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Artisan Spotlight: Savannah Yarborough of AtelierSavas

An up-and-coming designer debuts her line of custom leather jackets. (Nov 2015)

Written By:  Kristin Luna

Photographers:  Amy Nicole Photography

Savannah Yarborough knew what she wanted to do from a young age. The Birmingham native graduated from high school a semester early to move cross-country and attend the Academy of Art in San Francisco. After two years, she got a call that would change her life: She was selected to be one of 18 design students at the prestigious Central Saint Martins art school. So she dropped everything and moved once again—this time across the Atlantic to London.

“Saint Martins is a very creative school that’s not structured like American schools—it’s very much independent study,” Yarborough explains. “They basically give you a project brief and say, ‘See you in two weeks, and you need three finished outfits.’ You get out of it what you put into it. It’s self-taught with a little bit of guidance.”

It was during her five years there when Billy Reid recruited Yarborough to come work for him. She quickly moved up the ladder from intern to head men’s designer and was traveling monthly between London and Florence, Alabama, where Reid’s eponymous design empire is headquartered. Yarborough says the designer taught her a lot about how to put together a collection and how things should fit—qualities that would come in handy for her inaugural label, AtelierSavas, which focuses on bespoke leather jackets and debuted earlier this year.

“It’s really amazing to have someone like that as your mentor,” Yarborough says. “And since I was in such a senior position, I learned a lot about every aspect of the business, from the creative to production to marketing and wholesale—the whole spectrum.”

Yarborough’s two driving influences when designing are music and attitude; it’s no surprise, then, that she’s already collaborated with a number of musicians. Though the designer’s clientele is broad—and extends beyond Nashville to New York, Los Angeles, and Austin—she says many of her customers are athletes who have difficulty finding clothes that fit them well. But she truly designs for everyone, and she attributes her instant buzz to a growing collective desire for things that are custom made—particularly leather.

“There are so many leather jackets out in the world right now, but at the same time there’s always something that’s off about it, something you don’t like—whether it’s one too many pockets or the zippers are the wrong color or the shoulders are a little too big,” she says. “Everyone has an idea of what their perfect jacket is like. It’s about pulling that out of them and combining it with the initial materials I select for them.”

The AtelierSavas design process starts with an exploratory meeting where Yarborough gets to know the client and figures out what makes them tick as well as what they’re looking for in the perfect leather jacket. After coming up with a general concept, she draws it out, gets an idea of fabrics, and looks at other pieces with the client so they can pick out what sort of embellishments—like snaps, collars, pockets, and zippers—they’d like. She then creates a pattern based on the client’s body measurements and mocks up the design in canvas before creating the final piece out of custom leathers, from ostrich to alligator.

“It’s all from scratch, each one. There’s no system where I say, ‘Okay, I’m going to take this pattern and shorten the sleeve for them.’ It’s completely new every time because each jacket is so different,” she says. “There are so many things out there now, and I think people are getting hungry to have something that is just theirs, through and through. I think it’s something people really crave.”

Yarborough opened for business out of her home in February and soon afterward was selected to be a part of Esquire’s AXE White Label mentorship program, which enabled her to collaborate once more with Reid, plus John Legend and the magazine’s fashion director, Nick Sullivan; she also got to show off her craftsmanship at New York Fashion Week in September. Last month, she opened her inaugural showroom in PieTown, allowing her to appeal to a broader client base and eventually scale her offerings. At the moment, she creates roughly five pieces a month, each of which is delivered to the client within six to eight weeks. (Designs start at $4,500 and are primarily based on the material chosen.)

“There’s something about a leather jacket that gives you this internal power when you put it on that makes you think: ‘I can do whatever it is I set out to do today because I feel like I’ve got this armor on,’” Yarborough says. “I don’t think there’s another piece of clothing that makes you feel like that.”

By appointment only, 615-584-4656 or rendez-vous@ateliersavas.com; ateliersavas.com

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