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A New Fabric-Design Business in Middlebury Finds Beauty in Biology 

State of the Arts

“Beautiful thoughts” is the interpretation Ariele Faber suggests for the name of her new Middlebury-based business, Cerebella Designs. If that makes you think of “cerebellum,” you’re on the right track.

“Though a bit of an etymological stretch, ‘cerebellum’ has been translated to mean ‘little brain,’ referring to our thinking organ, while ‘bella’ means ‘beautiful’ in the romance languages,” writes Faber on her company’s website. “With that in mind, the idea of a brand that could share ‘beautiful thoughts’ was born.”

You would never guess from that paragraph that Cerebella’s designs are based on microscopic organisms. On a debut product line of scarves, neckties and bow ties, Faber digitally prints patterns of moon jellyfish, pollen tetrads, starfish eggs, whale skin and more — that is, as seen under a microscope. And, yes, they are beautiful.

Faber, a 2013 Middlebury grad with the unusual double major of neuroscience and architectural studies, allows herself artistic license with colors and arrangements of the biota she’s viewed through the lens. Her original inspiration came during a cell biology and genetics class she took as a sophomore, Faber says, but the idea blossomed into a grander vision. The result is not just another pretty-textile business but one that is grounded in “the intersection of science, design and education,” as she puts it.

Faber is passionate about that nexus of interests. On her website, she leads visitors through a discovery process — of her philosophy, mission, process and patterns. Before you get to the products (which begin at $64), you see a square swatch and learn something about where the design came from. Click on the lovely blue-green pattern called “Frog Skin,” for example, and you find this:

Frog skin has many functions including: respiration, protection, homeostasis, and water absorption. It is highly permeable to allow for gas exchange and to keep the frog adaptive to climates that are both wet and dry. This pattern shows a repeat generated from a cross section of frog skin. These colors are representative of a frog’s ability to exist in water and on land.

Faber, a native of Roseland, N.J., began the R&D for her product line even before graduating from college. She attended a textile-design class one summer at the Rhode Island School of Design to learn pragmatic production skills. And, lo and behold, RISD has a nature lab where students look at and sketch specimens, Faber says. She spent her time alternately testing her fabrics and staring down a microscope to find even more inspiration.

At 23, Faber already has 10 years behind her of working with children on the autism spectrum. She credits that experience with arousing her scientific curiosity “in understanding the neural mechanisms of learning and memory.” In turn, she says, that study “has greatly influenced my desire to make complex information, particularly in the sciences, more accessible and approachable.” She suggests that art forms can help individuals grasp biological systems because, “like buildings, they have a logic structure and everything has a place and a purpose.”

Isn’t teaching these concepts a lot to ask from a scarf? Faber agrees with a laugh that it is. But she can’t seem to help herself: “I have a few research questions that I’m constantly asking myself that kind of bleed into every project I work on,” she says. Those who want to learn a little biology on Cerebella’s website can do so, but it’s OK to just wear it.

Cerebella digitally prints fabric — using ink or dye on a 5-foot-long printer — out of state, and otherwise works out of a small office at Middlebury’s VCET (Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies). Home sewers finish the products. The scarves, Faber notes, are made of imported silk, while the ties are a cotton and silk blend. She sources fabrics “as much as possible” in the U.S., and declares a dedication to sustainability. That includes keeping production local, from the printing to the sewing to the product tags.

Right now, her approach to inventory — essentially a print-on-demand model — and social-media marketing keeps costs containable. But Faber envisions eventually “expanding fashion products, delving into the interior architecture realm (upholstery, wall coverings) and exhibiting patterns in public spaces,” she says. She’s also excited about collaborators and says, “There is particular interest from individuals in the health care/research arena to work on pattern development together.”

Faber’s designs, in fact, would make beautiful gift-wrap. Asked if she’s thought about paper products, she admits she’s “an avid greeting-card maker,” but laments that wrapping is typically discarded rather than seen as part of the gift. “I am more interested in experimenting with materials that would not normally be printed on,” Faber says, “if it weren’t for this new technology.”

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Pamela Polston

Pamela Polston

Bio:
Pamela Polston is the cofounder, coeditor and associate publisher of Seven Days.

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