For 23 years, textile artist Kate Beck has shown her extraordinary clothing designs at Jazz Fest. Now she has a year-round showcase on Royal Street where she's conjuring up more luscious wearable art.
- by Grace Wilson
- photos by Ellis Anderson
There is a window on Royal Street that’s so simple it’s striking. The mannequins are draped in one-of-a-kind hand-dyed fabrics and wearing colossal, feather-light flower crowns. Their arms are posed in such a way it seems they are practicing tai chi or casting spells.
The shop is called Alquimie, which Google defines as a magical power or process of transforming a common substance, usually of little value, into a substance of great value.
More studio than boutique, Alquimie (938 Royal Street) is a stunning showcase of handmade goods. The owner and artist in residence, Kate Beck, has filled the shop with her own unique clothing, accessories and textiles, but also makes space for other textile artists she loves.
Many know Beck from her booth at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. In fact, Jazz Fest was how she fell in love with New Orleans.
"In 1996 I was chosen for one of the contemporary craft booths at Jazz Fest and have been lucky enough to be selected to return every year since," Beck said. "In 2001, I found my home on Chartres Street, officially making New Orleans my home."
Beck's original home was Portland, Ore., where she was inspired by nature. She honed her skills in textile, printmaking and fiber arts at the University of Washington. After university, Beck hit the road with her work.
Since 1989 she's been enjoying the fine arts and festival circuit with little sign of slowing down. In 2019, she was booked for 15 shows, which has earned her friends and fans worldwide. The Royal Street shop is now a place her artists and collectors can meet year-round.
“I love bringing friends to our new home base in the French Quarter,” Beck said.
Beck’s clothing is ever-evolving, though the hallmarks of her work are shibori dying, felting and printmaking. Shibori is a Japanese dying process done in all different colors, but has found popularity with the hue indigo. Even though shibori and indigo are having a fashion moment, Beck's clothes are classic and timeless.
"People can wear my pieces for 18 years or more and they won't go out of style,” she said.
Her showroom, formerly housed in her Marigny studio, has moved into a full-time shop in the French Quarter. Many clothing items are hung on the walls like paintings, which make the details and patterns in Beck’s dye-work easy to appreciate.
“I don’t see people coming through the door as customers,” Beck said. “To me they are collectors.”
Collectors take their time studying and handling the clothes. The shop is beautifully appointed with vintage furniture and cabinets. Each shelf and surface is carefully covered in handmade treasures - jewelry made from bits of decorative porcelain, unique pottery, one-of-a-kind purses and pouches.
There’s even a comfy couch for pooped partners who may need a rest from the day’s shopping excursions.
The Alquimie staff spends time with each guest, gently taking things off the rack or down from the walls and suggesting various looks until the collectors find the perfect piece of wearable art.
Alquimie is also solace for shoppers who are growing more conscious of personal environmental impacts. Buyers can be assured each item in the store has been produced in an ethical, sustainable and fair way, which directly supports the artists.
Clients can see and learn these techniques — like indigo dying and silkscreening — by signing up for workshops to make their own creations.
In fact, Beck has twoShibori and Indigo workshops coming up in October and November.
Look for collaborations, trunk shows, and more workshop opportunities in the future. Beck also has new lines of clothing coming out soon - one features a Muses silkscreened fabric and another will be a Moroccan-inspired collection. She has been creating and collecting beautiful artwork her whole life, but clearly Beck's brick and mortar shop on Royal Street is the beginning of something magical.
938 Royal St., 206.579.5219. Instagram: @katebeckneworleans, @alquimiestudio