Outside a grand baby-blue house on Garfield, just before the block is clipped by Pendleton Avenue, yelling children ensure that their last few days of summer break will be the noisiest. They cheer as boys push a car tire through the parking lot of the apartment building next to the house. Inside the house, an all-woman punk band called Cuntalope rehearses for an upcoming show. They tear through songs, all shouted vocals and hard-thumped drums.
The music stabs upward from the living room, through the second-story floorboards and into designer Peggy Noland's large bedroom, which doubles as her studio space. The 28-year-old shares this house with four other artists. It functions like a commune, she explains.
"Great roommates," she says. "They're as active and energetic as I am in their own creative process."
Noland, her hair tied in a bun, sits at a serger. The machine adds its whine to the band's chorus as she sews seams into loud, Tang-colored shirts. She's working on garments for her first New York Fashion Week show. Despite the music, she toils unfazed, serene in this mash-up of communities, as though she's in a womb.
Noland isn't a household name yet, so even though she has maintained a storefront on West 18th Street since 2006, she doesn't have a proper studio. "It would be an ideal situation, of course, if my store could be my studio as well," she says. "It's not ideal," she says of working in her living space, "but it's not bad."
For now, every long cow-print shirt, pastel adult diaper and rainbow-sequined bodysuit begins in her bedroom — whether it's destined for the cover of a magazine, indie-rock darlings Tilly and the Wall, or a Lady Gaga backup dancer. Fabric is piled high on metal shelving. There's no money or space for a cutting table, so Noland sits in the middle of the hardwood floor, slicing with couture precision fabric that's printed with the Oakland Raiders logo. She doesn't like the Raiders, but she does like black-and-white patterns.
"I didn't go to fashion school, so this is all kind of me exploring what I think I want to do," she says. A fabric supplier calls Noland on her cell phone — one of two phones she will lose in less than a month. "Do you know what print that is? It's smaller dots? Do you have any of the larger polka dots? Do you have any yardage of the one I ordered first? You're completely out? OK, I'll look around for some more. Green with white? Stripes? Oh, no, I don't think we'll need that either if we don't have the polka dots."
She hangs up. "Out of some dots! Thank goodness dots are easy to find. Dots are around."
Noland doesn't mass-produce lines for retail outlets, so she can be flexible when a print isn't available. "I'm really protective of my clothing when it comes to stores," she says. "There's only five stores in the world that I'd like to have my clothes in. I don't want my clothes everywhere."
Last year, she expanded her retail business by opening a store in Berlin. In two months, the store generated ample media attention, which led city officials to investigate her licensing. Noland hadn't obtained the necessary business permit, so authorities closed her down.
"Totally sucks, but I knew [it was illegal] going into it," she says. And in the brief time it was open, the shop found a receptive market. "Berlin was very amused by me!" she says. She plans to open another Berlin store in the next year or two — with a permit this time. For now, though, the only way to buy a Peggy Noland piece is through her boutique or by commissioning it from her.