Retro by design

Chronicle Staff

Kirstin Purtich ’08 sifts through the racks of reconstructed jersey skirts, bright feather boas and secondhand Boy Scout uniforms at American Vintage on Melrose, her first stop on a Saturday excursion for crepes and to scout out the boutiques that line the boulevard.

She comes up empty-handed at American Vintage, but her trip turns out worthwhile when, just outside the store, she encounters a pair of girls entranced with her outfit; taking in her self-designed and created dress paired with thrifted red pumps, they shower her with compliments and she flushes, visibly embarrassed but proud of what she terms her “main hobby.”

Purtich has loved fashion as long as she can remember, influenced first by her aunt in the fashion industry and her mother, who both taught her at an early age how to sew, which resulted in a clan of stylish Barbies at age 5.

For years at her elementary school, she was in uniforms, but once she started Harvard-Westlake, she was able “to take advantage of the relaxed dress code” and found that she could stand out in the sea of thousands of students without saying a word.

“I’m naturally a very quiet person, so instead I use clothes as a way to express my personality,” she says, finding that her older brother’s Sonic Youth shirt from the ’80s can spark conversation just as easily as last week’s news quiz.

Inspiration is everywhere for Purtich, be it from her mom’s patterns from the ’60s, which she finds “lends a lot of retro influence to my clothes” or from glam-rock maven David Bowie or designers like Marc Jacobs, Vivienne Westwood and Mary Quant whom she renowns for her “mod-vibe.”

Lately, the self-professed fall/winter dresser has been into “little mini-dresses with tights, socks and ankle boots,” breaking out her favorite, worn-in Roger Daltrey-esque leather jacket even in September when the temperature has stagnated in the 80s.

The best part of her interest in fashion is that it provides a welcome distraction from her hectic school schedule.

This year, she’s taking a directed study with Lisa Peters “learning how to do variations on a basic bodice patterns and doing some design projects” along with her previous involvement in costuming for Metamorphoses, the Playwright’s Festival and Company.

For Purtich, fashion is more than just what label your jeans are or which celebrity shops at which store. It’s about the fun of tracking down vintage pumps on eBay or the satisfaction of crafting a cobalt blue capelet out of nothing more than material and inspiration.