Written by Holly H. Goff
Photography by Heidi Ross
Fashion designer Savannah Yarborough describes a typical day at her Nashville atelier as a “trip around the world.” As owner and creative director of the luxury brand AtelierSavas, one moment she’s fitting a well-known musician for a bespoke leather jacket, and the next she’s doing the nuts-and-bolts work of sewing and pattern work. Her workspace and showroom are in Cannery Row in the heart of Pie Town, a former industrial area now home to hip spots such as music venue The Cannery Ballroom and Jack White’s Third Man Records studio. The up-and-coming neighborhood is generally teeming with the gritty rock/country fusion music that this part of the city is becoming known for. And that works just fine for Yarborough.
“Music has the power to change things, whether it’s an attitude or an environment,” Yarborough says. “Historically, musicians have had this incredible stylistic, creative freedom and have pushed boundaries before many other demographics.”
Yarborough is now pushing boundaries herself, creating one-of-a-kind, luxury leather and fur outerwear for both men and women. She believes the ultimate connection between fashion and music is her signature piece, the leather jacket. “It’s a piece of armor that really exudes a level of confidence in its wearer, just by being put on,” she says. “For me, any AtelierSavas piece should give someone a certain feeling, altering their mood. If it doesn’t, I did something wrong.” The designer is inspired by the Music City vibe, as well as the legacy of rock icons like David Bowie and Mick Jagger. At her studio, tunes are playing constantly in the background, fueling ideas and influencing the looks she is constructing.
Growing up in various parts of Birmingham, Yarborough felt pulled toward fashion early on. As a teenager, she bought garments to alter and eventually began to create new pieces. “Once I was 16 years old and driving, I would be in my car all day on Saturdays, exploring second-hand shops,” she says. “I loved sifting through the clothes at the massive thrift stores around town, seeing what I could find.”
Living in different areas of the city, coupled with traveling, “opened my eyes to a world bigger than just a neighborhood,” she says. After a semester at the University of Alabama, Yarborough moved to San Francisco and began taking design classes and focusing on menswear. Encouraged by a mentor, she moved to England to attend London’s Central Saint Martins, considered by many to be the top fashion school in the world. She began working on a degree in art and design, “designing for days on end,” she says, “learning garment construction, fabrics, and illustration.” The next year, she was chosen for the school’s exclusive menswear design program that consists of only 18 students, and she was the only American.
While still in the Saint Martins program, Yarborough began traveling back and forth between London and the States for a six-month internship with award-winning designer Billy Reid, who is based in New York and Florence, Alabama, and has stores throughout the country. She was promoted to senior men’s designer within three months. She describes the experience as invaluable: “With Billy, I helped to produce, cast, and style New York Fashion Week runway shows. I traveled globally to factories, trade shows, and fabric mills, and also worked closely with the business team. I generally learned more about the fashion business than any school could ever teach.”
In early 2015, Yarborough used that experience to break out on her own. Her company’s name comes from the French word atelier (meaning “creative studio”) and a play on her nickname, “Sav.” AtelierSavas has quickly made a name for itself, already featured in Esquire and Wall Street Journal Magazine, as well as on Bloomberg.com.
“With AtelierSavas, I’ve basically coined a new word, which is really significant in my work. What I’m doing just simply hasn’t been done before,” she says. Yarborough explains that more than ever, fashion today can be anything but unique. “The instant connection of social media allows someone the chance to immediately buy something they see on someone else, like a favorite blogger or Instagrammer.”
In contrast, Yarborough’s pieces are custom made for each individual she works with. The materials she uses for both men and women’s jackets are high quality and sometimes exotic (think lambskin, alligator, and even python). Her creations are silk-lined and carefully and personally refined with wash processes, painting, and distressing. Each custom jacket has its own pattern, a non-negotiable tenet of her work.
Clients sometimes come in for a fitting, wanting an AtelierSavas jacket like they’ve seen a friend wearing, but Yarborough doesn’t copy any design, which might explain the current six-month waiting list. “I focus on that particular person, one at a time,” she says. “A custom design speaks to the piece’s value. It’s a luxury item, one in which a lot of time has been invested. And when you wear it, you do so knowing it’s yours and yours only.”