Culture: Interview with Designer Sarah M. Holm

Last February, Paper Darts' Jamie Millard and Courtney Algeo set off to tackle journalistic life at the Oscars in Los Angeles. For the occasion, they needed one thing above courage, know-how, and hair-dos—they needed gowns. Out of the kindness of her heart and by the skill of her hands, Twin Cities fashion designer Sarah M. Holm took it upon herself to make unique Oscar-worthy dresses for our two gals (with only about three weeks notice, bless her speedy soul). 

Courtney and Jamie sought out Holm because of her one-of-a-kind aesthetic, which combines a sexy femme-fatale feel with off-the-wall spashes of color and fantastical design elements.

To find out more about this talented fashion whiz, Paper Darts visited Holm in her Northeast Minneapolis studio to talk clothes, inspriation, and industry.

Paper Darts: How did you get into fashion?

Sarah Holm: I used to sew as a kid. I used to make clothing for my dolls. My mom taught me how to sew when I was pretty young and I used to go shop with my mom a lot and she had a hard time finding things because she was plus-sized, so then I was like "I'm going to go and make you things that are plus-sized." I'm still working my way to get to that point. I got distracted. I also have always been interested in art, so I thought that fashion design was kind of more practical way to use art and creative energy.

PD: How do you get started on an idea for a design?

SH: Oh man, it comes from all over. A lot of times inspiration comes from visits to art museums or music or a certain show that's coming up. A lot of it comes from vintage clothing that I'm really inspired by. So ideas will come from seeing a tiny pleat in something that's new and interesting, and I'll work that into my design. So, some from vintage clothes, some of it's from art, some of it's from architecture.

PD: Are you self-taught?

SH: No, I went to school. I went to the U [of Minnesota] for clothing design.

PD: So, what do you hope to do with your fashion knowledge in the long run?

SH: I'd like to have a big line of clothing that's sold in boutiques around the world. Smallish boutiques. And I'd like to have a pretty large size range so that anyone can wear my stuff. So, right now I'm kind of looking into what the next step is for me—from making everything myself to getting to the manufacturing stage.

PD: What the fashion industry like? Both locally and nationally?

SH: Locally, it's totally different from nationally. As far as in the city, it's definitely supportive. I feel like because we're not a huge fashion city, everyone wants everyone to succeed in order to give Minneapolis a good name in fashion. I guess I don't really know where we are on the national scale. I think we're just kind of looked over. We're nonexistent. But I think that's starting to change a little bit.

PD: What do you do with your old clothing lines?

SH: I try to sell them on Etsy or like, a site that isn't quite as up-to-date because I can't really sell them in stores anymore, so I try to get rid of them.

PD: So, where (besides Etsy) can people buy your stuff?

SH: Umm, Cliché [in Uptown Minneapolis] is one place. The website Pink Bow City is another. I do custom work, but that's out of my studio.

PD: What do your prices run typically?

SH: It really depends on the simplicity of the garment. It could be very complex and then it's more expensive. I have things that range from about $150 for a dress all the way up to like, $2,000. And that's something that I'm really working on pinpointing right now, is where in that range I want to go. It's crazy because I really love doing couture pieces and really inspired, really creative sculptural pieces, but those are also the most difficult to get rid of or sell, so when I do things like that I mainly just do it as an exercise in creativity. And I usually just wind up keeping them.

I think that one thing a lot of people don't realize when they buy local designer things is that most things do take a ridiculously long time to make. So, it's impossible to compare a locally made, handmade piece to something you can buy at Macy's. Because a lot of people will buy something at Cliché and be like, "This is $200!" and really, we're totally selling our time for like $5/hour so that we can sell that thing for $200. So, I don't know, I think that maybe our city just doesn't, or maybe it's the designer's fault for not actually charging what we're worth, but I think it's also very hard to sell things here because people don't want to pay what things are worth.  

PD: You're so right. It's super hard, though.

SH: It is super hard and I think that every designer and that anyone in any creative field has a really hard time charging what they're worth 

PD: Do you think a lot of people consider clothing a commodity and not art?

SH: I think it is seen more as, yeah, a commodity, but then again it depends on what exactly it is. Taking this and comparing it to one of those ready to wear dresses. But I think a lot of people don't see it as art, but almost all designers see it as art definitely because we know what kind of energy we put into it. 

PD: Back to the national fashion industry, I kind of digressed a little, did you have more you wanted to say about that?

SH: It's a difficult time right now for the fashion industry—a lot of switching creative directors and things like that. So it is difficult to get into, as difficult as any creative field, I think they're all about equal. I know I saw a documentary once where Valentino, or one of the big-wigs, was talking about how it took ten years to make any bit of a profit. So, I'm on year seven and I think I've got three years left to just keep pushing through.

PD: Are there any misconceptions about the fashion industry that you care to talk about?

SH: Oh, yeah. For sure, I had the misconception, and I think a lot of people do, that everyone [in the industry] is a catty fashionista. Like, they exist, that's true, but most people are very supportive and really into sharing their ideas or sharing what they've figured out in the fashion industry, like little tidbits of information. A lot of people are willing to share that and that really surprised me.

I was out in D.C. last year and this girl was like, "Oh, You make clothes? Here's my guy in L.A. Here's his number and you should go contact him." I didn't even have to ask.

PD: What's your favorite piece you've ever made?

SH: Right now it's this gun bodice. I loved to make it and it was so fun. It goes with this studded skirt; I made it for the 2011 Avoid the Grey fashion show. It's one of my favorites for sure, just because it's so weird and out there.

PD: What made you think of doing the gun bodice?

SH: Our "assignment" for Avoid the Grey was to show a very couture piece that was in our direction for the rest of the year, and my direction for the year was girly but also having badass moments. So I did some embroidery of some brass knuckles on some skirts and went from there.

And also I did those [Dressed to Kill] movies to go along with my line, so I've been kind of in movie mode in my head. I was thinking about like the '50s, about the woman that portrayed the goody two shoes good girl or like the total badass femme fatale and I wanted to combine the two and that's where guns and pink come together.

Dressed To Kill: Coutorture from Tyler Jensen on Vimeo.


PD: What's your favorite and least favorite part of doing all this?

SH: I would say my favorite part is when I finish a garment, and just that moment of relief and just being proud of myself. Or, when I see it on a runway it's a total rush. Least favorite part is not sleeping because I have really bad time management skills and I think that almost everyone in this industry does. We all wait till the last minute a little bit too much. The stress part—oh, and the business part. I don't like doing the business part; I wish someone else would do it for me.


Dresses Jamie and Courtney wore to the Oscars:



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