Patrice Gentile’s line is for every woman. Whether your style can be described as ladylike, tomboyish, or anywhere in between, ALICEANNA designs offer the elegance of handmade couture and the ease of your favorite sweats. We sat down with Gentile to talk about her inspirations and the generational connections among women that inform her practice.
When did your interest in fashion and sewing begin?
When I was a kid, my favorite part of playing with Barbies was their outfits. I would sketch out little outfits in addition to what they would come with, and that was the beginning of my love for clothes. My mom gave me a sewing machine for 16th birthday and showed me all the basic stitches. That really jumpstarted my love of garment assembly and sewing construction. There was a course that I took my junior year at Chesapeake High School in Anne Arundel County called Fashion Merchandising and it went over all the different career paths that you can take in the fashion industry. I just decided then, this is what I’m going to do, no questions about it.
How did your line come to be?
After I graduated from studying fashion at Radford University in Virginia, I worked in New York for a year with a company where pretty much what we were doing was just knocking off other people’s designs. It really bummed me out, so I moved back to Annapolis. I started waiting tables three or four days a week to make some money, and then the other days out of the week I would hole up in my room to make patterns, cut out fabric, and construct clothing. I would spend hours on my hands and knees, all afternoon, making patterns on my floor. I started making one-of-a-kind garments and selling those in a few stores that carried independent designers in Annapolis, D.C., and at Doubledutch Boutique here in Baltimore. Once I was in a few stores, I decided to put on my own fashion show.
After the show, I did a pop-up series in D.C., Baltimore, and Annapolis with a designer trunk show meet and greet. Shortly after that I packed up and moved to L.A. A friend got me a connection with Anthropologie and they picked up one of my dresses, which was insane. It completely changed what I was doing and put a lot of eyes on me. I found this old farm table on Craigslist and drove to Pasadena, picked it up, brought it back to my apartment, and I cut and sewed every single dress for the Anthropologie order on that table, with my Brother sewing machine that I got when I was 16. Shortly after that, I launched my website and started selling orders through the site doing made to order.
Baltimoreans must think you named it ALICEANNA after the street in Fells Point.
I didn’t name my brand after the street, although that’s a happy coincidence! It comes from my grandmothers’ names, Alice and Anna. Alice and Anna are so different. They couldn’t be more opposite, and I’ve always been really interested in opposites attracting. My grandmother Alice is very proper. She would wear a button-up blouse and a long skirt every day and was always so put together. And my grandma Anna was so free spirited, wearing a lot of color and fun, flashy accessories. I see myself as being half and half, depending on the day or my mood, and so that was really important for me to connect with and reflect in the brand. I feel like some of the pieces can be pretty ladylike and feminine, and other pieces are kind of more relaxed and tomboyish.
Who or what are some of your inspirations?
My great-grandmother, Alice’s mom, made all her own clothing. Those connections made me realize that the qualities that we as women possess were once possessed by our ancestors and our relatives, and everything is passed down. I feel like women have this bond to each other and to our relatives, and I really wanted my label to reflect that and for that idea to be the namesake.
I am also very much influenced by older styles throughout history, but I would say another big influence for me are television film and book characters. If I’m reading a book or if I’m watching something, especially if it’s a period piece, I get really into the costume and the wardrobe. When I’m reading a book and they’re describing the character, I imagine what they would wear—what would their uniform be?
Can you describe what makes your designs so wearable?
When I was in school at Radford, it was a very old-school program. We learned how to design and create everything by hand, which is kind of a dying art to not use a computer to design. We spent a year learning how to sew professionally using old-school sewing techniques. Every garment was fully lined, every garment had some kind of fitting device like darts, a zipper, or buttons, and everything was super structured.
In L.A., women wear whatever they want, however they want, and it’s a lot of loose, breezy silhouettes. I just loved it. It’s so comfortable, especially if you’re like me and no two days are alike and you’re running all over the place, or if you’re a woman who has children and you’ve got to take your kids places. I started adapting to this laid-back style, but I didn’t lose the clean-lined, structured construction that I learned in school.
How has your brand grown since you moved back to Maryland?
I did something new last year, and I ordered fabric in bulk from a warehouse so that I could create a small inventory for the first time, which was really amazing. I moved back from L.A. a year ago, and I started sewing and working out of Open Works. Being there has really helped me because they have top-of-the-line Juki industrial sewing machines that have sped up my sewing process, and I rent out a studio there as well where I can keep all my fabric, drop my things off at the start of the day and just get started.
Being able to take those pieces to markets, like the For the Greater Goods Market in Remington, is such a great experience. It’s so fun for me because I get to see people interact with the clothing, which when you’re doing an online business you don’t see that—you just mail things out and never know their reaction. The next market I’ll be at is December’s Greater Goods Market, so I’m really looking forward to getting to spend that time with people around the holidays.
What is your favorite thing about being a creative entrepreneur in Baltimore?
Baltimore is so much more about community and people coming together. We are in a major city, but it’s such a supportive community and there is this sense of women supporting other women. I’ve connected with other women who all help each other out, send each other links to new opportunities and markets. And I just feel like, wow, this is how women should be with each other because we’re all in the same boat, making small businesses our livelihood and balancing the amazing months with the really trying ones.
If there were one person, past or present, you’d like to dress in your designs, who would it be?
I would love to see my clothing on my grandmothers, actually, that would be really cool. I did a photo shoot in February and had my mom model. She was surprised I asked her because people normally get younger girls to model and my mom is in her mid-60s, but she loved it and she looked so cute in the clothing. I’d also have to say my daughter! I am four months pregnant, and recently found out I’m having a girl, and I’m beyond thrilled. I can’t wait to make mini-sized ALICEANNA outfits for her.