Assembling a Permanent Collection

Two curators, both with rigorous academic backgrounds, apply their acumen to a new fashion and lifestyle brand.

Something clicked back in 2012 when Mariah Nielson and Fanny Singer, Bay Area natives who were then both graduate students at English universities, met in London. As Singer remembers, “It was a friendship forged on the love of each other’s vintage coats.” Their passion for curating developed in tandem, too, and while still in London, they initially pursued careers as curators. But it wasn’t long before the pair, wrestling to reconcile their manifold mutual interests, formed an idea for a clothing label. Launching this month, Permanent Collection is their attempt to, as described in the inaugural look-book, apply “curatorial rigor to the world of fashion and design.” The first collection leans heavily on the memory of those thrifted coats, whose timeless quality is the foundation of the line. Though its nod to the art world is self-evident, the brand’s name, as a point of inspiration, is not without merit: Beyond their graduate degrees—Nielson’s M.A. in design history from the Royal College of Art, Singer’s Ph.D. in art history from Cambridge—the duo’s collective experience includes stints at the Serpentine Galleries and the Tate Modern. “With us being historians of art and design, we really thought about pieces that would endure,” Singer says. In their 7-piece debut, this translates to understated designs that use thoughtfully sourced classic fabrics like silk, wool, leather, and linen. “Our families instilled a sensitivity to materials, objects, and lifestyle,” says Nielson, whose father, the carpenter-turned-sculptor J.B. Blunk, built her childhood home from scratch. Singer’s mother, chef Alice Waters, is a longtime champion of the organic food movement. They have inherited their parents’ worldview, and believe in “encouraging people to buy fewer things that are made well,” Nielson says. “You could call it an anti-consumerist stance.” Permanent collections needn’t heed passing trends.

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