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Christopher Collins

A San Francisco 'Runway' Talent

A naked dress form stands next to a cutting table that is equally bare. By the window, a rolling rack of cobalt silk dresses and shapely black jackets hang quietly. The room is still — at least for now. Here lies the studio, the production, the design, and the dream of Christopher Collins, a name watchers of Project Runway should recognize.

Christopher Collins is the namesake fashion label of childhood friends Collins and Erica Tanamachi, who after running down the mountain ridges of Machu Picchu, decided they would do something together one day.

Ten years after that momentous descent in Peru, Collins, the designer behind the label, along with Tanamachi, the line’s CFO and creative director, established a fashion design studio and retail front in San Francisco — a city that has lost much of its fashion talent to New York.

Since that defining run, the two have not stopped to take much of a breath. In 2008, their first year of operation, Collins designed and produced an eleven piece ready-to-wear fall collection in 30 days to market. Within a year, they opened a boutique next to the studio. It was a pressure-cooker experience that may have helped Collins weather the challenges he faced on this year’s hit reality show, Project Runway.

Nearly three years after establishing their roots in San Francisco, Christopher Collins has gained notice from retailers such as Neiman Marcus. The current fall-winter collection debuted recently on Neiman’s contemporary floor, sharing coveted space with big names like See by Chloe, Helmut Lang, and 3.1 Philip Lim. The current Christopher Collins collection greets you as soon as you alight from the escalator.

There is a “country-chic” theme to this season’s collection, explains Tanamachi. Think tailored jackets, soft denim, and comfort. Many of the jackets start at $500. Except for a herringbone cape ($240), the color palette is simply black with surprise flashes of silk lining in cobalt blue.

There are separates that can easily update a wardrobe or become staples. The wide-legged grey trousers ($375) and soft jersey top ($125) convey classic ease. The silk top with scalloped sleeves ($160) matches easily with trousers or pencil skirts.

Collins’ penchant for the Edwardian era can be seen in some of the separates. The black lace blouse ($235) with sleeves that taper from elbow to wrist is a standout piece. Less than 24 hours from hitting the floor, only one blouse remains for sale.

No collection is complete without dresses. A pinstripe orange halter dress ($475) with ruffled collar and trim gives a refreshing pop of color in a season that is suffused with neutrals. On another part of the spectrum, a cobalt blue silk dress with an exposed black zipper adds some vibrancy as well. One thing Christopher Collins aims to do for the label is to “Feel beautiful, fresh, natural and new,” a statement tagged on all the garments.

A must-visit is the boutique itself, but hours must be arranged by appointment. The retail space soars with high ceilings to showcase an arrangement of wintry branches that Collins designed himself. On the far wall is a collage of newspapers dating from 1906 that Collins found at a shop in the Sunset District. The space is filled with pieces from both past and current collections. Some items are heavily discounted.

While fashion talents often head east for New York, there are those who hang back in the west. Surely not all budding new designers must run at a frenetic pace in the Big Apple to prove themselves. Collins and Tanamachi may have launched in a city that is known more for fog than fashion, but they are certainly proving that not running with the crowd can give you some space to take off with great momentum.