You might say that Madeleine Provost was a natural-born artist. Her mother was a painter and encouraged her creativity from a young age. As a child, she learned to make paints with mulberries from a tree in her backyard and always had a knack for color. Provost went on to attend the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York, where she got her BFA in Fashion Design. As fate would have it, she found herself dipping into natural dyes for her thesis. “I didn’t really know what I was doing at the time, but I knew I was interested in natural colors,” she says.
Immediately upon graduation, Provost began designing for a long list of major fashion brands, with stints at Rebecca Taylor, J.Crew, Pamella Roland and Perry Ellis. While some labels left her with more room to experiment than others, Provost didn’t always feel fulfilled creatively and yearned for another outlet of expression. “It was very corporate and I just sort of lost excitement in it,” she says. “I missed the element of discovery and playfulness that can sometimes get lost in the routine and the pressure for perfection in the commercial fashion industry.”
“I missed the element of discovery and playfulness that can sometimes get lost in the routine and the pressure for perfection in the commercial fashion industry.”
Behind the scenes, Provost was privy to harsh realities of the fashion supply chain, such as excess inventory, deadstock fabric and textile waste—all of which take a heavy toll on the environment. “I felt responsible for having that knowledge, so I wanted to take myself out of that equation for now and try an alternative route.” Ultimately, this led Provost back to making clothes with natural dyes that turned into sustainable collaborations with brands. “Having worked as a fashion designer in the industry for the past seven years, I was confronted with the negative effects that fast fashion has on our environment,” she says. “My passion for color, textiles and working with my hands led me to want to tackle this little corner of issues.”
A partnership with White + Warren, then, was a natural fit from the start. As Bari Shore, Director of Product, explains: “Our dedication to hand-craftsmanship and reducing our environmental impact is paramount. Natural dyeing marries these two ideas. The process is extremely artisanal and done by true artists. By using natural materials, we can help reduce the amount of chemicals put into the water supply.”
“There is something so beautiful and compelling about color that shifts and evolves through time with exposure to different elements. Life changes and moves and is never the same, so it feels right that the colors we wear and live in should reflect this.”
Made in small batches at Provost’s studio, each is hand-sprinkled with dyes extracted from nature, courtesy of a supplier in Canada who sources the materials. Here, Provost colored our Pearl White Cashmere Travel Wraps with dyes from trees as well as the cochineal insect, a native species to Central and South America that was also used by the Aztecs. The end result is a painterly mix of rich purple and yellow pigments with vibrant pinks.
Given the nature of the hand-done process, the patterns vary in depth of color and tone, making each wrap truly one of a kind. As Provost would say, natural dyes are “alive” and continue to develop into a unique lived-in finish: “There is something so beautiful and compelling about color that shifts and evolves through time with exposure to different elements. Life changes and moves and is never the same, so it feels right that the colors we wear and live in should reflect this.”
“Imperfections are what make life beautiful, and I embrace them in my art,” adds Provost. “I love the visual reminder that a product was made by hand.” It’s also why many of us may be inspired to start DIY-dyeing at home. “It’s a great way to get in touch with your creativity and just play,” explains Provost. “I find that it’s very therapeutic and meditative.” The designer likens it to a sensory journey where you can get lost in the rhythm of the process: “The scents of the different dyes, the sound of water simmering, the weight and texture of wet fabric in your hands, the visual experience of watching color saturate and deepen, and in some cases, the taste: turmeric, avocado pits and onion skins are just a few resources for dye you may have in your kitchen.”
In the past, Provost hosted workshops to school others in the craft and has plans to take her lessons online in the near future. As Shore recalls: “One of our designers took her natural dyeing workshop and came back to the office with a beautiful show-and-tell of what she had made. We have been passionate about natural dyeing for some time now, but it was clear that Maddie was a real expert and the perfect person to enter the space with.”