A first look at Liza Rietz designs does not immediately confirm if they’re clothes or sculptures. Even on the hanger, layers of silk, wool and linen flow out in broad planes, making soft points in the delicate fabric. On a model, the clothes seem to float above and around the body. “I’ve always been fascinated by the sculptural qualities of fabric,” Rietz told CH in an interview at her studio. “I suppose that’s why they look like origami. That’s the art of manipulating two dimensions into three dimensions.”
Despite her current career path, Rietz never studied design. Instead, the Washington native graduated with a degree in sociology and anthropology from Portland’s Lewis & Clark College in 2000. “Maybe it’s like learning how to paint,” she said. “If you get formal training, it’s easy to get stuck in a niche.” She bartended and waited tables before falling in with Holly Stalder and her vaunted former store Seaplane, which was a launchpad for many of Portland’s current crop of young clothing designers. “I brought in some skirts and a woman from Adidas bought one,” Rietz said. “It was great having that support in learning how to go from D.I.Y. to making something store-quality—to make designs that are applicable to a range of body types, in size runs that real women can wear.”
Rietz cites travel as a source of inspiration. A trip to China and Thailand in 2009 resulted in an architecture-inspired collection full of fins and batwing sleeves. Cross-pollination also seems to be a likely wellspring of ideas; she recently returned from Berlin, where in addition to showing at Berlin Fashion Week, she also toured as part of the Portland band Tu Fawning.