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Alumni & Friends

A Fashionable Pair


Photo of Christopher Collins and Erica Tanamachi.  Photo by Jared Tanamachi (M.S., '07).With their clothing line in stores nationwide, Christopher Collins and Erica Tanamachi are, to quote admirer Tim Gunn, “making it work.” — Photo by Jared Tanamachi (M.S., '07)

The story of Christopher Collins (B.A., ’03) and Erica Tanamachi (M.F.A., ’07) begins in a San Diego kindergarten, where they were best friends. It makes an auspicious stop at SF State, where he studied fashion design and she majored in film. It wends its way through South America where their compatible traveling styles gave birth to the idea of working together; and ambles right on to downtown San Francisco, where they opened their fashion business Christopher Collins Designs in 2008. “We really complement each other,” says rising star designer Collins. “She is everything I am not, and I believe our success has to do with our teamwork. Like Valentino said, ‘I am not a genius; I just surround myself with them.’”

Their most public success thus far was Collins’ 11-episode stint last year as a contestant on the hit reality show, “Project Runway,” where he became something of a favorite. “It’s been incredible,” he says of the momentum gained from appearing on the show. “Neiman Marcus picked up my line and I got into a showroom in New York. We’re really building our brand.”

But it’s not just about the brand; it’s about the clothes. “At State I really learned garment construction. I learned to sew. I learned to create,” says Collins, whose designs are devoted to fine fabrics and wearability. “I design for the creative woman. It’s very sophisticated, elegant and beautiful. In school I learned how to apply my designs to reality.”

Tanamachi attributes her ability to manage a growing fashion business to the M.F.A. she earned in film. “My degree really helped me in terms of management. In film production you wear a million different hats, and you learn to be creative under pressure. It’s the same in fashion,” she says.

For his eponymous line of luxury sportswear Collins draws inspiration from historical fashion. Lately it’s been film noir and Art Nouveau, but he always returns to his true loves: the Victorians and Edwardians. “I love controlled volume,” he says. “I love ruffled sleeves and collars.” Tanamachi adds, “We’re not just designing clothes; it’s a whole concept of a woman, who she is and how she feels. There is a story behind every line.”

Collins wants to dress “real American women” (he has his eye on Michele Obama), and make them feel beautiful, elegant and sophisticated. “And sexy if she wants,” he adds. “I believe in dressing real women -- with curves, without curves, whatever. There’s the runway and then there’s the real way. It’s always about her actually wearing it.”

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