Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Kawaii as a button

To talk style with Jimmy Hassett, a shop assistant at Wicker Park vintage boutique Kokorokoko and a DJ who goes by the name Virtual Brat, is to get seriously schooled on Japanese trends. “I’m into the fairy kei/decora vibe, which is kawaii [Japanese for “cute”] and very pastel,” he says. This loosely translates to a childlike look in which he layers as many cutesy pieces as possible. “I am meticulous with accessories and where they are. I love adding more throughout the day, like hair clips, plastic chains, and bracelets.” He’s attentive to color as well: “Everyone should be conscious of the colors they choose to put on every morning. You’ll realize that you not only feel good about yourself but you’ll brighten someone else’s day too.” Some of his inspirations are the 80s Italian design and architecture collective Memphis Group, Harajuku and rave fashions of the 90s, Simon Fortin’s cuddly artwork, and rainbow-bright Milkbbi clothing, as well as vintage pieces from Belgian designer Walter Van Beirendonck’s out-there 90s line W&LT (such as his shirt and backpack). Other influences come from music: “I like stuff that is hyperfast, catchy and cute. I recently deejayed at East Room for Nightcore Night. Nightcore is pop music that is sped and pitched up. The atmosphere was really positive and the crowd was jumping up and down. I hope to play there again!” Listen to Hassett’s high-speed mixes on Soundcloud.

Originally featured in the Chicago Reader.


Natalie! Finally! Follow Natalie on Instagram at @talsounds.


Balancing Act

Rachel Carlsen (@ravvy_rachel) was sashaying along Milwaukee Avenue wearing a combination of beautiful autumnal tones—rich burgundy, caramel, and green. "When I'm getting dressed, I'm usually dead set on wearing one thing and I'll base everything else around making that piece work," she says. "I really wanted to wear the scarf, so I picked everything else based around the colors in it." Balance is central to her sartorial strategy: "A big or busy skirt means a simple top, a crazy shirt means jeans and flats, or you make the top and bottom equally crazy and they somehow even each other out." Working as a catering and events assistant at a warehouse, Carlsen says "the days can get monotonous, but picking out a fun outfit lets me play a character and differentiate between the days of the week. Putting on an outfit I love and doing my makeup makes me feel like that day happened, like I woke up and put in effort." 

Originally featured in the Chicago Reader.


Keeping It Local

Fashion journalist Silvia Haupt Kozonova (www.fashion-map.cz), who recently moved from Prague to Chicago, was photographed during the most recent spate of warm weather.

What do you think of the style you’ve been seeing on the streets here? How does it compare with the style of your former hometown?
Girls in Chicago are super beautiful, but what is really surprising for me is that I’ve seen more well-dressed guys than girls. Even the concept stores that I have had the chance to visit over here were more oriented to a male customer. It seems like there is a huge space for a “new” business model—independent fashion labels targeting females. Another difference is in the approach toward local designers. Sadly it looks like only famous and posh designers are considered to be the cool ones over here. Although it might be just my personal feeling as a newbie, and I feel like I should start digging deeper. I’m always super interested in the local production and fashion world of every place I’m visiting—it’s already become some kind of habit based on my profession interests.

Could you tell me a bit about your website?
It all started at the beginning of the year 2013, when me and my business partner Katarina Kral launched our website Fashion MAP, focusing on the local fashion designers and sustainable fashion movement in Slovakia and Czech Republic (former Czechoslovakia). We have seen a lot of talent and no platform that would be dedicated only to this topic, so we decided to change it by not only bringing reports about what’s going on, but also trying to create a real conversation with our readers, bringing the local fashion world to their daily lives. I think there is this amazing power in fashion journalism—supporting talented people and through their work also the local economy. Thanks to Fashion MAP, which is right now the biggest website about Czech and Slovak local fashion design, I’ve had a chance to meet a lot of amazing people from all around the world. Fashion MAP is the regular media partner of Mercedes-Benz Prague Fashion Week and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Central Europe in Budapest.

How about your own style? How would you describe it? Who and what are your inspirations?
My style is more minimalistic. You would hardly see on me some other color but white, black or gray. I love to combine things that at first sight might not look like they could fit together. The best thing about fashion is that you are choosing your own “second skin” and you are able to show off your own personality, point of view or ideas. Maybe it sounds like a cliché, but I actually truly believe it. I love the fashion scene in Berlin; people there look like they’re taking part in some kind of indie-magazine photoshoot, but in reality they are just taking out their trash or going for a coffee. No matter what, they are keeping a certain style all the time, it’s part of their personality. If you should ever go to Berlin, I would tell you to focus on the style of the young generation—along with Copenhagen you can find there the best inspiration ever.

Could you tell me more about your outfit?
I am wearing “boyfriend” jeans, which are super comfy and great for almost every occasion, combined with a sports bra and see-through T-shirt, which is probably my favorite piece in my closet because you can wear it just with some LBD and it definitely adds a kind of edginess. Not to forget my sneakers, which already have gotten so many compliments from total strangers and I’m super happy about that, because they are from a collaboration of the Slovak shoe company Novesta with the Czech designer brand Leeda. It was a limited collection, but I think they should really increase the volume of the production, because the combination of price and design is unbelievably good. I believe that people should support their local brands as much as possible. It is an amazing feeling to wear some piece of clothing from local young designers and be able to promote talented people from your area. What’s even better is that you can create a much more original look than any high street fashion brand could ever offer. It’s a win-win situation and that sounds like a good deal to me.

Originally featured in Newcity.


Alexis was photographed in the beginning of last summer. She's one of my fave dressers in town. Follow her on Instagram at @clear_bones.



The dark side of flowers in front of Violet Hour's latest mural

I love Callie's mix of flowers, modern see-through purse, and goth ripped socks; somehow she makes all these items work flawlessly. 

Originally featured in the Chicago Reader.


Art you can wear at Fashion Focus CHICago

Designer Elena Bobysheva picked the perfect dress to wear at the Fashion Brunch, a gathering for the city’s fashion crowd during the last Fashion Focus Chicago. The event took place at Cindy’s, a rooftop restaurant at the Chicago Athletic Association hotel with an open-air terrace featuring a breathtaking view of Millennium Park and the Art Institute. The background corresponded perfectly with Elena’s piece from her spring/summer 2016 collection, inspired by contemporary art and modern sculptures from around the world, and in particular by contemporary German artist Imi Knoebel, who heavily influenced the graphics seen in her current work. "This season, I wanted to experiment with color, shape, and length," Bobysheva explains. "From the very beginning, asymmetry has been a consistent element in all of my collections . . . but the lines were softened from last season and formed around the body to create color blocked geometric shapes. The clothes are less serious and more artistic, but still luxurious." Her creations can be found at www.elenabobysheva.com/shop.

Originally featured in the Chicago Reader.


Clean and Classic

SIX4 Creative (six4creative.com) principal and media personality Ryan Beshel (ryanbeshel.com) was attending The Fashion Brunch during Fashion Focus CHICago.

You always look so dapper! What’s your secret?
No secrets here! I wear clothes that tell a story about me on that certain day. I find style to be a powerful tool of perception—and I use clothing to create a reaction in others. I like to play with that perception, depending on the day.

What story are you telling?
I know that when I go to a city fashion event, I want to represent a more dressed-up Ryan. That event isn’t about me—it’s about the talent in the industry, so I went with a more classic palette—rather than showing off all my tattoos and such, which causes a certain level of attention. I played with my favorite colors and always love to break the “rules” of fashion though there aren’t any real rules anymore—so wearing a bit of brown with black adds a good contrast to the outfit and a pop of blue adds some freshness.

What kind of reaction do you usually like to create?
It depends on the day, the environment and the audience. I use my tattoos like accessories and can show more of them to get a more shocking reaction from people. For example: if there is a fancy event at a boutique, I may simply wear a black t-shirt and let my tats do the talking. Wearing an outfit that doesn’t fit the spirit of the event can be fun, because all eyes are suddenly on you, even though all you are wearing is a tee. ​It can be used the other way, as well—like wearing a bowtie or a cummerbund to an event that is more casual. Suddenly, you’re the best-dressed person in the room—and that’s never a bad thing.

Where do you shop for clothes here in Chicago? Any local designers you recommend?
Locally, I love Notre shop in Andersonville for interesting and exclusive menswear finds. I’m a big fan of BOGA for good fit and casual business gear. For those big boss days, Oliver & Rowan Bespoke makes the finest suits in Chicago, if you ask me—and Glass House Shirtmakers fills in the blanks with beautiful shirts and men’s accessories, mindfully made. And, I guess I do have a secret: Forever 21 men’s. The clothes fit my frame (same with Zara—another favorite of mine) and they’re great for mixing high and low styles on an entrepreneur’s budget!

What products do you use to style your impeccable pompadour?
I rarely cheat on Pete, my barber at Belmont Barbershop. He calls me “Hollywood” and literally cuts my hair in fifteen minutes. The best fade in the city! I have three products, depending on the weather: for a softer look, I use American Crew pomade; for a more matted look, I use Imperial; for windy/rainy days, I sport Suavecito Original Hold. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t use hairspray. I got my first bottle in years and I’m addicted to the extra volume, dammit!

Where do you go for style inspiration?
I’m inspired by my friends, first and foremost. There are really influential pockets of underground style that start to inspire looks that spread and evolve into trends. I keep an eye there, so I know what’s going on, but my own style isn’t particularly fashion-forward. I appreciate a very clean palette (gray, navy blue, black and white are my go-to colors), and I like a classic look (bowtie, suit, black denim and a good shoe) when I dress up. For more casual days (which happen much more often now as an agency owner!), I like a good t-shirt, denim, Chuck Taylors (which I’ll wear with anything), and a flat brim hat. A cardigan is also an easy go-to piece of mine. Furthermore, Tom Ford is one of my style idols—and Alexander McQueen. What a beautiful mind he had; such powerful talent. I keep an eye on the streets and like so many others, I’m constantly inspired by my social media family and the things that float across my newsfeed.

Where do you like to people watch here in the city?
My favorite neighborhood is the one I live in, Uptown. So many things are changing every day here. It’s exciting to be part of it and to watch it come alive in ways it never has. My favorite time is around 7am. I grab a coffee from Heritage Outpost and sit out front, checking email and watching the world head to work. Tied for my favorite ‘hood is Pilsen. I lived there for a couple years a while back and the energy of that neighborhood is awesome. So many artists and so much art/inspiration to discover as you walk from block to block.

In a few words, what’s your style philosophy? How about your life philosophy?
For style, one I always say is something like, “If you dress like the CEO, people will think you are.” As mentioned above, I love the power of style and perception—the art of dressing to create a story of who you are in someone else’s mind. Dress for who you want to be today, or for who you want to be tomorrow. For life: I’m finally, at age thirty-three, discovering a relationship with myself that has quickly become the most guarded relationship in my life. I’m learning that the more I love myself, the more confident I become in my choices. My happiness is number one, and I guard that happiness with ferocity. For the record, me and myself are very happy with each other these days—and there’s nothing better than knowing I’m finally looking out for Ryan. ‘Cause I think he’s pretty cool.

Ryan Beshel was originally featured in my Newcity column.


Lagi Nadeau designed all the beautiful garments she's sporting in the photos above - shop her collection here. She was photographed at The Fashion Brunch during the last Fashion Focus CHICago.

Style Breeds Style: Chicago Fashion Incubator Threads Up

IllustrationbyAutumn Kimball-LooksByMashaTitievskyAndShrutiKirti
Looks by Masha Titievsky and Shruti Kirti/Illustration: Autumn Kimball
By Isa Giallorenzo

During Fashion Focus CHICago this October, the Chicago Fashion Incubator (CFI) presented a collection of twenty looks designed by its current residents and some of its alumni. In partnership with Skoog Productions and the Virgin Hotels, the show took place at the chic Commons Club in an event entitled “Fashion Meets Music." Attendees lounged along the cushy eatery and bar while models sashayed around them, providing everyone with a front-row view. Perfectly in sync with the vibe of the event, the creations featured on the runway exuded a modern and sophisticated tone, in part thanks to the vision of CFI's design director Andrea Reynders. We caught up with her after the show.

How did the idea to start the Chicago Fashion Incubator come about?
In 2007, the CFI was started as an initiative by Mayor Daley to promote fashion in the city and encourage emerging designers to stay and work in and around Chicago. The mayor enticed Macy's to give us a space to work in where the designers-in-residence share office space as well as a 2,000-square-foot studio. The Chicago Fashion Incubator was then established as a nonprofit 501(c)3, supported by grants, sponsorship and donors.

IllustrationbyAutumn Kimball-LooksByAgnesHamerlik
Looks by Agnes Hamerlik/Illustration: Autumn Kimball

What are some of the resources offered to the CFI designer residents?

We offer a one-on-one mentoring of both business and creative development; a two-year commitment to this development in a secure and professional space; opportunities to market their collections through retail sales ventures; plus workshops, seminars and visiting professionals to inform and help develop the individual entrepreneurs.

What are you looking for when you select candidates for the CFI? What are the requirements to apply?
We look for serious candidates who have completed their college degrees and, most importantly, had some experience in the fashion industry—through internships, merchandising, design positions in the fashion or design fields. They must be able to commit to a two-year program, attend the workshops and seminars, be financially set to create the collections they are committed to, and work in a professional manner. We look for creatives who have a vision for themselves for success, determination to achieve their goals and work as professionals.

Who are some of your all-time favorite CFI designers? Did most of them stay in Chicago?
Unfortunately I did not start at the beginning, but in my almost four years here, the alumni I have worked closely with are Anna Hovet, Taneasha Prunty, Kate Pankoke, Shelby Steiner, Olivia Hwang, Agnes Hamerlik and Lagi Nadeau. All but Shelby are in Chicago, in business for themselves. Shelby is designing for Nike in Portland.

How are you managing to retain the designers mentored at the CFI here in the city? Is there a commitment to stay during a certain period of time?
We can only be as supportive as possible. We encourage alumni to keep in touch with us so we can help promote their businesses and events. We invite the alumni to join us in public sales the CFI puts on and we have quarterly meetings to keep in touch. Because they are building their own businesses we cannot restrict them to Chicago after they complete the residency. They must follow their best business sense and their hearts. Stephanie Kuhr of Dottie's Delights lingerie has just moved to Nashville, but came back here all of last week to participate with the CFI during Fashion Focus Week.

What do you think we need to create a more business-friendly environment for our local fashion designers?
We need better resources for manufacturing, sourcing goods. We need the support of the press, bloggers and the public. We need Chicago to celebrate the exceptional creativity of designers here, through everyone's support.

How did you select the designers participating in the Fashion Meets Music show? Is that an ongoing series in partnership with the CFI?
Fashion Meets Music was our first collaboration with Virgin and Skoog Productions. We hope it will continue and grow! The designers participating were the current designers-in-residence and alumni who were available to meet the commitments.

How do you help the CFI designers develop a vision for their line?
It is a fine line a mentor must walk—to see the individual potential in each designer and bring out the strongest creativity without putting "my aesthetic" into it. It is a balance of skill and knowledge, of being sensitive and strong, knowing when to push and when to stand back and let the designers take off on their own.

What are some of your most important suggestions to those starting their own brand?
To be determined to stick out a long road of commitment to their dream. To read all you can about what is going on in the industry. To work for—or at least intern—with a company outside of Chicago, preferably New York, for a year or two before making the commitment. To be focused on where they see their brand and who their customer is. To be realistic about what it costs and the drive it takes to be successful. Never lose your dream.

How do you see the future of the fashion industry in Chicago? What do we have in our favor?

Chicago has particularly strong schools teaching fashion design—so we have the design talent—but lacks the support to keep designers here, so most of the good ones leave for New York or Europe or other destinations. At this point we must acknowledge that to be a successful designer you can live and work in Chicago but have a footprint in New York. This is where the major buyers convene and new talent is recognized by all the major fashion industry professionals. If Chicago designers could group together we could have a strong voice in New York and make a presence in the world of fashion.

Designer Spotlight
Learn more about the CFI residents and alumni showcased at Fashion Meets Music

Agnes Hamerlik (agneshamerlik.com)
Inspiration: various forms and the disconnection in nature; dramatic draping, complex fabric manipulations, and unexpected embellishments and details.
Materials: hand-manipulated textiles
Customer: those who appreciate an avant-garde aesthetic and unique theatrical elements
Price range: $500-$5,000 (price upon request for her custom-made line)

Anna Brown (anna-brown.com)
Inspiration: Victorian mug shots of women
Materials: natural fibers, such as wool and silk
Customer: a woman who likes architectural silhouettes and inventive details
Price range: around $300—price upon request for select pieces

Gabrielle Zwick (gabriellezwick.com)
Inspiration: Chicago winters
Materials: Super Spandex, chiffon, glass beads and Swarovski crystals
Customer: the fashion-forward traveler who needs to look the best at her favorite resort or country club
Price range: $45-$250

Grace Lee-Lim of “Lee-Lim” (lee-lim.com)
Inspiration: PJ Harvey's "Is this desire?" album
Materials: silk organza layered over corded ottoman
Customer: the woman who actively pursues her passions
Price range: bridal gowns: $2,500-$5,000; dresses: $475-$900

Lagilelei Nadeau of “Lagi Nadeau” (laginadeau.com)
Inspiration: the British music scene, from artists like Florence Welch and Jessie Ware
Materials: luxurious metallics and textured knits
Customer: the woman with a strong sense of self and style
Price range: $195-$895

Masha Titievsky of “VARY FORM Design” (varyformdesign.com)
Inspiration: natural phenomena such as plant-growth patterns, wave movements, the structure of crystals and the reflective surfaces of water and glass
Materials: silk charmeuse, microsuede, and wool knits
Customer: sophisticated woman with bold personal style
Price range: $150-$750


Olivia Hwang of "Olivia Hwang Custom Bridal" (oliviahwang.com)
Inspiration: old Hollywood classic movies and beautiful fabrics and laces from Europe
Materials: luxurious silks and French lace.
Customer: brides who want to wear one-of-a-kind dresses
Price range: $2500 and up

Shruti Kirti (shrutikirti.com)
Inspiration: modern and contemporary architecture fused the landscape of her native Rajasthan in India
Materials: knit fabrics
Customer: the woman who works inside and outside the home, who needs garments that hold up for the office as well as the carpool
Price range: $150-$350

Taneasha Prunty of “Gidi” (gidionline.com)
Inspiration: modern-day British aristocracy
Materials: a variety of wools, mostly medium weight, they worked with
Customer: a confident businesswoman, who appreciates quality over quantity
Price range: $150-$350

—Photographs by Kirsten Miccoli

This post was originally featured in Newcity Design.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Interview with DCASE Director Tonya Gross

Top by 828 Collection and skirt by ZurkGirl

Photo by Law Agyei

The interview below was published in Newcity when Fashion Focus CHICago was about to happen:

Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) Fashion and Culinary Arts director Tonya Gross talks about Fashion Focus CHICago, striking up its tenth year with a prized partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

What are the main accomplishments of Fashion Focus so far? What do we have to celebrate in these ten years?
This year, Fashion Focus CHICago will feature nine days of shopping events, runway shows and educational opportunities produced almost entirely by the community. We are also thrilled that the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) will be sending representatives to participate in a Look Book Review.

What does the partnership with the CFDA entail?
CFDA will not only be holding the Look Book Review, but will also be attending various Fashion Focus CHICago events and runway shows during their stay in Chicago. The hope is to expose CFDA to some of the city’s great fashion businesses.

How do you envision our local fashion scene? What improvements do we need to make so it can thrive? What has already been done in that direction?
We need to continue to promote collaboration within the fashion business through more production support for designers, more opportunities for event producers and encourage that connectivity within the local industry that helps to elevate brand and visibility of Chicago’s fashion industry. We also need to continue to partner with national organizations like CFDA to create that pipeline to other fashion cities like New York and Los Angeles.

Do you see Chicago as potentially a great place for designers to produce their lines? What would make Chicago special?
We live in a culturally rich and diverse city that is still affordable to live in and travel to and from. The inspiration here is endless with public art, gorgeous parks, Lake Michigan, museums and other artists in various disciplines.

If someone wants to be in the local fashion business now, where should they start?
I would suggest that they start with city agencies that offer free workshops for new business owners and artists such as those offered by Business Affairs and Consumer Protection and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. There are also fashion organizations that offer workshops for free or minimal fees like Fashion Group International, Fashion Brain Academy, V.Mora and AIBI. Most fashion professionals are looking to finance their projects, looking for workspace, looking for production support and quality production. These are common needs across all creative industries.

How about designing your own line? Is there a path you could recommend? How can designers find professionals that will help them make their clothes?
I can’t recommend any one right path to success. Most designers start with concept development first. That’s the fun stuff, right? You get into fashion and design because you are a creator. That’s fine if you are fully funded, but most aren’t. My advice is to do the market research. Find a niche and create a great product that people want or need. They can check out our Chicago Fashion Directory on fashionfocuschicago.org for a list of great resources.

What are some of the highlights of this year’s Fashion Focus? Who are some of the designers and events to watch?
We are kicking off Fashion Focus CHICago with Youth Fashion Day on October 4 with a collaboration between Latino Fashion Week and (PRO)jectUs, among others. They will be bringing young people ages twelve to nineteen years old together and building excitement around creativity, ideas, product development and empowerment. Furthering the idea of collaboration, we have the NEXT Fashion Chicago on October 7 with a runway and shopping event featuring an emerging design challenge and incorporating Sanford-Brown College students on the runway. Virgin Hotels Chicago is also supporting local designers by hosting a Chicago Fashion Incubator showcase on October 8, and StyleChicago’s runway on October 9 is going to be a great presentation of local makers, as well as their selling event the following day. The shopping events taking place throughout the week are going to be amazing and I’m looking forward to the Northern Grade menswear event at the Chop Shop in Wicker Park and the pop-up shops throughout the week at Block Thirty Seven which will feature rotating designers all week.

How can people find out about the events? Are they mostly open to the public?
The full schedule and ticket information is on our website, fashionfocuschicago.org.

How can designers feature their lines in the next Fashion Focus? What’s your criteria? How can they contact you?
Designers need to reach out to the individual event producers; the city of Chicago assisted with providing locations and marketing. With the exception of the CFDA Look Book, Fashion Focus Chicago doesn’t produce the runway or selling programs; we project-manage the nine-day festival.

Could you tell me more about the inclusion of Latino Fashion Week, Style Bias, African Fashion Week and Haiti Fashion Week in the Fashion Focus calendar? Is that an attempt to connect with students and minorities and expand the industry to all parts of the city?
Our hope is for Fashion Focus CHICago to be inclusive and collaborative, connecting aspiring talent to resources and bringing visibility to fashion businesses seeking consumers.