Today’s FACE of Memphis, Kathy Farris, has sewed her way to the top. She has created costumes for movies The Help and The Notebook, for the TV show Nashville, the Broadway production of Mama Mia and pop icon Britney Spears. Kathy’s the go-to gal for all things design, from costumes and custom clothing to decor and wedding gowns, Kathy has made a reputation for herself as being fast, impeccable and reasonable.
This fall Kathy puts on her teacher hat as one of the first instructors for the new continuing education Fashion Design program offered at the Memphis College of Art through funds raised during Memphis Fashion Week. Here, she’ll impart the skills necessary to turn a sewing hobby into a career while also mentoring emerging designers through the Memphis Fashion Week’s Emerging Memphis Design Project. We are delighted for you to meet Kathy today in her studio.
Have you always called Memphis home?
I have lived in the Memphis area for over 22 years, so I consider it home now. I was born and raised in a small town south of Chicago.
How and when did you start sewing?
Art was my focus all through school. Textiles and sewing are just another way to create works of art, so I began to explore sewing as a young adult. I also found that I could make clothes that were more interesting than the ones available to buy.
You have executed designs for costumes that have been featured on big screen and stage stars. Do you have a favorite project or product that you have worked on or person you have worked with and why?
It’s hard to narrow it down to a favorite. One of my favorites was working with Sharen Davis, the costume designer for The Help. I loved her designs for Mary Steenburgen who played a New York publisher in the 1960s. Every piece of her character’s wardrobe was right on target with the part being depicted. Sharen drew out her ideas, chose the fabric, then I translated the drawing into a pattern, then sewed it into the costume. I felt like we hit it out of the park!
What about a dream job? Any special projects you would like to see come your way?
It would be wonderful if any major motion picture project would come to Memphis. We no longer get these projects because Tennessee doesn’t offer significant tax incentives to attract movies like other states do. So, in answer to your question, my dream job would be to work right here in my own city and go home to my house every night.
You will be in the classroom teaching at the Memphis College of Art this fall. How do you hope that the new continuing education Fashion Design program will help grow aspiring design talent here in Memphis?
It is wonderful that this new design education program has started. I think that every person going into fashion design needs to know all aspects of what it takes to create clothing … and they need to know it well. This starts with knowing fabrics and their properties and how they react when dyed, to creating a design, to sewing the garment from start to finish.
Describe your involvement with the Emerging Memphis Designer Project* for 2014-2015 and why this cause is so near and dear to your heart?
My involement has really just begun. I am currently getting together fabrics, dyes, and equipment to teach a class on properties of fabric. Helping to educate people who are motivated to learn and want to do their jobs better will be rewarding.
What fall fashion trends or event décor trends are your clients are currently coveting?
I coordinate weddings. I am finding that mercury glass vases are big for weddings this year. They are high-impact decor for a reception table, and adding a large but simple bouquet of white calla lilies pushes the look over the edge.
Do you have a favorite quote or piece of advice you’d like to share?
Everyone is fighting their own battle that you know nothing about, so remember to be nice. I have to remind myself of this every day.
Besides designing and sewing, do you have any other hobbies or hidden talents?
I love to cook fresh food with local ingredients. It is a rare privilege to have the time to do this.
What Memphis events or traditions are you most looking forward to this fall?
Do you have a favorite beauty product or regime?
My favorite beauty regime is getting enough sleep. Filming often requires long hours so there are times when I’m short on rest, and it shows. Your best work comes when you are well rested.
What three lighthearted things could you not live without?
Sunshine, exercise and that man I live with who makes me laugh every day.
Thank you, Kathy!
*For our readers who might not be familiar with the Emerging Memphis Designer Project, it is a program that helps cultivate local designers and ensure that Memphis stays on the fashion map. This is achieved through season-long mentoring while selected designers work on their collections, culminating with a runway show during Memphis Fashion week and scholarships for the winners.
Thank you Christen Jones Photography for these lovely images of a true Memphis talent!