Article by Mary Jo Curtis

imageElain Perlov '91's fern-striped silk sash can be worn as a belt or at empire waist.

When Elaine Perlov traveled to Japan to do research for her Amherst honors thesis in Japanese art history, she was awed by the beauty and simplicity she found there. That same aesthetic inspired her a decade later when she launched a career as a fashion designer. Her creations, carried exclusively on her Web site, feature an East-meets-West minimalism in a line of women’s clothing and accessories.

“I’ve been very much driven by Japanese architecture and art. It was so dramatically different than anything I’d seen,” she says. “I took it in deeply, and it comes out in everything I make.”

It’s impossible to miss that influence in Perlov’s collection of modular separates: a kimono-style top ($84) is inspired by Japanese maples, while a bamboo-print cowl top ($66) is reminiscent of a watercolor painting; either can be paired with the bamboo-weave denim skirt ($98) or silk karate belt ($30). Her designs have attracted notice in publications such as Vogue, In Style, Women’s Wear Daily and Cosmopolitan.

Perlov’s prices are “not Stella McCartney,” she’s quick to point out, but neither are they Target: “People do value something handmade and realize there’s something innately valuable in clothing that’s well-crafted, well-made and fits well,” she says. “They don’t want to always go to Wal-Mart.”

Perlov's black shirt with bamboo fronds has "the elegance of a top with the ease of a tee," she says on her Web site.

Nearly four years ago, Perlov, who’s based in New York City, launched a blog—“i am a fashion designer. gee” at—about her designs and influences. Today it features tips on fashion, color trends, decorating and time management and even a few recipes. Perlov also uses the blog to promote other designers. “Times are difficult,” she says, “so whatever I can do to promote independent designers, I will do.”

One winter blog entry, for example, announced a “blow-out sale” at My Designer Closet, an online retailer specializing in new and used designer clothes and accessories; Perlov advised readers, “This could be your Cinderella story.” In another entry, she touted an ultramodern, plastic, designer coffee table, confessing it’s something she’d buy herself, “although it is becoming increasingly uncool to like plastics.”

Perlov indirectly traces her blogging to her time at Amherst, where she cultivated an interest in both writing and Japanese art history while carrying a double major in Asian Languages and Civilizations and English. The blogging has led her to other fashion-industry writing, including articles for the Flavor Pill and Zoozoom Web sites.

“I’d been wanting to reconnect with that part of my brain,” she says. “I wanted to move away from just the making and into writing.”

Perlov has recently taken on a “day job” as the e-commerce marketing manager for Dollhouse, a denim-dominated fashion house for juniors that features lines by Paris Hilton and Danity Kane. Perlov writes all of the Dollhouse Web copy, including a blog for the fashion house. She credits her marketing know-how to her art history background, which, she says, taught her to “to present shows in a way that people will understand.”

And all of her endeavors come from the same place. Whether she’s working in fabric, on her blog or on a marketing Web site, “I make something because I love it, and because I have something to say.”

Curtis is a writer based in Holyoke, Mass. She works at Mount Holyoke College.