I wrote this, checking in on local fashion for the WBEZ tumblr.
The thing about “Chicago fashion” is that trying to sum up its identity in a few words is a futile task. Unlike other artistic practices, Chicago’s fashion culture is less identifiable and understandable.
For a city born so distinctly as a “city of neighborhoods,” the idea that an innate sense of community does NOT run through the veins of our fashion population seems implausible, even if it is true.
What I love most about the fashion designers, store owners, and innovators in the city is their anti-Chicago ethos. Meaning, so many of them operate within their own vision and their passion and nothing more. They strike out on their own and in the process, a community builds around what they see. If it is not there, they must think, I will create it (the designs, the community) in my vision.
Recently, I discovered two new members of the Chicago fashion community worth of praise.
Last Wednesday, guests made their way to the Swedish American Museum in Andersonville for the launch of Pine & Plastic. Described as “designer city totes,” these upscale, hand-painted, and architecturally-strong tote bags are the brainchild of Andrew Wayne. Browsing the tables and walls artfully-stacked with Wayne’s unique designs, I was reminded of an article from the New York Times a few years ago about the rise of the tote bag. Writer Miranda Purves said:
“Seemingly democratic and certainly affordable (if not free), the tote might be the ideal carryall for these post-luxury recessionary times. The tote’s status is stealth. It telegraphs not money but access, ethics, culture — encapsulating the idea psychologist Daniel Gilbert popularized that happiness grows more through experiences than purchases.”
Last night during a dinner with friends, my sister said to me, “Everywhere I look, you’ve got more bags.” It’s true. I collect tote bags especially. After years of carrying oversized handbags where I inevitably lost important notes (and keys and jewelry), I switched to a smaller purse and began carrying a tote bag to supplement my needs.
But there is a reason why totes are so cheap (and often free). They are not designed to last. Inevitably, they get too grungy or simply tear at the seams. That’s why, when given the chance to purchase one of Wayne’s designs, I jumped on it. I love a tote bag for everything it is – simple, reliable – and hate it for everything it is not. Wayne’s bag – endlessly sturdy, hand-crafted, built for maximum usage – are a rarity in the fashion world. Totes are only now making the jump from the bookish set and farmer’s markets, though I imagine with such carefully crafted designs like Wayne’s, their appeal will expand even further.
Visit Pine & Plastic online.
In the wave of gentrifying neighborhoods, Humboldt Park got lost somewhere in the shuffle. In many ways, this is a good thing. Unlike other gentrifying neighborhoods, the large West Side hood is not at as great of a risk of losing its cultural identity as others. Still, it’s a surprise to see the rapid growth in Logan Square and wonder if Humboldt Park (all of it, not just the parts that touch Western Avenue) can acquire as many new businesses.
Meadowlark, a vintage boutique, is one new addition to the neighborhood. Chicago is a uniquely-structured city that, contrary to popular belief, allows many young, experimental, and small businesses to grow. Unlike other major cities, we have an abundance of space and only lack in bodies and creators to facilitate even more of those young, experimental, and small businesses.
On the surface, a vintage boutique does not seem like the sort of place that is experimental. Chicago is full of many gems (Very Best Vintage and Kokorokoko among the most top-notch and affordable). But like the two previously mentioned, Meadowlark sets itself apart by creating a minimalistic and recognizable identity that speaks to the contemporary woman.
I found an abundance of rich, wool sweaters and clean, silky blouses. Many of their wares probably line the corporate design studios of fast fashion retailers like Zara. They may come from the 70s, 80s, or 90s, but they feel as fresh as ever. As well, I found pieces from Pendleton and Oscar de la Renta and my heart did not skip a beat in shock over the prices.
In fact, unlike many of those popular fast fashion retailers that line Michigan Avenue some 30 blocks away, Meadowlark’s prices were considerably lower. And knowing how quickly once can shred a dress from Forever 21, it’s a pleasure to find older, well-maintained clothes that continue to please.
Meadowlark is located at 1107 N California.