Fashion for the Arts: Indie Fashion for a Cause

The Galleria Marchetti was transformed into a fashion extravaganza on December 16, 2007.   A colossal, heated, white tent was decorated festively with Christmas-green garlands draped around crisp pillars swathed in loose sheaths of traditional plaid, pine combs and bunches of brilliant berries.  White holiday lights were peppered throughout trees in contemporary planters positioned around the perimeter of the room.   A DJ in the back corner spun funky mixes of dance music, fusing Kanye West beats with Daft Punk lyrics.   Two lanky models stood tall in the women’s restroom sharing a Diet Coke from a jumbo-sized Arby’s cup while they whispered inaudible gossip about “Her.”   Above the cobblestone runway hung an interesting constellation of chandeliers, covered with clusters of white, nylon umbrellas—an affordable and resourceful answer to cutting-edge décor.



Affordability and resourcefulness, in fact, are some of the main concepts behind many of the clothing and jewelry designs presented at the show.  Christina Terenzio, a student of Public Relations at Columbia College in Chicago, began designing jewelry just a short while ago.   Her full jewelry line, called Anatomi, is about versatility and affordability.   Terenzio says she began frequenting garage sales years ago and found old chains, unique pieces of scrap metal and beautiful antique stones.  With hand-made settings, she integrates the hodgepodge of pieces together to form a unified whole, a one-of-a-kind consistency of inimitable oddities and rarities.   Additionally, she regularly travels to Italy, the origin of her ancestors and home to many of her extended family members, and collects stones and rocks off sandy, white beaches that she later turns into necklaces and rings.   Italy, in fact, is an integral part of Terenzio’s inspiration with some of her favorite designs derived from the actual ash of the infamous and cataclysmic volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D.   Exceptional?   Distinctive?   Yep, to say the least.   Terenzio is very satisfied with the way her business has evolved.   She most recently began selling her work online at www.christinaterenzeio.com and hopes to one day own her own boutique.  “It’s definitely got to be in Chicago.  This is a great city; there’s really a lot of opportunity here.  Come on!  We don’t need to go to New York or L.A. for fashion.  It’s all right here.”

 



Novem (a Latin word meaning “nine”), an alternative fashion label started four years ago has a graphic label of a nine-tentacled “(n)octopus”, the appendages symbolizing each of the men who helped launch the designs.   Mainly t-shirts and hoodies, the garments feature alternative sketches of urban entities, landscapes, and events.   The CTA, a melting stereo, and a t-shirt rocking the slogan “Chicago is for Haters” is all too reminiscent of the type of thing one would see spray-painted across abandoned buildings and old train cars.   Indeed, Adrian and Jason, two representatives of the nine designers from Novem admit this is how they all originally met—sharing their graffiti with the sleeping public while enrolled in high school.   “We keep it to the shirts now,” Jason says with an innocuously naughty look in his eye and a wry giggle.   Not so surprisingly, the designs transfer to cotton flawlessly.   The line is available online at www.shopnovem.com and at local stores like Wolfbait, Akira, and 3 Boutique.   Jason and Adrian say everything is going well for Novem which was incorporated three years ago.   “We’re on track so far.   We’d just like a little more recognition outside of Chicago.”  



Urban graffiti and cutting-edge design aside, socio-political messages were seen in other labels showcased during the night.   Tags, a fledgling label started by Kellyn, a business student, and Ahmad, a graphic design student, both at Columbia College in Chicago, was only born just two months ago.   The designers have a variety of simple yet provocative messages like “Drugs and Politics Go Hand and Hand” and “Poor Kids Have More Fun” painted across t-shirts, thermals, and button-downs in infinite color variations.   When asked about the kind of message they are trying to send through the slogans, Kellyn stated, “They are pretty self-explanatory and basic.   Maybe people don’t think of them this way so they come across sounding a bit more risqué.”   Ahmad agreed: “For instance, poor kids can have fun doing…well, literally, anything.   They can take sticks and rocks off the street, make a game of it and have fun.   Rich kids don’t do that.”   It may not be rocket science but the public has responded positively, and the two designers have been pleasantly surprised by the demand for such expressive street wear.    
 
Perhaps even more bold and politically candid are the concepts behind the new brand Ends/Wealth, a fun and vibrant label created by three designers (www.ends-wealth.com).   While the garments are all made of 100% cotton, there is nothing very traditional or predictable about the line.   Mottos like “Safeguarding Integrity” and “Heroin Builds Character” are splashed in vivid colors all over the pieces.   What may seem offensive to some are simply “representations of everyday things we deal with in everyday life,” said Brandon B., one of the designers of the line.   “’Heroin Builds Character’ is actually an example of satirical commentary on the fashion industry.   We want to reveal the ways in which the industry affects body image issues and the use of illegal substances,” he said.   The graphics and messages are revolutionary in a sense—not because they create something totally new, but because they blend and integrate well-known and familiar concepts like love, fashion, and drugs with gang cultures and vintage 1980s videogame lifestyles in an innovative and refreshing way.  “ Ends/Wealth is about life.   In the beginning you are just trying to make ends meet.   Then you go through life more quickly and unpredictably than you think.   At the end of your life, the goal is wealth.   Thus, Ends/Wealth.”   Hmm…honest, logical, catchy—not much these guys are missing.

An Ends/Wealth Hoodie on a Ford Model



Fashion junkies, aspiring designers, musicians, and friends of the fashion community begin to pile into the tent, awaiting the start of the show.   The music begins to grow as Ford and Elite models who are volunteering their time for the charitable cause begin to strut down the runway.   As balloon skirts, leggings, and all things platform confirm that the most recent styles are here to stay for at least a season longer, the representatives from the Chicago Arts Partnership in Education ( CAPE) organization watch approvingly from their seats on the sidelines. 



Fashion for the Arts has been produced by two young women, Maddie Bosack and Andra Lee enrolled in school at Columbia College for fashion retail management.  Supporting local non-profit organizations like CAPE which strives to integrate the arts into such core classes as the sciences and history in the public school system, gives the girls both a charitable and progressive edge.   Bosack and Lee have not only raised thousands of dollars for CAPE tonight, but given this group of green, upcoming talent some exposure in their long haul toward the stardom and recognition they deserve.

The designs on the runway are an avant-garde amalgamation of soft couture dresses in palettes of pastels, confrontational street wear, and chic, leather handbags reminiscent of classic Gucci designs and Coco Chanel style by Joelle Nadine.   Joelle Minassian, sole designer of Joelle Nadine Designs, is an accomplished and knowledgeable artist.   Having spent several years in Italy outside of Rome and Milan, designing for such coveted labels as Cavalli, Versace, and Gianfranco Ferre, Minassian has learned from the veterans, the greats, the pinnacles of fashion.   It is evident that the Italiaphile’s previous work overseas in the capital of the fashion world has inspired many of the styles and fabrics of her own designs under the Joelle Nadine label.   All of her handbags are hand-made of Italian leather.   Combining silvers with natural, dark-colored leathers lend her bags both durability and sophistication.   One of her favorite pieces is an eggplant-colored stingray clutch with a sterling silver clasp.   Other bags feature cocoa colors, shades of grays and blacks in snakeskin, cowhide and calfskin embellished with braded trimmings and colorful geodes.   Think Bottega Veneta in workmanship, Gucci in style, and Tumi in durability.   Her accessories are sold online at www.joellenadine.com and in various boutiques throughout Chicago, including Helen Yi and Elements.   “My bags are a bit pricier than some of the other designs sold here tonight.   Exclusivity, though, is very important to my clients.   I will never be mass-produced.   My bags are fashionably distinctive, functional and chic.”       

Joelle for Joelle Nadine Designs and her Italian handbags


One of the main goals of events like Fashion for the Arts is to support the fashion industry in Chicago.   Maintaining natural, young talent like Joelle, Novem, and Anatomi in the Chicago area, then, is an essential element in reaching that objective.   These designers are indeed carving a new path toward a more stable couture culture here in the Midwest.   The avenues they pave and the precedence they set will maybe even benefit the very children on whom CAPE is so stringently focused.  

For more information on the Fashion for the Arts, visit http://www.thievescollective.com/ffa.html

For more information on the Chicago Arts in Partnership Education, visit www.capeweb.org

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