Inspiring Spaces: Savannah Yarborough
Eighth Avenue loft, studio evoke eclectic elegance
Photography by Connie Chornuk
Birmingham native and luxury leather jacket designer Savannah Yarborough ended up in Nashville by way of London, as a compromise with her former boss, designer Billy Reid. He wanted his head of menswear in Florence, and she wanted to be in New York.
“Nashville was the happy medium,” she says.
Yarborough soon realized she wanted to focus on her own brand, creating something that was incredibly special but anything but one-time wear. So she launched AtelierSavas, a bespoke leather jacket company that was the perfect combination of luxury and utility.
“It’s just as common as a pair of blue jeans,” she says of leather jackets. “You pull one out 10 years later, and it’s like, ‘Oh, this still looks really good.’”
To find the perfect place to live, she drove around looking for spaces that felt right. When she stumbled upon the Big Red Lofts on Eighth Avenue South, she knew that’s where she had to be. She tracked down the owner — no easy feat — then got on a waiting list. Nearly four years later, she was able to snag one of the studios off the alley [SJ1] for her business, and with it came an apartment. The landlord even had her original application.
“I know I was destined to be in this building from the beginning of my time in Nashville,” she says.
Now she’s taking over the space. Her living area upstairs is an upgrade from her original no-window unit and is now in one filled with windows and light and all things amazing. The storefront and sewing room for AtelierSavas is downstairs in 2,000 square feet, an expansion from the original 800.
“It’s awesome being able to be spread out,” she says.
May marks two years in her loft, a former photography studio. She arrived from London with just two suitcases and a box of books, and outfitting her apartment has happened gradually and naturally — with gifts from loved ones and décor picked up on travels.
“I lived in San Francisco and in London, and one thing I really cherish is grit,” she says. “It can’t be this beautiful thing that you’ve made. It’s got to be influenced by all the things. And that’s what I love about this place. It’s got all sorts of weird things, but I love it. My floors are made of plywood, which is terrible. But at the same time, who cares? It doesn’t have to be perfect.”
Her mom had told her she would gift her a bed, so Yarborough planned to commission something from her carpenter when she spotted what she has now in a pile in the corner of a consignment shop. “I was like, ‘What is this bamboo pile?’ I started lifting it up and was like, ‘Holy shit. This is a bed. This is a real amazing bed.’ I’ve never seen anything like it.”
A friend in town from Texas with a truck and a couple of buddies hauled it over, and then she painted it gold. Naturally.
“There’s some sort of feeling that runs through me when I find something I like, and then I just have to have it,” she says. “I know when I like it. I love Art Deco stuff, clearly, but that is ’80s Art Deco. I like to collect things, too, from places I go and just different things as they show up. I never really scout out anything.”
Like the bed, pieces almost seem to find her, including the 12-seat Milo Baughman dining room table she found among spiders and dust at a warehouse in Kentucky. She got it at a price so cheap that it cost five times as much to have it delivered.
“I had been looking for a dining room table, and I knew, at some point, it would show up. I just wasn’t expecting it that day,” she says. “I just started finding things.”
A cluster of art by the table includes a piece done for her by the mother of her half-brother and sister; a tiger from a trip to Mexico; a yellow framed bouquet she made when she was 5 and gifted back to her by an aunt; an illustration of her by one of her old employees at Billy Reid; a photo from an artist in New Mexico gotten on a trip with her mom; and “Drake’s Taco Soup,” a drawing her little brother did when he was 4.
“It’s just totally weird,” she says.
There is inspiration in the design of her showroom, too, from the Moroccan chandelier found by her mom and the shelf scored off Etsy. Mainly, it came together with the help of fellow creatives, like the hangers and brass stands designed by Yarborough and made by a friend in Alabama, or the mirror made by her carpenter, or the neon sign created by another friend in Austin from a drawing they sketched out on a napkin and that hung in her East Nashville home before she even had the showroom.
“I had this neon sign on my mantel,” she says. “We had no business. I had one sewing machine and a table, and I was like, ‘We’re in business!’”
Yarborough says the first leather jacket she designed looked terrible, just flat and boring. So she decided to dunk it in a bath, then wore it while it dried. The effect was eye-opening.
“It totally molded to me,” she says. “I had never had a leather jacket before, and all of a sudden I realized that every time I put it on, I was like, ‘I feel good.’ It gives you a level of power, I think, that no other garment does. It doesn’t really matter, the style of it, but it’s like this protection thing that is also luxurious.”
The leather is from all European tanneries, mostly Italy, though some in France and some in Turkey. Her exotic skins are all wild-caught in the U.S., so all the American alligators are legally farmed [SJ2] and then tanned in Georgia. “We buy from the same supplier as Hermes,” she says.
Yarborough usually does a one-on-one meeting with clients, where they go through a range of materials and styles from the showroom to get an idea of what they are looking for. Then she takes about 30 measurements and begins to sketch.
Once the idea is solid, she makes a canvas version of the jacket for them to come back and try on. “And that allows us to make sure the fit is exactly as it needs to be, because that’s really the most important part,” she says. “It allows them a chance to see it before its final state, where it really can’t be changed too much.”
The whole process takes about three months—not too bad considering the piece is meant to last forever and hopefully be passed on to the next style icon in the family.
“I’m constantly surprised by the final garment. It’s this long process, and you don’t really know until it’s put together. So that’s kind of scary and also very exciting most of the time,” she says.
Jackets start at $5,000, and all the construction of each one-of-a-kind garment is done in the studio. Her patternmaker just moved to Nashville from New York, too, along with a longtime, master-level leather tailor, which helps streamline the process and creates jobs in the sewing trade. Soon you might even see some leather leggings or stretch suede dresses hanging in the showroom. As long as it matches the person it is made for.
“It’s rare that I’m designing things just because I want to design them,” she says. “I really like to get to know the person, what their life is, and then I have to collaborate with that. I mean, of course Mick Jagger is my icon, and he’s beautiful in every period of his life. But not everyone wants to look like Mick Jagger.”
527 Eighth Ave. S. #125