by appointment. Call 782-2494.