[Originally published at l'etoile magazine]
by Jahna Peloquin
If there's any sign the local fashion industry is alive and well, it's when it becomes self-sustaining. Believe it or not, there once was a time when Voltage: Fashion Amplified was the be-all, end-all opportunity for local designers to show their lines (in addition to boutique Cliché, long a seller and supporter of locally-produced fashion). Now, with Voltage acting as a signature event under the umbrella that has expanded into non-profit organization MNfashion, more and more designers are making their own statement in the local fashion scene - from conception to execution, and from production to promotion. Not to mention sewing, sewing, sewing!
Today, many freshly-graduated design students don’t wait wide-eyed for opportunity to come to them - they make it happen for themselves. Leading that charge is the Minneapolis Fashion Initiative, a collaboration between four enterprising local designers (Emily Bryngelson, Amanda Chaffin, Niki English and Kathryn Sterner) and a jewelry designer/stylist (Andrea Oseland) - all of which have been selling at local boutique Cliché beginning as recently as last fall. The four presented their spring/summer 2010 collections in a group show, Calamity!, at the Lab Theater last Thursday evening.
Kicking off the show was that fashion incubator itself, Cliché, showing a selection of styled looks from the national brands lining their racks. Denim made an impact (in the form of cutoffs and a sweet mini-dress) coupled with sheer blacks and wide-brimmed straw hats - a must-have accessory of the season.
Next up, Amanda Chaffin's line Dawson hit the runway with a perfectly-styled pastel-print romper, with super-'70s round sunglasses and wide-brimmed woven hat. The St. Kate's 2009 grad (and former intern to Amanda Christine) showed an increasingly polished and cohesive collection. Some of the pieces were a little on the basic side - after all, why buy a locally-designed top you could easily find at American Apparel for half the price? The point of local design, besides supporting locally-made items, is for the special-ness factor. But with her incorporation of some interesting design elements (the twist-tie at the top of the shorts romper, draped ivory pants with pleating going the entire way around the waistline) into wearable, sellable pieces, Chaffin shows she's moved beyond "recent grad" status to be one to watch in local design.
Oh, and did we mention, she did swimwear? Yes, and not only swimwear (a tricky item for a designer to tackle), but statement-making swimwear featuring a lovely floral print and interesting cutout details. Love that she did cover-ups to make it a complete look.
Next up we have Kathryn V by Kathryn Sterner. The designer first seen at last fall's Scene-A-Sota fashion show has come a long way - her designs are increasingly sophisticated and polished, not to mention cohesive and wearable. In her spring line, she incorporated some interesting textile prints to add some interest, and a few cute details (a faux-peplum look on the vests, and a top ruffle to an otherwise fairly basic but excellently-fitted strapless jumper). As is the case with many fresh-faced designers, Sterner's line lacked a definitive aesthetic, but we can only hope that continues to be developed.
The highlight of the night when it came to execution, uniqueness, wearability and styling, was Tender Cuts. I've been a supporter of designer Emily Brygelson since I first saw her designs show up at Cliché last fall before the designer had even graduated from design school at the U of M. (I even wore one of her designs from that collection to this show.) Her spring line further exhibited her ability to beautifully construct garments, her impressive adaptability in creating separates, and an increasingly-strengthened aesthetic that had her models styled with adorable animal ears and knee socks. The jackets were particularly impressive, something most designers hesitate to tackle until well into their design careers.
The collection was perfectly spring, in a pastel color palette with varying textures and patterns. This is exactly how I imagine dressing all spring - and summer. (Minus the animal ears, of course.)
Ending the show with a dramatic finale was Niki English. English perhaps has the longest design history, having been carried at Cliché for some time now. The collection comprising edgy zippered jackets (a strength of English), leggings, skirts, tops and dresses in shiny, slinky fabrics. While it was easily the most dramatic collection of the night, so much black and slate gray seemed a little dark for spring. Despite their intended dramatic impact, her pointy-shoulder minidresses literally fell a little flat, points dropping in odd directions, and by now, the bold-shoulders look popular last fall felt a little dated. But dug the elastic leg pieces English made to add to the impact of the line.
Where English shone most brightly was with looks such as her draped and pleated pants, paired with a crop top and sleeveless vest, showing the designer does indeed have her finger on the pulse of the moment. Though English clearly aimed to show less ready-to-wear pieces than the other designers, it would've been nice to see some of the more wearable pieces in her collection, such as these, that still incorporate her signature look. After the show, English told us she was heading to New York for the summer and fall to intern at Zac Posen. (We wish her luck, despite the fact that she certainly doesn't need it!)
These designers were smart to bond together - five heads are better than one when it comes to taking on such an endeavor. Calamity! presented a sure sign that the local fashion industry is alive and well.
Jahna Peloquin is the Fashion Editor for l'etoile magazine and a freelance writer and stylist based out of Minneapolis.
All photos by Rod Hasse and Adam Reyna. Click here for more images by Rod Hasse.