A Clothesmaker’s Life, 2000-2020


“vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than to merely keep us warm. they change our view of the world and the world’s view of us.” ~ virginia woolf, orlando

sometimes it takes stopping. a deep breath, silence. a few moments, a couple days, perhaps even 4 weeks become 14 weeks ~ it’s been over 14 weeks, or is it 15, to think, reflect, conjure and then ~ do. type, put complete thoughts together in complete sentences and actually complete what one started. what if… and then, what’s next… a sweet obsession with masterclass might provide a clue. the past 4 posts punctuated by number of days (the first 14 days, day 55, 80 days, 100 days/how far have we come and where do we go from here?) ~ into this moment of stillness, it seems, possibly transition? into a new normal that has yet to begin, as the US goes in the opposite direction, as the rest of the world seems to move forward and onward.

add to the 40+ completed Masterclasses the stuff that is around me, ingredients all… whether it’s the staring at the hundreds of cookbooks against the wall, pulling out favorites and eyeing the new. the boxes of taped interviews filmed during fieldwork in Jamaica, waiting to become potent stories;  and fabric ~ the boxes of textures in silks and cashmere, brocades, cottons crinkled, satins washed, even beloved pieces of clothing stashed away to reuse as textile paintings or somehow sculpted into coats and gowns. finally, the documentation of making, the creative process and results virtual and tactile. the imagery, the actual pictures, in boxes, to be sorted and ordered. so many possibilities of interpreting past lives and future selves, sometimes it’s significant to look back and organize, indeed structure all that has been, to see what can be.

inspired by Annie Leibovitz’s “A Photographer’s Life” that documents the interaction of her commercial work with her personal life and vice versa from the years 1990-2005, so does this informal reflection that takes a specific period ~ the year 2000 when i was married in venice italy following a sunrise procession to punta della dogana overlooking campo san marco, and then inspired to actually begin making clothes on the “island of the sirens” during our honeymoon that September ~ through to right now sheltering in place 2020 …. and just as Annie’s monograph journals both her public and personal worlds (from her documentation of her parents through her lover Susan Sontag’s death), the clothes i made over the the past 20 years follows the more intimate narrative of marriage, birth of two children, the changing nature of my own relationship to the people and things and ideas around me ~ from fashion, to film and food ~ all inspiring one another from an anthropologist’s perspective that in many ways culminates in my work at Apple, but more interestingly in the past 4 months’ ability to not only reinvent myself (again) but also take a look at the things that make one curious, the way we continue to be inspired.  After a few months of indulging in the lives of others (40 masterclasses as of July 14th) and learning their ways, and means and trajectories, the twists and turns, it is the clarity of focus with which many of them led their lives. accumulating experiences, building on knowledge, their focus ~ the curiosity to know the how, and the why… 

focus / the center of interest or activity; producing clear visual definition.

curiosity / a strong desire to know or learn something 

what is at the root of why we learn? (since we can no longer gather, indulge in face to face encounters) .. from the UC Berkeley vaccinology class with infectious disease specialist John Swartzberg and Priya Parker’s original TED Connect question our first week in quarantine:  “this week, this day, what is it we need most?… what do they need and what do you need?” the end of looking outside, and the need to turn within… if only for a moment, this one, right here…like the hundreds of yards of fabric folded along my 4th street studios’ walls ~ possibility. i have time to pause, consider my past(s), learn from them, choose. or ~ take little bits from here and there, like Neil Gaiman’s compost of words written and then stored ~ from the past and present to mold into the future. and in the process of doing this, obsessively going through each class, comparing, learning, taking notes, processing ~ i come back to Anna Wintour,  the allure of style and fashion ~ the words and images of Diana Vreeland, the way we present ourselves to the Other… the potency of clothes and how we become who we are in them… i also come back to my friday mornings as visiting artist at Creative Growth which brought back all the different connective parts of being a “clothesmaker”, of thinking about the role of art and creativity, communication and expression ~ intuitive, interpreted, sculpted by hand, fluid ~ come to life April 18th exhibited, re-created, in motion, alive. But with COVID-19, post-poned. 

“There’s another world out there just beyond the world we’re in.

It’s just on the other side of that translucent, semitransparent surface.” ~ bill viola 

above, words from bill viola, whose installation “Buried Secrets” us interns watched over and became part of during Venice Biennale 1995… the “veiling room” was the part of the exhibition where we could crouch in the darkened corner, lose ourselves, listen to tom waits, and imagine what is next… as we would intermittently turn on the flash light to guide visitors through the layered cloth that transported imagery as if guiding you through the forest ~ searching for that light that must lead to somewhere…

below, 20 years of making things… 15 of them focused, in studio, with an amazing array of assistants and interns, clients and collaborators that came in and out of at first a garage in Temescal Oakland to our bungalow by Lake Merritt, then from our David Baker West End Commons townhouse in West Oakland to 8 years in our intimate studio on 4th street in berkeley which transformed in 2012 to also become a site of 77 salon dinners until we closed July 2015. In 2016 I started sewing again in August’s bedroom in our West Oakland place for an installation at the De Young Museum, and a performance of Lapham’s Quarterly magazine ~ the Fashion issue. And then as costume designer (and producer) for Frazer Bradshaw’s independent feature film The Deep Sky which was shot early 2017 and premiered October 7th 2017, at Mill Valley Film Festival.  In July of 2017 we moved through the tunnel, and i started my work at Apple as an anthropologist. focused, and for the first time my sewing machine was tucked away in the garage, until it wasn’t. I had originally pulled it out last summer 2019 because i missed the ritual of it all ~ the sound of scissors cutting, sewing machine zig zagging, and the stitching on of the tag. completion, done. how many? hats and scarves, the occasional sweater or fleece coat. it started there and then a project at Creative Growth ~ Fridays at the studio in Oakland, surrounded by making, people doing, me creating again… which overlapped with sheltering in place… the calm, the isolation, the reflection…

seeing it all together, in little instagram collections of images, quick punches of meaning that recollect moments of a past self and past society that no longer is. sometimes you need to look back at some of the highlights to understand the thread that holds you together ~ that makes you who you are, to think about what you might become…

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ~ soren kierkegaard


below, a collection of labels through the years / cari borja ~ baby royal ~ royal ~ bonobo (note: bonobo, my baby/children’s and bamboo yoga line from 2003-2007, was the trademark i ended up “selling” to andy dunn + brian spaly, who started BONOBOS in 2007)



~~~childhood / inspiration / style ~~~


~~~~~ACT 1 / 2000-2005 ~~~~~

~~~ 2000-2001 / the beginning / shedding skins / alonzo king LINES / SF Gate ~~~

(venice italy, september 14th 2000 ~ sunrise marriage / a visit to Giovanni in Sorrento + Li Galli islands, the “island of the sirens” that inspired me to begin sewing, and create Shedding Skins collection which became my first runway show, September 2001, 2 weeks after 9/11. with dorsey dunn, giordano pozzi, chris natrop, racheal matthews, tania haddad, swati argade, nadine campeau, camalo gaskin, britt dionne, cady sherman. video: part one + two + three)

“Ma le sirene hanno un’arma ancora più terrible del loro canto, ed e il loro silenzio”

“but the sirens have a weapon still more terrible than their song, and it is their silence…” ~ franz kafka








~~~ 2003 / the birth of royal, may 4th / baby royal collection ~~~

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” ~ martha graham


~~~ 2004 / photoshoot of britt, by me / of royal at 12 months old, by me ~~~



~~~ photoshoots by keith brauneis, left + rico schwartzberg, right (both styled by christi mider) ~~~


~~~ Gen Art Runway Show, Fresh Faces in Fashion / 2004 ~~~~


~~~ 2005 / photoshoots of ellen, by me ~ silks + tulle, wool + brocade, fleece + knits ~~~


~~~ 2005 / photoshoot by claudia goetzelmann / texture juxtaposed~~~



~~~ 2005 / studio photoshoot by jock mcdonald, san francisco magazine / havana, cuba shoot by jock mcdonald (styled by christi mider, hair + makeup by david michaud, model ania altit, jewelry by noel castellanos) ~~~



~~~ 2005 / fall runway shows ~ fort mason, below left (stuart locklear photoshoot with nancy dobbs owen jewelry, below right) + “reconfigured” san francisco international fashion week ~~~




~~~~~ ACT 2 / 2006-2010 ~~~~~

~~~ 2006 / photoshoot by claudia goetzelmann ~~~




~~~ 2006 / my fair lady collection ~ on the runway (jewelry by noel castellanos) ~~~

“The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated.” ~ eliza doolittle, my fair lady






~~~ 2007 / my fair lady collection ~ photoshoot by claudia goetzelmann, shot on location Djerassi Ranch ~~~


~~~ 2007 / city flight + slow fashion + apparel news ~~~


~~~ 2008 / Valentine Collection + Obama Fundraiser + Obama Collection ~~~


~~~ 2008 / new collections  ~~~



~~~ 2009 / studio shoot by nicolo sertorio ~~~


~~~ 2009 / baby royal collection + red cross collection + pat yuen photoshoot ~~~



~~~ 2009 / photoshoot by heike liss, on location, 4th street berkeley~~~



~~~ 2009 / fall collection + studio images + lireille gallery show ~~~ 



~~~ 2010 / dracula collection / inspired by eiko ishioka ~~~

“There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights.” ~ bram stoker, dracula




~~~~~ Act 3 / 2011-2015 ~~~~~

~~~ 2011 / chez panisse photoshoot by gabriel harber + runway + GEV Magazine shoot + The Gardener reception ~~~

“Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable. Everything feeds into my creativity. But without proper preparation, i cannot see it, retain it, use it.” ~ twyla tharp




~~~ 2011 / chez panisse installation + reception at the gardener / 4th street berkeley ~~~



~~~ 2011 / Global Green + Black V + Discarded to Divine + ModaCine Fashion Film Festival + Snow ~~~



~~~ 2012-2015 / the transformation of the studio to salon ~~~  77 salon dinners / click HERE for 1-50, and HERE for 51-77  ~~~

(below, salons #1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 19, 20, 22, 23, 24, 26, 41, 43, 35, 48, 49, 54, 56, 58, 59, 62, 66, 70, 71, 72, 73, 77)

“you need to imagine a space, create it, and then live in it…” ~ peter sellars, to me, cafe milano, berkeley fall 2011





~~~ 2012 / Black V runway + Barbie Collection, created for lena ingram + stuart locklear’s Saffron ~~~





~~~ 2012 / Snow Collection, photography by Warren Difranco ~~~


~~~ 2013 / college of the holy cross / 40 years of women in the arts ~~~

~~~ 2013 / PUR SPIRITS cocktail book photoshoot by kelly puleio ~~~


~~~ 2013 / Snow Collection (inspired by Hanna + Daniel Patterson’s Coi), photography: Warren DiFranco ~~~

“the eskimos had fifty-two names for snow because it was important to them: there ought to be as many for love.” ~ margaret atwood


~~~ 2013/2014 HRC “Suit Up” runway with Jake Wall + Artful Gentleman, photography Kelly Puleio, choreography Charleston Pierce ~~~




~~~ 2014 / “50/50 light” exhibition by deb durant / unbearable lightness of being installation ~~~

“We all need someone to look at us. We can be divided into four categories according to the kind of look we wish to live under . . . The fourth category, the rarest, is the category of people who live in the imaginary eyes of those who are not present. They are the dreamers.” Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being


~~~ 2013-2015 instagram studio posts + reflections on inspiration, muses (with Laura Nader) + in my own clothes ~~~








~~~ 2015 / the closing of the studio / july 5th ~~~


~~~ 2015 / Lapham’s Quarterly / Fashion edition / Starline Social Club, Oakland  ~~~

“Velvet is back, skin anti-skin, mimic nakedness. 

Like leather and suede, only more subtly, 

velvet simulates the flesh it conceals, a profoundly tactile fabric. 

Last winter’s satin invited the stroke, a slithering touch, 

this winter’s velvet invites a more sinuous caress. 

But the women who buy little brown velvet dresses 

will probably do so in a state of unknowing, 

unaware they’re dressing up for parts in our daily theater of fact; unaware, too, how mysterious that theater is.

For the nature of apparel is very complex. 

Clothes are so many things at once…

Clothes are our weapons, our challenges, our visible insults.”

~ Angela Carter


~~~ Dec 17th 2015 / Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SF / “the art of gathering” / commissioned by katya min~~~

“ Join YBCA for a winter celebration salon installation by anthropologist and artist Cari Borja. Borja invites us to explore the history of the art of gathering and the history of the salon. For centuries, the tradition of the salon has provided people with a physical and mental space to eat, interact, and connect through the act of gathering around a communal table. Borja examines the balance between all of the aspects that go into creating such a gathering, including the “metaphorical lightness of the gathering and the weight of responsibility we have to our community.” Borja, with the help of local winemakers, chefs and designers will bring together images, food, wine, a visual collage of films on and about the art of gathering around food, experimental sound scores, and members of the San Francisco Bay Area community.” 

originally inspired by the many encounters in my design studio, the night was filled with beautiful moments + conversations + many clients wearing “cari borja”… / with installation guest collaborators alexandra silverman, binta ayofemi, composer christopher willits, butoh dancer deborah butler. and food + wine collaborators ~ adam sobel/michael mina, alder yarrow, andrew browne, angela + larry tse/ the house, angela garro/omnivore salt, anthony sueuga, ashley mckinley, august isidore bernberg, carole borja, carenn jackson/copain wines, chad arnold/paul marcus wines, daniel patterson/alta + coi, deb durant, diva pyari/linea carta, ella zafrir ilan, emily + stephan schindler/easkoot cellars, evan goldstein, ezra chomak, the grand meringue, hannah hoffman/doughnut dolly,  jessica theroux, june Taylor/june taylor jams, keba konte/red bay coffee, kristen + ted talley/terra firma wines, laura werlin, mara kolesas, matthew rorick/forlorn hope, michael wallman, nuubia chocolate, paul draper/ridge vineyards, pax mahle/wind gap wines/agharta wines, racheal matthews, rachel konte/OwlNWood,rajat parr/sandi + domaine de la cote, royal borja bernberg, shelley lindgren/A16 + SPQR, stephen yafa, suzanne drexhage/bartavelle, timothy felkner/oro, tracey + jared brandt/donkey + goat winery…

“life is so brief that we should not glance either too far backwards or forwards… therefore study how to fix our happiness in our glass and in our plate” ~ grimod de la reyniere





~~~~~ Act 4 / 2016-2020 ~~~~~

~~~ 2016 / de young museum / “becoming her” installation, inspired by the oscar de la renta gala  ~~~



~~~ 2016 / Girls Festival for World Wide Women ~ Fort Mason / Royal Borja Bernberg Collection / choreography by Charleston Pierce ~~~



~~~ 2016 / election collection + ponyo cashmere collection ~~~


~~~ 2016 / Frazer Bradshaw’s The Deep Sky / on location November / premiere at Mill Valley Film Festival Nov 7th 2017 ~~~




~~~ post-studio stuff + other intersections (Global Green + Walt Disney Family Museum gala with Jane Goodall) ~~~

“change happens by listening and then starting a dialogue with the people who are doing something you don’t believe is right” ~ jane goodall


~~~ 2018-2019 / today at apple, apple union square / fashion+design-focused sessions  ~~~

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”  ~ steve jobs



~~~ 2019-2020 / visiting artist at Creative Growth, Oakland + cari borja collaboration with artists ~~~

“If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse gift will find a fitting place.” ~ margaret mead


~~~ spring 2020 / sheltering in place ~~

“do you ever think about how everything we do is an echo of something…like how everything we’ve done is going to happen again? and everything we’re going to do has already happened somewhere else?” ~ Giri / Haji 



“Whether at school, on the skating rink, in the art world or in Jamaica or… now making clothes, Cari’s creativity is entirely embedded in a bold and irascible wakefulness to life and to the world around her. Consciously or unconsciously her creative efforts tap a source of inner strength and with every new endeavor she undertakes, she peels another layer to reveal hidden resources. She is and has always been practical. As she herself is a testament to the possibility of transformation— when Cari named her first fashion show “Shedding Skins” she may as well have been choosing the title for her biography—so her clothes let those who wear them sense the easy grace of living inside one’s own skins.” ~ dorna khazeni (from the bio written for my original website 2004)

i look back at that bio from 16 years ago and still see a consistency, a way of being that continues to resonate today in everything i do. as many times as one can say or think i am continually reinventing myself, leaving one thing for the next, a new job, consultancy, creative endeavor, non-profit to champion; the next book, film, tv series, another cookbook, new cocktail, wine to try, chocolate to eat, recipe to master… i still see the thread that holds it all together, thankfully… and always like to think that in anything we do, we take the same ways of doing and making and creating into the pursuit of it, the obsession with it, and the mastering of it ~ with anything, an echo of everything.


(so grateful for my core team of assistant designers over the years especially racheal matthews, ashley mckinley, joy brace, katherine summer o’neal,  karen lewis, and interns alison midstokke, irene chiu, alain chavez, tanya leigh, dejanaye starling, christine knobel, anna kell and the many other clients + collaborators ~ i thank you. it takes a village…)

The way you do anything is the way you do everything.” ~ tom waits 

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