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Legacy of Creating: An Interview with VFG Member Carole Charlin

by Maggie Wilds

When Carole Charlin introduced herself in the VFG Forums, she said she’d been a designer most of her life, following in the footsteps of her great-grandmother, who worked in Hollywood and made clothes for Shirley Temple.

So of course we have to know more.

Carole: My great-grandmother, Hazel Bryan, was born in 1888 and became an orphan when her mother died of tuberculosis. She had learned how to sew from her mother. As an adult, she moved to Hollywood, California, and was a 20th Century-Fox Film studio seamstress, making clothes for Shirley Temple in the 1930s. She taught my grandmother to sew, and as a team they made all the clothes I wore as a child. so following in their footsteps, I learned to sew and consider myself a professional-caliber seamstress, proud to continue the family line. Hazel was amazing; she could craft just about anything. She could knit, do needlepoint, and even make hats. I have a few remnants of her artistry, but the things I’ve lost haunt me.

This 1980s’ photo is me wearing a knit strapless sweater with a sequin design (it also has a bolero jacket with the same sequin design) made for my mother in the 1950s by Hazel. I still have it. She hand-stitched the sequins.

Maggie: What other family members influenced you and how?

C: I grew up in Los Angeles and remember my mother (a clotheshorse) schooling me on fabrics, mixing patterns, and what colors work together. She taught me to sew and gave me “sapphire,” the brand name of my great-grandmother’s sewing machine—a real workhorse!

M: Please tell us a little about the scope of your design work.

C: My father was an architect and took us to his building sites and any new building sites he could find. Wandering around the model homes with their beautifully furnished rooms gave me lots of ideas. For my first apartments, I crafted curtains, slipcovers, bed linens, and also refurbished dumpster-dive furniture and old family castoffs.

It wasn’t until I moved to the East Coast that I started my interior design business, Charlin Designs, in earnest, with a focus on reuse/restore/recycle, decluttering, and organization. You can see my various projects at

M: What is your personal style history?

C: In high school, I made most of my own clothes and haunted all the local vintage clothes shops, which in those days were stuffed with the castoffs from the studio wardrobe departments. My focus was on jackets—men’s and women’s; I paired these wonderful finds with my home-sewn, wide-leg, high-waisted Katharine Hepburn-style trousers. I bought dresses, too—took them apart seam by seam and made patterns to copy the style. I’d say the late 1930s and 1940s were my go-to style references, with all those peplums, shoulder pads, and buttons. Impossible to resist!

M: Do you wear vintage regularly?

C: Yes, but not overtly. You wouldn’t look at me and say, “now, that’s a lotta vintage.” Like fragrance, a hint of it in the right place adds allure. When people ask me about an item I’m wearing and I tell them it’s vintage, they are often surprised.

M: On your website I read, “what I prize above all in design is the essence of personal style, the essence that reflects the one true you. Call it the ‘signature’ you.” If you had to choose just one vintage fashion item that most represents the signature you, what would it be?

C: I’d have to go with the trusty scarf. Something so simple yet with such elegance and dash—that is so versatile and colorful. Scarves, tied to a handbag, worn as a belt, on the neck or around the head—the scarf is the Swiss Army Knife of style. A must!

Carole’s Etsy shop is at