By Gabriel Bell
"[As] an only child, I entertained myself by building things, cutting up old clothes, and living in my own world," says designer Carrie Dutcher. Now a grown, world-traveled entrepreneur, Dutcher invites the public to view her once-private revelries at Williamsburg's Lambs and Crows.
Opened in 2005, in collaboration with partner Johanna Baum, the petite boutique is home to Dutcher's unique line of glamorously deconstructed womenswear and jewelry. "The name," she says, "came from a picture I saw in a magazine of a lamb on a bed in the middle of a field. Starting with that strong theme—the idea of soft lambs and tough crows—helped a lot."
A careworn mix of opposites, the shop is home to kitsch lamb statuettes along one wall and decidedly mature shawl-like silk tops along another. But then, little about Dutcher's trajectory from childhood seamstress to young designer is direct.
After growing up, the child of four—yes, four—artistically inclined parents, Dutcher moved from studies in Art History, classes at the Sorbonne and community arts programs, to a job at Foreign Policy Magazine. After a brief stint as a dating columnist following her move to New York at 25, she fell under the wing of Catherine Malandrino.
Though Dutcher echoes Malandrino's signature light, feminine approach in her clothes, her trademark jewelry is a different matter. Decayed constructions of wooden branches, mismatched chains, and, most effectively, peacock and crow's feathers, her necklaces and earrings are daringly postmodern. "To me, there's nothing more chic than a T-shirt so old it's see-through. It's the same with jewelry. Frayed edges and imperfections are a way to rise above monotony."
Recalling her early pieces, Dutcher says, "I tried to escape suburbia by identifying myself with stuff I found in thrift stores. I used to love Micro Machines—these really tiny little plastic cars—so I made them into earrings. It's just been a progression from there." Indeed, Dutcher's aesthetic has evolved from thrift-store sass to Art-Deco deconstruction. But the process is far from academic. "I had this idea to melt things together, to make them look like they had been taken from a shipwreck. My dad is an iron sculptor, so we tried to get my chains balanced and irregularly shaped at once. In the end, we just wound up melting things with blowtorches and plasma cutters."
Even with the help of her father, sister and partner, Dutcher still regards her work as a way to bring her back to the little world of her own she discovered as a girl. "Clothes take a village," she says, "but jewelry is more self-contained. It's a way to sit down alone and concentrate for a long period of time on getting an idea exactly right."
Even at the Lambs and Crows shop, nestled among the graffiti and roaring motorcycles of Wythe Avenue, customers know they've entered someone's personal hope chest. A pastel teenager's room transformed into a retail hideaway, it's where Dutcher, and her unique works are most at home. "At one point," she says, "I even looked for a bed."
From Micro Machines-turned-earrings to feather-weight T-shirts, designer Carrie Dutcher infuses her childhood ambitions into her line and kitsch-cool Williamsburg shop, Lambs and Crows.