Exquisite little things: Jan Reed creates style in Lower Queen Anne

She calls them confections, and indeed, they look good enough to eat, though Jan F. Reed's truffles and petit fours are made of silk or satin or faille. Her hats, too, are wonderful little concoctions that some might say deserve to be put under glass. Reed, however, designs her inedible bon bons to grace tables at parties or be given as party favors, while her hats are meant to grace the heads of Queen Anne brides, or their mothers or sisters, or other Seattle women attending such gala events.

A resident of Lower Queen Anne for the past several years, Reed is now offering her romantic goodies for sale through a business she has dubbed Mignonette, which means, she explains, "exquisite little thing." In mid-July, the truffles and the hats will be available for an exclusive run at Janie Bolton's Magnolia gift shop Around the Block, at 3308 W. McGraw St.

Like so many artists, Reed hasn't always been fortunate enough to devote most of her energy to her passion for design. An art history graduate of the University of Oregon in Eugene, Reed did some costume design for regional theaters in Oregon while continuing to work in a library for several years after her graduation.

In 1987 she decided to head north to Seattle "because I thought it would be a better market for art illustration." Upon arrival she took clerical jobs in administration to keep body and soul together, but never completely shelved her interest in art. She dabbled in freelance illustration, from menu design to architectural drawings to fashion illustration. When she was laid off from her administrative assistant post about two and a half years ago, she finally decided to devote her energy to the creative work she loved. "It's beginning to pay off," she said.

Completely handmade, each tiny pink, cream, chocolate or mint-green truffle takes Reed about 15 minutes to put together. Then they are packed in twos, fours and eights, in clear, plastic boxes that are tied up with a ribbon. Tiny wire pins are packed with the boxes in case anyone wants to use the truffle as a place-card holder at a special dinner party. Reed, who seems never to lack for ideas, also envisions seeing them as decorations on a buffet table, or placed in front of the foods with the place card used to identify a dish.

One look at Reed and it's apparent that she enjoys creating style. Even her sunglasses match the elegant, cobalt-blue dress she is wearing. The iridescent blue beads and antique-like earrings that complement her ensemble also are her own design. Although gregarious (her easy laugh punctuates her comments often), she is as feminine as the new, hand-sewn hats she is designing for others. Her wearable art pieces, she explains, had their genesis last winter when she helped out a colleague who was working on a fashion show at the time. She did three small cocktail hats at his request. "I realized that I had an awful lot of fun making them," she recalls now, "and because they were so small, I thought it would be a good way to use some of my textile resources, my antique and vintage trims and fabrics. I started by pulling pieces out to see what went together, and the compositions kind of grew by themselves."

Among her "resources" were scraps of scarlet silk, 1870s beaded lace and a flower. "VoilĂ ! I had a wonderful little poppy hat," she says with a laugh.

One-of-a-kind designs, no two exactly alike, her hats are reminiscent, says Reed, of "a style that has had a number of reincarnations through costume history." Similar hats topped the heads of young women in the late 1700s and can be seen in Watteau's paintings. Such designs enjoyed a revival in the 1880s and again between the 1930s and 1940s.

Reed thinks of her own versions as little decorations for the head. She can imagine them being worn to dress up a simple cocktail dress, or as an alternative to the traditional veil or other headgear for the bride. Asked who her specific audience might be, she was quick to answer: "Sophisticated ladies with cosmopolitan tastes and a flair for adventure and romance." Whether in ruffled, dark chocolate-brown fabric, chartreuse, peach or beaded ivory, Reed's hats, like her truffles, are bound to draw attention. Unlike the truffles and petit fours, her hats are labor intensive, so Reed recommends placing an order well in advance of an event if possible.[[In-content Ad]]