Boston Fashion: City Highlights With Design Pioneer Erin Robertson

Boston-based artist and designer Erin Robertson deconstructs her artful, tech-driven hometown.

At first glance artist and fashion ground-breaker Erin Roberston may appear defiantly un-Boston, but the opposite is closer to the truth. The saucy, neon-charged iconography and retina-caressing color bursts of her current designs—check out an-erin.com—are a defiant rejection of the big-label uniformity that tends to define the city. Everything about Robertson screams Boston outlier. The thing is, she’s deeply connected to Boston’s fizzing matrix of technological and artistic creativity, which makes her the quintessential 21st-century Boston designer.

Robertson transplanted herself from Utah to Boston age 18, worked as a dental assistant at Harvard for five years, then found her true calling at MassArt. In 2017 she won Season 15 of fashion reality TV’s “Project Runway,” after which she went totally native, choosing not to move to established fashion epicenter, New York.

“In Boston there’s so much more opportunity for actual new things to happen,” she tells us over a lively pink rosé at Petit Robert Bistro near her South End studio. She effortlessly guides our conversation from artistic Japanese fish and 3D printing to synthetic biology and more...

The Erin effect

What excites you about fashion?

Fashion is so much about your identity: like a second skin. The way we dress ourselves is sending a message to someone, whether it’s a lover of a friend. Fashion is such a cool way to say something about yourself without using words.

Does nature inspire you?

Yes. The Japanese puffer fish is one of my favorite animals. It creates this giant, mathematically perfect pattern on the bottom of the ocean. It’s the most beautiful thing. The fish works 24/7 for a week. It makes these ridges and embellishes it with shells. And it’s only to get a mate: to attract a female. Animals do this in nature—we’re no different than animals. We’re all doing things to impress people.

Robertson on "Project Runway"

When did you really start to make connections between art and science?

In my senior year I took a class with Neri Oxman at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Synthetic biology. It just blew my mind. I made a bunch of new friends.

So now you’re at the hub of a new creative network.

I just want to collaborate with people. I hate the word 'intersection' because it’s such a buzz word. But I really love art, design, science and technology. I can laser cut and 3D print, but there’s another level of it. I just collaborated with Jifei Ou—he has a 3D printing machine at the MIT Media Lab that can print fur. I have access to this stuff because I live in Boston.

What are you working on now?

I wat to get second-hand clothes and ‘Erinize’ them. That’s one of my next projects—we don’t need more clothes, we just need to appreciate more what we have. A passion of mine is to try to figure out how to eliminate more fashion, not necessarily create more.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

What are some of your Boston cultural highlights?

I love the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum: Isabella, who started it, loved Boston. I love how she believed in Boston and she wanted to put Boston on the map for art and culture. She would outbid a bunch of other museums for amazing artwork. And she mixed her collection with no-names. I love dichotomy. That’s exactly what the Gardner is to me. There’s this really intense Rembrandt and there’s amazing no-name art there too.

What’s your best tip for understanding Boston?

I think Boston is like a nice wine. It takes a while—and a lot of people don’t have the patience for it.