Beth Bogle, Fish & Bee Studio

This collaborative designer is a Linden Hills treasure.

by Megan Kaplan | August 27, 2014

Photo by Caitlin Abrams

A veil of dusky light streamed through a second-floor studio, and Françoise Hardy was singing through a speaker as four women dipped their brushes into mugs of water and applied dabs of acrylic paint to blank canvases. One of the painters remarked that the pied-à-terre reminded her of Paris.

Beth Bogle’s Fish & Bee Studio may be in Linden Hills, but it is a wonderful kind of trip to visit. The Francophile artist and clothing designer has filled her home/work space with the bohemian clutter of beautiful art and handmade things: panel paintings, hand-sewn pillows, a basket of cashmere hats, and whimsical children’s garments hanging on the walls like pieces of art. Most of it is for sale.

Bogle has been one of the neighborhood’s best-kept secrets for the past seven years, inspiring a following of mothers and their kids who come by appointment for art classes and Fish & Bee custom clothing orders. The hook is her emphasis on “collaborative design”—the idea that the customer, whether she’s 5 years old or 50, has a voice in any creation that leaves the studio and is welcome to sit down with Bogle and dream up a dress or a pillow or a painting.

“We’re all a designer every morning when we decide what to put on,” says Bogle, who learned how to sew from her mother when she was a child. She came up with her business concept while getting her master’s degree in design at the University of Minnesota—“I thought, ‘Why not ask kids what they want to wear rather than decide for them?’” For her thesis, Bogle had a handful of Barton Elementary School kids draft fantasy “couture” out of Tyvek construction material they decorated with paint and pens.

The final fashion show, staged in an apartment above Wild Rumpus, paid homage to their artwork, which Bogle rendered in dresses, tops, and pants—one girl had written “I love horses” on top of her Tyvek dress, so Bogle sewed “I love horses” across the top of a smock. The process was a revelation for Bogle, and it was the start of Fish & Bee (formerly eecee bb). Customers were drawn to her soft washable fabrics (jersey knits, cashmere) and the surprise embellishments Bogle adds through hand-dyeing, screen-printing, and appliqué.

Designing for adults was a natural progression. “When women come in to purchase something for a child, they often see what I’m wearing and ask if I can make one for them,” says Bogle, who fancies T-shirt dresses, breezy linen tunics, and simple tops, each with a signature Fish & Bee style twist: a neon tag on the edge, a contrasting thread, a striped belt tie. “I’m not a tailor, I simply like creative design and what you can do with a stitch.”

A former art and French teacher, Bogle started missing the teaching part of her background, so she added small group classes to her roster last November, under the name Merilumi. Each Merilumi group comes to the studio to create a project they get to take home over the course of three or four lessons, whether that’s an art pillow or paintings like the ones the women were making on the evening I visited. “The idea is that we can all create in our lives, that it’s important to create,” says Bogle. “So what if you’re an amateur? I’m here to help so that you leave with something you really love.”