http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/06/fashion/making-over-clergy-fashion.html Making Over Clergy Fashion Stephen Fendler, president of CM Almy, shows off a rack ofMessage 1 of 1 , Oct 5View Source
Making Over Clergy Fashion
Stephen Fendler, president of CM Almy, shows off a rack of samples from his brand-new women’s collection, pointing out a piece he’s particularly proud of: a black blouse in a stretchy jersey knit.
But Mr. Fendler’s collections won’t be seen on the runways anytime soon. CM Almy says it is the largest, and one of the oldest, American producers of clerical clothing, and its models are hitting the pulpit instead of the catwalk. Their designers create garments for priests, ministers and bishops mainly within the Episcopal, Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches — from everyday plain shirts and white collars, to the more elaborate and colorful ceremonial chasubles.
“We have seasons, and items go in and out of style just like the fashion world,” Mr. Fendler said. But “our style changes are driven by evolutions in holy ceremonies. Nobody would call us the most fashion-forward company in the marketplace.”
The family-run company has been making clerical clothing and supplies since 1892, when an uncle of Mr. Fendler’s grandfather started the business near a seminary in Chelsea. Today, CM Almy is based in Armonk, N.Y., with a showroom in Greenwich, Conn. Mr. Fendler’s brother and the company’s vice president, Michael Fendler, runs the manufacturing end of the business in Maine. Among their clients are Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan and the priests at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Clerical designs are bound to tradition and slow to change. But this fall for the first time, Stephen Fendler is revamping CM Almy’s women’s line of everyday clothing to keep up with increased demand. In 2012, more than 20 percent of clergy were women, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared with 14 percent 10 years ago. And Mr. Fendler estimates that about half the graduates from Episcopal seminaries are women.
For a long time, he said, Almy had offered casual, everyday clothing for female priests and ministers, but the shirts were man-tailored and made from a stiff cotton material. Over the years, he began to hear from women who wanted more options.
“We want to represent the authority of a church, but we also want to look and feel like women,” said the Rev. Anisa Cottrell Willis, a priest in the Episcopal Diocese in Lexington, Ky. Mrs. Cottrell Willis advised CM Almy during the design process. “Most women don’t like the way they look in the boxy, men’s button-down shirts.” She said. “The job is dominated by men, but that doesn’t mean we have to look like them.”
Last year, Mr. Fendler began doing research on how to better reach his female customers. He peeked at women’s wear catalogs that came in the mail for his wife. He bought samples and began envisioning the popular V-neck styles buttoned up with a tab collar. He then hired a designer to sketch out looks, and chose fabrics.
“I learned quickly that a lot of the fabrics were stretchy, and my wife said, ‘Yeah, where have you been for the last decade?’ Most everything in her closet is jersey knit or has Lycra in it,” Mr. Fendler said.
The result is a line of four new everyday shirts: a lightweight polyester shell with a feminine neckline, a cotton-Lycra-blend shirt, the jersey knit blouse and a ruffle-front in lightweight polyester. The simple, modest garments may not look like much to the secular eye, but the stretchy knit gives and moves with the body, which is a step forward within the clerical community.
And like most of CM Almy’s designs, the shirts are comfortable and no-nonsense. When introducing designs, Mr. Fendler pictures priests raising the chalice of wine over their heads, so the material of his garments is never restrictive.
Many of the company’s customers, male or female, pay little attention to changing fashions, because they are looking for timeless wardrobe pieces. It’s not unusual, said Michael Fendler, for a church to keep the same CM Almy garments in stock for 30 years, and just keep sending them back for small repairs.
“I think the clothing that a member of the clergy wears is like a uniform, and identifies them within their own group,” Michael Fendler said. “Clergy generally want to look professional, and we help them achieve that. We want to make garments that fit well with the architecture and aesthetics of the church.”
Not everything at Almy is uniform, however. Stephen Fendler said that he enjoys flexing his creative muscles when developing new chasubles — the ceremonial outer garment. This year he is putting out a new silk-woven chasuble with a colorful sunrise splashed on the front of the garment.
Even though the new women’s shirts come in a variety of seasonal colors, Mrs. Cottrell Willis, 43, sticks with black as the staple of her wardrobe, because, she says, the black shirt is a recognizable symbol to the faithful. Decorative chasubles and more color options aside, she is really looking forward to finally wearing well-fitted garments in front of her congregation. What’s next for female clergy? As a mother of two who writes her sermons running between her son’s football games, she hopes for a line of maternity wear. Stephen Fendler said he is working on prototypes.
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