Boutique owner, artist, community player, a ‘textile junkie’ and a whiz at couture stitching: Jane Pitts is all of these, and possibly more. Gillian Drummond sits down with a very modest lady.
Jane Pitts is rocking an outfit by Spanish fashion designer Isabel de Pedro. De Pedro is known for the strong presence of graphic design in her figure-hugging pieces, and extensive use of black. This one has silk screened fabric attached to another layer of fabric. Her hat is by Mary Mulcahy of Les Indiennes. On her feet: black thick-heeled Fluevogs.
Jane’s clothes, many of them first dibs from her own resale boutique, OZMA Atelier, make a statement. They’re edgy, colorful, different. But if her wardrobe is talkative, Jane is not – at least when it comes to discussing herself. She’s squirming behind the counter of her store – visibly uncomfortable, quiet, reticent.
And then comes the shift. When the conversation veers away from her and towards her store space, the clothes, shoes and accessories, and her beloved art, there’s no stopping her.
OZMA Atelier (named after Princess Ozma in L. Frank Baum’s series of Oz books) opened at 6th Street and 6th Avenue in Tucson a year ago, after Jane outgrew her space at Copper Country Antiques. Hermes, Chanel, Valentino, Jil Sander, Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, Zac Posen, Prada, Elie Tahari, Dolce & Gabbana: all of these major designers are found here, and more.
The super-discounted prices – sometimes just 10% of the item’s original selling price – make it a compulsory destination for anybody wanting designer threads for not much money. On October 19th, Jane will be bringing her high fashion bargains to a trunk show as part of Tucson Fashion Week’s Marketplace.
Her sources for OZMA Atelier are not local, and are by invitation only. A lot of it is regional runway, she says. And while she could “put it all on eBay and make more dollars”, she’s not about to. “I would surely lose my mind in the process and it is whole lot more fun to make my Tucson peeps happy.”
She is as in love with Tucson as she is with fashion and textiles. After the tragedy of September 11th, she felt the need to live somewhere smaller, so moved here for the second time (the first time she lived here was 1984), from San Francisco.
She and her partner, graphic designer Tom Baumgartner, are big community players – “Tucson boosters”, in Jane’s words. Part of Ozma Atelier is the tiny one-room Wee Gallery, run by Tom, where local artists can hang their work commission-free.
Jane, an accomplished artist herself, has been sewing since the age of four (she still boasts a great French hem and couture stitch), and a fashion dealer since 1989. Friends include Doris Raymond, Hollywood vintage fashion expert and owner of The Way We Wore in Los Angeles.
Later, after our interview, Jane opens up on Facebook. Referring to herself frequently as ‘OZMA’ (as she does on the OZMA Atelier Facebook page), she admits to being “a total textile junkie”. She was drawn in by textile at the age of 14, living in Phoenix, when she discovered thrifting. She also discovered an ally. Another girl used to turn up at school in similar clothes and patterns, and the two became best friends.
“In the 70’s the fabric stores just got worse and worse and while I made half my own clothes up to the age of 30, vintage and later high-end designer clothes won the space in my wardrobe as that textile was not available anywhere else,” she says.
As well as being a place for great fashion finds, OZMA Atelier displays Jane’s thrift and swap meet finds, and her art and handiwork.
Jane has created her own signage, she has customized shelves and cabinets, and created some display items from scratch. Sets of shelves displaying shoes are painted dark pink, and some braiding dipped in the same color of paint has been hot-glued around the edges. Foam paint rollers have been added to dowels (and both of them painted pink) to form hangers for purses that, says Jane, are much gentler on the straps than regular ones.
There is a loveseat displaying purses, made by Jane. It features 400 bullet holes around the edge. A mannequin’s head makes an appearance, as does a resin skeleton (a flea market find) sitting on an animal-print sofa (found at a swap meet).
The Wee Gallery sits at the very back of the space. “It’ a give-back,” says Tom of the commission-free deal. Not surprisingly, he has artists lining up to exhibit there (currently showing is Tucson’s Mykl Wells.)
As for Jane, and alter ego OZMA, they may both be expanding. Jane is considering opening store space in the Old Town Artisans centre in downtown Tucson.
* Find Ozma Atelier at 439 N. 6th Avenue and at Tucson Fashion Week Marketplace, Saturday October 19th at La Encantada.