Open for Business: Cerato Boutique

*New Boutiques, -Womenswear, Lakeview 1 Comment »

Photo: Kevin Dick

It’s a week after opening, and Cerato owner Tracey Glibowski is reordering Kristin Hassan’s drapey asymmetrical “Flow” tanks; a lone Jlee Silver maxidress—equal parts Hamptons and Mt. Olympus—hangs in the corner, the last in-stock representative of its kind. In other words, it’s been a pretty good first week at the new Southport women’s clothing boutique, which is dedicated to showcasing primarily local designers.

The store is clearly a labor of love for Glibowski, a former advertising exec whose recent layoff inspired her to turn her passion for fashion into a career. Surveying the store, a spartan-but-not-sterile space with exposed brick and country-chic blue wallpaper, she seems a little bit amazed at how well things have turned out. After all, Glibowski started with a concept but no insider knowledge of the Chicago fashion scene—she says she discovered many of the designers she features by trolling the internet. So far, though, she seems thrilled with the results.

“It’s a partnership,” she says of her designers. “I hope they’re in it for the long haul.” Which doesn’t mean she’s stopped combing the city for new talent—in time, she’s definitely looking to add new names to her roster, which currently includes Kate Boggiano, Eskell, Anna Fong, frei designs, jules, Avery Layne, Horacio Nieto, and Shorty Clothing, along with Hassan, Silver and a handful of out-of-town imports. Read the rest of this entry »

Designer Spotlight: Frei Designs

Designers No Comments »

Photo by Elizabeth Jochum Photography

Photo by Elizabeth Jochum Photography

Designer: Annie Novotny

Background: Annie Novotny graduated from the School of the Art Institute in 2004 with a BFA in Fashion Design, but she could always be found in the school’s Fiber and Materials Department “weaving, dyeing and making weird things.”

Design Aesthetic: The philosophy is all about balance and sustainability with Frei. She combines elements of menswear tailoring with organic fabrics “which allow for a more natural or softer feel” to her designs.

Designer Inspirations: Though Novotny doesn’t generally keep tabs on other designers, she admires Marni’s laidback elegance as well as Alexander McQueen’s glitz and glamour. “I really love the theatrics; I think it’s pretty mind-blowing with what he does,” she says.

Chicago Inspirations: Her main source of local inspiration is Chicago’s creative community and her many talented friends that she can always bounce ideas off. Read the rest of this entry »

Fashion Capital: Can Chicago’s push to become a style center “make it work”?

Fashion Focus Chicago, News and Dish No Comments »

By Brian Hieggelke

Opening night of the Democratic National Convention, and Michelle Obama is scheduled to speak. Pundits are in a tizzy: will she be able to convince middle America that she’s one of them, that she loves her country, her family and her god enough to earn their votes? By the time she’s finished, even the skeptical have been sold. She’s answered every lingering question except one: where did she get that fabulous dress?

Of course, it was already well-publicized that the would-be future First Lady was a fan of Chicago designer Maria Pinto, and that alone, given the extraordinary national obsession with all things Obama, gave a priceless boost to Chicago’s fashion culture. After all, Obama obviously had the means to buy from just about any designer she wanted; the fact that she chose Pinto as her style muse sent a clear signal that you don’t have to hail from New York to get attention. Not since Oleg Cassini helped shape the Jackie Kennedy style had a designer and (potential) First Lady been so closely connected.

“Contrary to popular belief, Chicagoans are highly attuned with the fashion world.”—Sheri Roney, SoKo Fashion

At the beginning of this month, more than a thousand apparel buyers, designers, media types and all-round fashionistas each day gathered for five nights inside a tent in Millennium Park to watch runway fashion shows that comprised the cornerstone of Chicago’s four-year-old version of fashion week, called Fashion Focus Chicago. Set against the backdrop of unprecedented carnage in global financial markets, the events couldn’t avoid a bit of an “end-of-empire” air—and we’re not talking about the empire waist, which seems to be doing just fine.

Dying economy or not, there’s no denying the excitement that large-scale fashion shows bring, with their bright lights, booming beats and models strutting down runways. Spend nearly a week watching show after show and it’s hard not to feel like something’s happening here. But is it? I decided to ask the question. In addition to a lengthy conversation with Melissa Gamble, the director of fashion arts and events for the city (often described as the mayor’s “fashion czar”), I sent a short email survey to nearly 200 local boutique owners and managers, as well as thirty or so local designers, most of them past winners of the “Fresh Faces in Fashion” designation awarded by GenArt, one of the marquee events during Fashion Focus Chicago. The consensus? Progress has been made, but there is still much to be done. Read the rest of this entry »

Gen Art Fresh Faces: Frei Designs

Designers, Fashion Focus Chicago, Fashion Shows 1 Comment »

Anne Novotny’s eco-friendly Frei Designs offers elaborate constructions, with layering, color and fabric choices that seem both original and individualistic. She does creative things with “barnacles” of fabric that manage to work in non-obtrusive ways. The line was the first of the evening to introduce what would become the dominant color spectrum (peach/rust/copper), with shades of rust throughout. Novotny’s looks are creative but wearable; that is, perhaps except for the over-the-top scarf that closed her show on a surprising note that evoked “Halloween costume.”  Nevertheless, her show really had something to say and stood as one of the night’s highlights.

Read the Boutiqueville profile of Frei Designs

Beauty, inside and out: Frei Designs crafts ethical fashion

Designers, Green 1 Comment »

By Sharon Hoyer

The concept of sustainability hit the mainstream fashion world about a year ago—probably at the moment last fall when the New York Times Magazine ran an eight-page spread on eco-friendly haute couture—so we’re sure to see a handful of environmentally minded designs gracing the runway at this year’s Fashion Week. However, in a mercurial business like clothing design, responsible production runs the risk of falling out of vogue faster than parachute pants. The very term sustainable fashion can sound like little more than a thinly veiled attempt by an industry not exactly renowned for social or environmental cognizance to slap the prefix eco- on its name and greenwash its conscience of the whole affair.

However, there are designers creating precise sketches of what ethical fashion should look like. One of the most exacting and beautiful examples comes from Anne Novotny’s Chicago-based line, Frei Designs. Novotny pays as close attention to the environmental and economic impact of her fabrics and dyes as she does to the shape and drape of each garment she creates. She selects fabrics woven only from natural, pesticide-free fibers, colored with organic dyes like madder root and logwood, and manufactured by workers paid a living wage. Novotny also makes a concerted effort to support small mills and U.S. manufacturers.

The benefits of a responsibly produced garment extend to each hand that touches it, from the farm to the consumer. “Cotton farms have to increase pesticide use each year because insects develop immunity to the chemicals,” Novotny tells me as we look through the spring collection in her Pilsen studio. “Workers are exposed to these toxins. So are we. They stay in the fibers; we put them against our skin…where we sweat. Not a smart idea.”

After graduating from the Art Institute in 2004, Novotny worked in fashion in New York. Two years later she returned to Chicago to start her own line. “I couldn’t be just another designer; I wanted to keep my business in line with my ethics. And there isn’t a lot of avant-garde, high-end sustainable fashion. It’s mostly yoga and baby wear.” It’s somewhat surprising that an industry with as sizable profit margins as haute couture hasn’t dabbled more seriously in the increasingly fashionable realms of environmental and economic justice. However, organic fabrics do still evoke for many an image of burlap sack dresses cinched with twine. And then there’s the infamous relationship between clothing manufacturing and exploited foreign labor.

Frei Designs is evidence that ethical practices produce beautiful results. The misconception that “hemp” is synonymous with “frumpy” is put to rest by the fluid, casual elegance of a black wrap jacket in the fall collection. A white silk blouse with pillowed neckline appears not to fall, but float about the torso and hips. Pieces by Frei are stocked at several boutiques in Chicago, including Florodora, Robin Richman, Asinimali and, of course, the city’s first eco-boutique, Pivot.

In the face of Novotny’s infectious convictions, there’s one question I still feel compelled, albeit reluctantly, to ask. Fortunately, she volunteers the answer before I figure out how to pose it. “The first thing I’m always asked is if I feel there’s an inherent contradiction in what I’m doing.” She pauses. “I can’t afford these clothes, but some people can. There are those who spend $400 on a skirt. They might as well spend that money paying a fair wage to the workers who made the skirt and purchase a high quality and beautiful piece that isn’t full of harmful chemicals.” On the flip side, thrifty fashionistas should consider the hidden costs in the deals found on the racks in the Gap and H&M. “You may pay $5 for a shirt at the Gap and feel like you’ve gotten a great deal. Everybody loves a deal, but you have to consider the cost of making that shirt, the cost of shipping it to the U.S. from Asia; how much of that $5 is going to labor? The true cost of that shirt is shouldered somewhere along the line.”

The Frei spring collection is inspired by Buddhist teachings; an ethereal three-tiered wrap skirt in gauzy shades of orange suggests a string of Tibetan prayer flags. An endless, chunky, boa-like scarf references the tale of Angulimala—a ruthless highwayman who vowed to kill 1000 people, collecting one finger from each victim and stringing them on a necklace to keep tally. His necklace held 999 digits when he met the Buddha and found enlightenment. Novotny is drawn to the tale because she likes the idea that “we can be 999 fingers down the wrong path and still change.