The Colorful, Eclectic, and Vintage-Inspired World of Fashion Designer Dema Grim

We visited fashion designer Dema Grim in her studio overlooking Market Street in San Francisco, where she designs her modern interpretations of vintage classics. For nineteen years she had her own DEMA shop on Valencia Street in San Francisco’s Mission District, which she closed in 2016 to focus primarily on made-to-measure garments. Her off-the-rack line is sold at MAC – Modern Appealing Clothing in San Francisco.

Hi Dema. Where did you grow up and when did you move to San Francisco?

I was born in Alabama and grew up in Seattle. I moved to New York in 1989, and to San Francisco in 1994.

How did you get started as a fashion designer?

I was a big thrift shopper and would try to recreate vintage styles in nicer fabrics. I realized I should learn pattern making and found a small school in Seattle called New York Fashion Academy (NYFA). Students would sit around and work in quarter scale. The school is much bigger now!

When did you open your DEMA shop, and what was your experience like being both a designer and a retailer?

When I moved to New York is when I really created a cohesive collection to show to buyers. I didn’t have a sales rep, though! I got all my accounts, including Barney’s, by cold calling! Such hutzpah!

In the recession of 1993 Barney’s filed for bankruptcy, and a lot of the independent boutiques I had been selling to went out of business. I left New York with over $15,000 owed to me and decided I would no longer wholesale my collection but have my own shop, which I opened in 1997. This was much more fun as I could work right in the season and get immediate feedback from my customers. It was very freeing creatively!

“Fashion and music have always gone hand in hand for me, whether it’s mod, punk or new wave.”

You’ve had a long-term relationship with MAC – Modern Appealing Clothing, an institution in the San Francisco fashion scene since the eighties. How did that come about?

When I lived in New York I visited San Francisco in 1991. Someone suggested I bring some samples to show Ben and Chris, the owners. They liked what they saw and I’ve been working with them ever since! It’s been a wonderful collaboration!

Above: DEMA designs at MAC – Modern Appealing Clothing (l). Wall panel covered in vintage fabric by Swedish/Austrian designer Josef Frank (r).

Below: Chair upholstered with African wax print fabric.

Who or what have you been inspired by? Art, and especially music, seem to be a big influence on you.

Fashion and music have always gone hand in hand for me, whether it’s mod, punk or new wave. My husband is in the music industry and we are fortunate to travel all over the world to various music festivals and events. Several years ago we were in Antwerp (Walter Van Bieirendonck and Dries Van Noten!) and there was an exhibit on the origins of African wax prints at the ModeMuseum (MoMu). I have been pretty obsessed ever since. We recently visited Japan and I found the oversized Asian minimalist aesthetic super intriguing. I’ve been working elements of that into my line ever since. Currently, I’ll use a wax print for a Japanese kimono for a culture clash!

How would you describe your style?

I’m a tomboy through and through. I embraced the mod scene when I was younger, so the sixties have always been a big influence. I love color and print and thoughtfully clashing those elements in the same outfit.

I know you’re passionate about textiles and collect them on your travels around the world. What are some of your favorite finds?

I bought an antique Suzani at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul and had two wingback chairs reupholstered in it! I’m big on collecting tea towels from everywhere I visit.

Any interesting or notable customers you’d like to share?

Kate Pierson (of the B-52’s) came into the shop several times over the years – big thrill!! Also Neko Case – she really loves the fit of my pants. MAC tells me both Laurie Anderson and Gwyneth Paltrow are fans!

View the DEMA profile here.

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