A Tour of Chicago's Independent Fashion Scene
by Leslie Gray
On the surface, Chicago fashion is an oxymoron; a hidden layer underneath a parka or a mud- and sweat-stained band tee sported at fill-in the-blank music festival; or depending on your hood, the right name worn in the just the right way.
But underneath that Chicago persona is a burgeoning network of designers for whom fashion is a creative vision. They are creating, producing and selling in the Chicago area without the creative resources of a traditional fashion capital – or a network of financial support needed to do groundbreaking work.
In a city where the aesthetic is comfortably conservative, the following designers are successfully fusing artistry with technology to create clothing that’s architecture for the body and self-expression for the soul. Meet them here.
The Order @thisistheorder
What: There are seasons, trends, patterns and moods…then there is the Order, a conceptually driven and season-less dive into the infinite possibilities of black.
Who: Nicole Maret
Why: It embodies the sweet spot between Ann Demeulemeester and Hot Topic. As Nicole says, “It’s dark and cool and beautiful without falling into the mass marketed goth vibe.”
Black is a creative confine that I put on myself, a boundary that kind of forces you to look for textures you might not otherwise see. It’s made my fabric search an endless pursuit but I kind of enjoy the challenge.
We need to shift the perception for designers in Chicago. If you do the same thing in New York you have instant credibility, but if you’re doing it in Chicago you’re knocked down a little bit…like maybe you’re not good enough.
Iridium 77 @iridiumclothingco
What: A clothing company and lifestyle brand with a scientific brain and an ear to the streets.
Who: Platinum (Gregory Williams), founder /CEO. Pugs Atomz, Creative Director
Why: Their tag is ‘Think N Science’, meaning as Pugs says, “to think intelligently about design, to think of solutions; to experiment with the unknown and make it attainable.”
I'm real excited to see what is to come from the kids that are 16-24 here in Chicago. They are growing up in a time where you can go talk to people in the community and learn how to do this, how to make sustainable online and brick & mortar.
Chicago is the Wild West in terms of there's no Fashion week like NY or London yearly. I do feel it's harder for designers here to be seen outside of their respective markets and scenes. So we have to throw our own events.
Department of Curiosities @departmentofcuriosities
What: Part showroom, part studio, the DOC houses Production Mode and Morua and the designers’ collaborative line of lingerie and nightwear.
Who: Jamie Hayes (@Production Mode) and Gerry Quinton (@Morua)
We’re inspired by the 1930’s, when a lot of interesting things were happening with gender and sexuality. There was a boom/bust economy and inequality was it’s highest. We’re interested from a feminist perspective and as a lingerie line.
Working in Chicago, we don’t have a bevy of amazing photographers, models and stylists. The challenge here is owning Chicago’s grittiness, it’s salt-of-the-earth persona, and presenting it as something you want to be part of.
Production Mode @production mode
What: Slow Fashion: ethically, locally and personally-made, limited edition clothing and accessories for men & women.
What: Corsetry to the highest degree. Intimates as sculpture, romantic literature and fine art. Heirlooms you wear.
Why: Put one on and you’ll find out.
STRONGER WISER EVERYDAY @strongerwisereveryday
What: Progressive pattern making in unisex ready-to-wear for people who don’t follow a pattern.
Who: Nelissa Carrillo
Why: You can wear positive self-talk on your sleeve – and look good doing it.
Stronger Wiser Everyday is an affirmation. The goal is when you see the label inside your piece that you are about to put on, you are saying this mantra in your mind and instantly transforming your outlook.
EUGENE TAYLOR @eugenetaylorbrand
What: Streetwear inspired contemporary wear that’s truly wearable, i.e. functional, versatile and affordable.
Who: Letesha Renee
Why: It is named for Letesha Renee's grandmother, who taught her how to sew. Eugene Taylor exudes confidence and ease, just like the grande dame herself.
My 5th collection, SideXSide, touches on the idea of equality. It's my first unisex collection. This collection speaks to the idea of men and women being equal but even deeper the idea of people just people equal.
It's important for me to stand my ground here in Chicago. We are just so close to having the recognition we deserve as a city filled with so many talented individuals.
What: Stylish survival gear to dress the human machine.
Who: Mathew Deponte
Why: The apocalypse is coming and the last citizens of humanity (who obviously live in Chicago) need utilitarian apparel designed with biomech technology.
My entire soul as a designer and artist is fueled by industrial music and cyberpunk genres. The goth/industrial scene in Chicago was at the height when Crisiswear was born. For inspiration, I remember many nights watching the crowd at Neo… the fashion was epic.
Luckily for us our gear is very versatile. Women have access to beautifully designed clothing, but lack the need for pockets and men's clothing is bland, but our access to cargo options is overwhelming. We’re addressing these issues while maintaining the edginess and hardcore realities of being a Rivethead.
What: Clothing for goddesses.
Who: Kate VanAsten, part of Macy’s Fashion Incubator Program
Why: Her deceptively simple, clean silhouettes stem from a strong love of geometry, and all fabric is chosen primarily by touch so that each piece feels great to wear.
Chicagoans are scrappy but they also need to be taken seriously. We need to look good but also get shit done.