Posted on May 22, 2009 – 3:37 PM | by OldManFoster
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by Jennifer Traverso Tosca, Photos by Jesse Vasquez

Ursula Dean is the mind behind five year old modaspia, a line of whimsical dresses designed and produced in Northern California. modaDean designs all modaspia dress patterns and then creates prototypes on one of her three 1970’s era industrial sewing machines in her Placerville studio. She then has the dresses mass manufactured in San Francisco. No outsourcing necessary, modaspia is a local and independent business worth supporting.

The dresses in the Spring 2009 line are made from a cotton and linen blend of fabrics and feature ultra feminine details like shirred waistlines, bright binding and shallow pockets. The silhouettes are simple, and the fabrics are distinctive. Many of the fabrics Dean uses for her designs are other designers’ leftovers, otherwise known as surplus fabrics. Though she is very modest about declaring modaspia as a green or sustainable fashion line, Dean states, “The way I conduct business I do what I can to be economical and also conscientious of waste. My whole approach to the fashion business and modaspia is sustainable”.

modaThe inspiration for the Spring 2009 modaspia designs were “drawn from a picture taken from an old Italian Vogue depicting a 1930’s summer pool scene, with guys & girls hanging out in the sun in beachy, drapey, summer clothes”. Dean took this image and ran with it, incorporating buttons, rouching, and shorter hemlines in an effort to modernize the look.

Dean was born and raised in San Rafael, California. She graduated from San Diego State with a degree in English before she moved to San Francisco and learned to sew from a friend in a “commune style, raver warehouse” scene. She immediately fell in love with sewing, but grew tired of being a starving artist and subsequently joined the corporate world. After major encouragement from her husband Jeremy, Dean quit the office job and focused on fashion, releasing the first modaspia line in Fall 2004. Modaspia took off like crazy; a French woman in New York City placed an almost forty thousand dollar order with the fledgling company. Pictures of Heidi Klum wearing the modaspia Biba jacket in Instyle magazine soon followed.

modaThis down to earth fashion designer admits that she loves to watch the fashion design program Project Runway on television and cites her current favorite fashion labels as Agnes B. and Toast. Dean can almost always be found wearing something modaspia. She sums up the label as “Easy-going, casual glamour. Dresses that are sexy and sweet at the same time”. She cites French female film heroines such as Brigitte Bardeau and Anna Karina as her personal fashion icons- and reveals that she would never be caught wearing high waist jeans. “They were the norm when I was in Junior High, but to this day when I see them on a woman it just makes me cringe,” Dean confesses. I feel the same way about hammer pants; sometimes it’s just too painful to go back. Dean also recalls receiving some of the best fashion advice from her mother during her Junior High days. She laughs, remembering her mother telling her to “take off those suntan pantyhose”.

Ursula tells me that she spent the morning making a princess dress for her three year old daughter Giulietta, whose birthday is coming up soon. This forty-four year old mother of two (her son Marcello is six) has started to experiment with designing children’s clothing.  Her children’s designs have been picked up by wholesale children’s clothing website and will be available soon, but for now you can check them out at the modaspia shop on The fabrics used for the new modaspia children’s fashions are all cotton surplus prints imported from Italy that feature fun colors and classic patterns.

modaThough you can find modaspia dresses at boutiques in cities throughout the USA including New York, Chicago, Boston and Seattle modaspia designs are not currently available at any Sacramento boutiques. The good news is that Dean’s creations are available to purchase at The designer says she is looking into getting her dresses into Sac boutiques, but for now the only NorCal shops you will see modaspia in are stores such as Doe in the lower Haight and Ladita in the Bernal Heights neighborhoods of San Francisco.

When you purchase a modaspia dress you can be assured that you are supporting a local and independent fashion designer that engages in sustainable business practices. What is not to love about that? Not to mention you are sure to get many compliments on Ursula Dean’s combination of imaginative design and ethereal fabric. Modaspia’s fanciful, well made dresses fit perfectly into the wardrobe of any Sacramento girl and are suitable for the hottest of summer days. No nude pantyhose necessary.

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