Photo: Cassandra Stadnicki
Leah Fagan is not what you might expect of a Chicago Fashion Incubator designer in residence. A German-born, small-town American transplant, her early years were not consumed with names like Chanel, Michael Kors or even Versace. She didn’t dream in fabrics and prints, and her outlook on clothing reflected more of the nature that surrounded her than any sort of runway couture. Growing up in the mountains of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, fashion was the furthest thing from Fagan’s mind. For her, dressing was about functionality. “I think a lot of my fashion sense and style was rooted in that mentality,” she says. Coming to America on her own at age 19 to pursue an education at Columbia College, the driven student planned to major in journalism and cultural studies. But Fagan made friends fast and quickly found herself more intrigued by the curriculums of her new acquaintances than of her own. “I had a lot of friends who happened to be in the fashion design program,” she says. Read the rest of this entry »
As one of six designers in residence at the Chicago Fashion Incubator, Jonnie Rettele spends her days in a studio with fabric, mannequins and five other designers, musing over her latest creations. But while the scene may conjure up images of a little well-known reality-television show with a former Victoria’s Secret model as its host, Rettele swears life in the CFI is different. “For some reason everyone wants to compare us to ‘Project Runway’,” she says. “[Here], there’s no cattiness. It’s very lonely when not a lot of people are working. When everyone’s here, it’s very exciting—I just finished a wedding dress for a friend and it felt like everyone was on the project with me.”
It’s not couture gowns that Rettele is used to focusing on, after all. Her clothing line, Nonnie Threads, is actually a menswear collection. While she began designing for women when she quit her job as an office and project manager for a web development firm a year and a half ago, she quickly discovered a market for clothing for the opposite sex. “I had men coming to me saying, ‘Will you just make me a shirt?’” she says. Read the rest of this entry »
By Rhianna Jones
Ann Taylor is redefining itself. In order to get the word out that this long-esteablished staple for the well-dressed working woman is undergoing a discernible rejuvenation, Laura Pellegrini, the label’s VP Senior Designer, recently visited Chicago to preview its latest collection for select members of media and the city’s fashion circuit.
The cool atmosphere in a private room in Sunda restaurant perfectly complemented the modern sensibility emanating from the clothes on display. In addition to the various media, designers and fashion aficionados, several company representatives—dressed head to toe in Ann—made the rounds, perpetuating the sophistication and wearability of the brand. Read the rest of this entry »
It may be summer in the Windy City, but in the world of design, it’s a different season entirely. Just ask Donaldo Smith. “Spring 2011!” he declares triumphantly. “[That's when I'll make] my first introduction to the public.”
As the only male designer in residence at the Macy’s on State Street Chicago Fashion Incubator, Smith has been hard at work on his conceptual menswear brand, Killian Gui.
“Come spring, I have high expectations,” he says. “That’s when it will be in stores.”
For Smith, it’s been a long time coming. “I’ve been fascinated with clothing ever since I knew I was going to be able to wear a new piece… to the first day of school,” he says.
Signing up for “any subscription to menswear fashion that [he] could,” the young fashion naif set out on a self-taught path of design. “I was a sales assistant to the Midwest buyer [of] an urban clothing company,” he says. “I thought it was the best thing ever, because that’s how I dressed at the time.” Read the rest of this entry »
Gen Art has closed. Melissa Gamble, Chicago’s director of fashion arts and events, has resigned. With two seemingly huge blows to Chicago’s fashion industry, stylish minds want to know: What will become of the rest of the second city’s nascent but growing fashion community? If the six designers in residence at the Chicago Fashion Incubator program at Macy’s on State Street (a program Gamble herself helped develop as part of the Mayor’s fashion initiative) are any indicator, the Windy City will be just fine.
Take Christina Fan, for instance.
Launching her C/Fan line just over two years ago, the 26-year-old, who turned down a full scholarship to Chicago Kent College of Law to pursue design, is definitely making her way onto Chicago’s fashion radar. Fan became interested in the profession after several overseas trips to Asia.
“While I was there, I started visiting factories and learning about production,” she says. “I started doing design work.”
Bringing her newfound knowledge back to the States, Fan began developing her own line of clothing based around her instinctual preferences. Read the rest of this entry »
Model: Erin Gipson/Ford
Heidi Hess never planned on being a designer. “I was a radio personality for ten years,” she says. “I just didn’t love it anymore… it was time for me to do something else.” Revamping her entire professional m.o., the Chicago native turned to a career she admittedly didn’t know much about. “I have a broadcast degree,” she says. “I openly admit that I wasn’t schooled in fashion.” Turns out she didn’t need to be.
Drawing on her love of knitwear, she began selling her own designs to other boutiques in 2004. “It just grew,” she says. “I [just] figured it out each year.” Hess says she’s “always looking for new ways to make knits.”
Designing custom pieces for women, Hess says she can outfit just about anyone, from super-petite to plus-size ladies in just about anything and everything knit. And beyond—2010 will see Hess venturing into “more of different textiles… I’m always looking for new fibers to blend.” Read the rest of this entry »
Laura Kofoid has spent a lot of time searching for two of life’s smallest essentials. A Harvard business-school grad, onetime brand manager and a retail specialist, Kofoid’s always had a pretty good handle on her life. Not, neccessarily, her personal belongings. “I spent half my life rooting around for my keys and my pen!” she says.
Cut to 2009, when the launch of her and partner Grace Tsao-Wu’s fledgling company, Laudi Vidni, got off the ground. Buying a business idea from a Chicago entrepreneur who sold his brainchild for just one single dollar, the two women launched a premium leather-bag manufacturing company. “We set out to really transform that idea into a business,” she says.
Allowing patrons to either create their own or choose from one of forty different options, Kofoid and company made one element standard—the label’s signature key leash and pen pocket. “It came about because we were thinking about how do you really create a brand for women and not just a brand itself?” she says. Never a huge sucker for logos, Kofoid embraced a different approach. “The idea of the key clasp is something that is so valuable and functional,” she says. It also lends an element of authenticity. “Every day the woman who owns the bag sees ‘Laudi Vidni,’ but nobody else really does,” she says. Read the rest of this entry »
Set amidst a French-inspired garden of perfectly trimmed hedges, sculpted foliage and bunches of soft, white blossoms, Borris Powell’s thirty-three-piece womenswear collection, inspired by the excitement of new love and the advent of spring, is both elegant and youthful in its Fashion Focus debut (October 24). Read the rest of this entry »
Horacio Nieto’s Spring 2010 collections of menswear and womenswear draws inspiration from the past and future, creating two distinct lines that are cohesive on their own, and interestingly complementary together. An infrequent user of pattern, Nieto prefers to communicate his vision through silhouette and broad strokes of color, as exhibited during his fashion show on October 23. Read the rest of this entry »