Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Two Local Favorites - Midnight Madness and Uptown Redesigns

If you're like me and missed Midnight Madness this past Thursday, we have a second chance this Thursday, Dec. 9th from 6 PM - midnight.  This is a great opportunity to get out and about downtown - enjoy the holiday decorations and live entertainment on the streets of our lovely historic town, knock off a few more holiday gifts, and support our local business community.  I went a couple of years ago, and despite a torrential downpour, had a terrific time browsing, visiting, and buying.  The bad weather was a good excuse to pop into a local watering hole for a hot toddy.

One of my favorite rising local businesses has moved into a West St. storefront for the holiday season and will be open from 6 - 9 PM on Thursday.  Annapolis resident, Sandy Philpott, started her company, Uptown Redesigns last year, and has found terrific success with her innovative business model.  She takes used leather coats and materials (scavenged from local thrift shops or provided by customers) and remakes them into stylish handbags of all shapes and sizes.  Her company cleverly integrates a fashion oriented product with the "green" movement to create environmentally conscious, quality bags that we can feel a little (lot) better about owning.

I stumbled onto an article about Uptown Redesigns last year in The Capital, and instantly knew I had a coat that was in need of Sandy's handiwork.  Back in the 70s, my Mom bought my Dad a tan, suede, sport coat.  They were a hip young Air Force couple living the good life on base in Northern California, and the suede coat was the height of style.  Dad wore it until it ceased to be "cool" when he settled into the more mature lifestyle of a doctor in private practice.  The Air Force years drifted into their past, and the suede coat gradually drifted to the back of the closet in their new suburban track home.

There it stayed until my senior year of college in 1987/88.  I raided my parents' closets for any free outerwear that might pass as stylish on campus at Duke.  This was the era of over-sized, big-shouldered, men's coats being in style for women trying to find their place in a male dominated world/workforce.  We all wore our fathers' old Brooks Brothers overcoats, cardigan sweaters, and yes, even suede blazers.  The coat accompanied me to a blurry array of college parties, sorority events, and classes.  It's amazing it survived in any kind of wearable condition, but I continued to use it even after graduation when I joined the workforce at NASA.  The number of women in high tech jobs was on the rise, but workplace fashion lagged behind.  Not that it mattered in my high-water world of engineers, computer programmers, and rocket scientists...

Eventually, the suede coat made its way to the back of even MY closet.  I pulled it out now and again like an old friend, but there came a time when it finally lost all appeal to me as outerwear.  The days of baggy and shapeless were behind, and the coat had seen its final use.  I was incapable, however, of parting with it.  It represented too much history - both my parents' and mine.

Fast forward to 2010 when I stumbled onto that article about Sandy Philpott and Uptown Redesigns. I immediately saw the potential for the rebirth of my beloved but bedraggled coat as a stylish handbag, once again serving a meaningful purpose.  The suede was still in great shape if a little soiled around the edges, and it had become remarkably soft and pliable with years of wear.  I contacted Sandy, and we made plans to make the handoff at a street fair in West Annapolis.

So I delivered the precious raw material of my Dad's old coat to Sandy and told her to do with it what she would.  I loved her excitement at the prospect of a new project and all the creative possibilities.  My only guideline was that I wanted a good-sized utilitarian tote that made use of the original buttons, making the bag recognizable as my Dad's coat.  I intended to make a gift of it to my Mom for her birthday, and it was important to me that both my parents see the resemblance without me pointing it out.

Sandy turned the coat around in short order, and I ended up with not one, but two stylish and useful bags with crazy sentimental value (I can assure you I have no other bags about which I can make that claim).  One was the tote that I had requested, complete with the original buttons as trim, the original coat pocket flaps on the outside, and the original inside lapel pocket incorporated into a pocket inside the bag.  The second was a clutch put together with the scraps of suede and blended with some brown leather scraps from another project.  I was delighted beyond measure.  My plan was to let my Mom pick the one she liked best and keep the other for myself, but when my Mom received them, she loved them so much that she refused to part with either one.  I guess I'll have to wait for them to be left to me in the will...

Here are the before and after shots:

The Old Suede Coat

The New Custom Tote and Clutch
In Action to Get a Feel for the Size

If you have any old, dated leather items taking up space in the recesses of your closet, you might consider having Sandy remake them into a bag that better fits with today's fashion sensibility.  Or, if you're looking for a nice leather bag that has been "up-cycled" from an unappreciated cast off, stop by and visit Sandy's shop at 162A West St. over the holidays to see her current inventory and watch her work her magic in person.  She really does nice work, and her enthusiasm is infectious.  You can't help but wish for her to succeed.

The bags are not inexpensive.  There's a slight discount for providing your own leather, but you pay a premium for her custom work and for the satisfaction of knowing that you've acquired something of beauty and function that was nearly left to rot on the trash heap of humanity.  It seems especially worthwhile in the case of an item with sentimental value attached to it.  She will be open on Thursday evening from 6 - 9 PM for Midnight Madness.  Bring your leather goods with you if you want to have her give you some ideas.  You can always contact her through her website, and you can also find Uptown Redesigns on Facebook.

I will be stopping in to see Sandy on Thursday night with another dinosaur of late 80s/early 90s attire from my closet- a full, suede skirt that is nearly ankle length.  It's not a length that I can wear today without looking like a cross between Pocahontas and Susan B. Anthony, so I hope to have Sandy lop it off to a flattering knee length and make me something new and interesting from the ample leftover leather.  The skirt has been hanging in my closet for 20 years.  It's well overdo for a 21st century update by a 21st century entrepreneur.

Hope to see you downtown on Thursday!

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