ASHLAND — Fredrica Lawrence’s mindset when she arrived from New York in 1971 was simple: get some experience working in Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s costume shop and parlay the experience into a high-end fashion design job back home.
Much to her longtime customers’ satisfaction, she never returned to the Big Apple.
Instead, Fredrica Lawrence’s Fine Clothing on East Main Street became a downtown fixture, morphing from customized one-offs to brand fashion lines within the first decade. Now, after 45 years, Lawrence is calling it a day and beginning a retirement sale later this week.
Her attraction to the college town tucked away in the Siskiyous wasn’t uncommon. Shakespeare had grown into a multiple-stage enterprise with the addition of the Angus Bowmer Theatre.
“It seemed the majority of people living here were from big cities,” Lawrence said. “I was born and raised in Brooklyn; I wasn’t going to stay. I was going back to New York.”
She was in her mid-20s, a fine arts graduate of Hunter College, with some post-graduate and architecture classes on her resume.
What Shakespeare offered was pattern making and cutting, along with seamstress work.
“I needed a good, solid influence for clothing construction,” Lawrence said. “You can design something that looks pretty, but if you don’t know how it fits a body, it won’t work.”
After one season at OSF, she moved into a different job as a social services case worker. But her passion was clothing.
While she knew she had a much greater flair for fashion than running a business, she took the leap in early 1973.
“I was much more creative, and it took a long while to learn how to do business,” Lawrence recalled.
She used those creative talents to teach night courses in pattern making and drapery classes. Her early designs were Shakespeare-influenced, with garments sporting Renaissance ruffles and corduroy.
The business flourished and, somewhere along the way, the allure of the big city fanfare and lights faded.
“Business was solid; I bought a home, made friends,” Lawrence said.
Hiking, cross-country skiing, even piloting small aircraft appealed to her.
“I liked what the area offered,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine going back to the city where I’d have to take buses and trains.”
Little by little, Lawrence began infusing her shop with gabardine suits and other ready-made clothing. By 1980, the transition was complete, but she still considered her selection to be pieces of art and a creative flair.
“I liked creating with colors and quality fabrics,” she said. “I still like colors and things with a little more drama to it. My clothes don’t go out of style, I don’t buy faddish things, and I kept a pretty big inventory.”
The annual cycles of a tourist town have played havoc with some downtown shops, but Lawrence said she always felt secure.
“The festival starts at the end of February and went into October, so we had a long run compared to other businesses,” she said. “Downtown was like a mini-mall.”
From her perspective, Ashland has become more contemporary and “less hippyish, which I like,” Lawrence said.
When she locks up the shop, her reign as the longest continuous single-owner shop in town will end. Lawrence said she has no plans to sell, but wouldn’t turn down the right offer.
Either way, she’s going to miss it.
“The store has been my second home, so it’s not easy to say I’m going to retire,” she said.
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.