by Beth Hammarlund
It’s hard to believe, but last weekend’s production of Envision marked the event’s eighteenth season. Over the past nine years, the bi-annual show has consistently evolved and improved, emerging as the premiere multi-designer fashion event in the Twin Cities. This fall’s incarnation featured the solid execution we’ve come to expect from Ignite Models’ signature event: a gorgeous venue (Orchestra Hall, an ideal space for a runway show), stunning lighting and production design, killer runway music from Monsieur Adi, strong modeling, playful styling, and a spacious VIP room to entertain guests during intermission. But, as talented and well-oiled as the Envision production team is, the real stars of the night were the designers.
Though it may have been co-opted by the hipster masses, Jenny Carle’s lumberjack-inspired collection served as a reminder that buffalo plaid is truly the pattern of the Northern woods. The designer incorporated the iconic plaid into feminine jackets and a pencil skirt, elevating the print into something modern and contemporary. There was more than a little ’70s influence here, from the lace-up dress, which featured a barely-there blue mesh back and sleeves, to the wide-brimmed fedoras in dark autumnal shades. In addition to buffalo plaid (which is trending hard, partially due to Adam Lippes’ elegant capsule collection for Target), Carle offered up another key trend for fall: serious layering. The easiest way to update an outfit for this fall season is to add a turtleneck underneath or a long vest on top, and both techniques made an appearance in this collection. A neutral printed tunic fit right into her woodsy theme, and the heavy textiles looked appropriately warm and cozy. Styled with black booties and sheer knee socks, Carle’s collection was ideal for channeling your inner cosmopolitan woodswoman.
Designer Anna Chambers-Goldberg first runway showing made the most of her talents as a visual artist, as well her tendency to take inspiration from her natural surroundings. Whether it was due to their tactile elements or their elegant dye work, it was as if the textiles were the driving force behind the designs. Most of the established designers in the Twin Cities work the other way around, and Chambers-Goldberg’s pieces were a pleasant reminder that beautiful clothing can be created through many different processes. A beautifully dyed fabric in shades of faded red and pink was a highlight, and a pair of pale relaxed trousers with a paper bag waist were effortlessly glamorous. Aside from a love affair with textiles, there didn’t seem to be a strong throughline tying the collection together, but Chambers-Goldberg is just getting started. She’ll no doubt sharpen her point of view over the coming years.
Russell Bourrienne is a long-time Twin Cities fashion fixture, but he’s been keeping a fairly low profile over the past few seasons. Turns out he’s been nurturing a very specific passion: restoring vintage 3-speed bicycles. Fortunately for us, this new project provided the menswear designer with plenty of fresh sartorial ideas, which he channeled into a collection inspired by early 20th century English bicycle touring. The pieces were both retro and modern, formal and casual. Knickers, dress shirts and waist coats made the most of Bourrienne’s well-known classic tailoring skills, while a utilitarian poncho, a quilted bomber and a windbreaker featuring classic menswear details gave him plenty of room to play. There was plenty of lovely Scottish Glen plaid (always a plus for plaid-obsessives like myself), and the looks were perfectly styled with leather brogues and argyle socks. Additionally, two of the models carried bags by Bourrienne. Both were designed to fit Brooks bicycle saddles and other classic bike seats. Though the designer has a few basic models in stock, they are highly customizable. We suggest contacting Bourrienne ASAP in order to secure your favorite bike-lover the bag of their holiday dreams.
Kjurek is another long-time Twin Cities staple. And, like Russell Bourrienne, the brand has explored a multitude of different influences and aesthetics over the years. But the Kjurek of the past several seasons is my favorite incarnation of the label. It’s dark hippie magic. Their version of witchy style is less The Craft* and more like Stevie Nicks got super into tie-dye, but only had access to shades of black, plum and navy. And in case that poorly defined reference didn’t make it clear, that is a compliment. This season featured plenty of what we’ve come to expect from Kjurek: elegant dye-work that mimics far-off celestial bodies, an unapologetic mixing of textures including faux leather and faux fur, casual separates that can be worn together or incorporated into another wardrobe entirely, and FRINGE. Fringe never totally goes away as a trend, but every few years it experiences a major moment and we are in the middle of one right now. So it’s likely that the audible gasps that escaped the audience as a leather topper with floor-skimming fringe floated down the runway will be repeated as photos make their way around the interwebs. And in case you weren’t sure whether or not the ’70s were sticking around for a while, a pair of hand-painted bell-bottoms made it clear that there’s still plenty of glamour to mine from that particular decade.
Two things to note: 1) Before each designer segment, Envision shows a brief video clip that gives the artists a chance to articulate their vision and inspiration. 2) I am a fashion history snob. So when Cliché co-owner Delayna Sundberg’s cited the films The Piano and The Crucible as influences for their segment, I got a little sour. The Crucible is set in the late 1600’s in Puritan-era New England, while The Piano takes place right in the middle of the Victorian Era. Guys, my righteous indignation laser was set to stun. Turns out, as is often the case when I get fired up about something, there was absolutely nothing at all to worry about. The great things about local boutique Cliché’s Envision segments is that they are always fun and that they always tell a story. And even if the inspiration behind this story spanned almost two centuries, their point of view felt clear and it was a joy to watch. The almost exclusively black and white palette was livened up with black paper bonnets by artist Daniel Jaffer, a pair of lace dickies (my love for dickies is long-standing and well-documented, and they’re an incredibly easy DIY fashion project) and ladylike gloves. Models carried over-sized spherical black balloons and black paper roses. And while some may find the use of props cheesy, to them I say, “Pfft! Life is too short not to run around town carrying cool shit!”
When a boutique shows a runway segment in a designer showcase, it comes with its own set of challenges. Since the pieces aren’t from a single collection with one cohesive vision, something needs to pull them together. Usually, boutiques choose a couple of trends to unify their presentations. And while that works aesthetically, I often find the results a little underwhelming. Multiple boutiques often pick the same or similar trends, thus their selections all look like they could have come from the same place. It may be a chic choice, but it doesn’t set a store apart or make its wares stick in your memory. Cliché consistently avoids this problem by developing playful concepts and finding the sartorial throughlines within. Though many of the pieces in Cliché’s presentation shared basic design elements (the bleak palette, black and white lace), it was the story that made the segment so enjoyable. Now I know what Wednesday Adams looks like all grown-up. Who knew I’d been waiting for so long to find that out?
Yevette Willaert won my heart at Envision last spring with her ladylike dresses and separates in punchy African prints, so I was curious to see how her aesthetic would evolve for fall. I did not expect the Katherine Hepburn-Gloria Steinem Realness that she served up for our consumption. (Is that a ball category? Can it be?) Willaert’s menswear-inspired collection further sated my plaid cravings with Glen plaids and tartans, while channeling the confident feminist suiting that Carolina Herrera has been exploring over the past several years. Though there were no fit issues that I could see in Willaert’s spring showing, the designer ran into a few snags this year. Menswear is always going to be a tailoring challenge, and menswear for women is an even more difficult problem to solve. Some of Willaert’s tailoring issues seemed purposeful, such as the long crotches that made me think of Michael Kors’ tenure on Project Runway, as he once memorably told a contestant, “That crotch is INSANE!” Personally, I loved the choice. When you have a high-waisted trouser, you’re going to have a longer crotch than normal. Factor in an extremely relaxed fit that practically created a dropped crotch, and you’re looking at a very long zipper. But this was a purposeful choice, and one that I appreciated, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a fairly polarizing design element. Other fit issues seemed less purposeful, particularly around the waist and hips. It was unclear whether the excessive length of the trousers was intentional, but either way, I’d say it missed the mark. Seeing the cuffs of a lovely pair of pants drag across the ground gives me anxiety, and it’s a stylistic choice I would be happy to see disappear into the ether.
Despite my apparent passion, I don’t want my rants about crotches** and cuffs to give the impression that I didn’t love the hell out of this collection. It conveyed an older wave of feminism that’s overdue for a comeback (both in fashion and in life), and elegant details like the peekaboo surprise of a shocking red lining inside a tartan blazer and a structured plaid cape affixed to a relaxed plunging black finale gown made the collection feel truly special.
Tessa Louise is one of those designers whose point of view seems to visibly mature and become more confident with each collection. It’s a transition that’s delightful to watch. The designer has always had a smart eye, but with each season she seems to develop a better understanding of both her customer and herself. For fall, she proved once again that she’s unafraid to experiment with texture and shape, while maintaining a sense of pragmatism that elevates her pieces into something both bold and wearable. She knows how to edit, which is why her collection of separates, dresses and outerwear managed to be dark and moody without veering into high school goth territory. She also has an appreciation for textiles that give her collections depth and make you want to reach out and touch the pieces. Her presentation may not have been the most memorable of the event, but for consumers with a sense of urban style and an appreciation for carefully considered garments, it was certainly the most shoppable.
Joeleen Torvick is fairly new to the game, and this season marked her Envision debut. Perhaps because of this, Torvick showed a fairly safe collection. She didn’t take any big risks, but she didn’t stumble either. Although her aesthetic isn’t yet as strongly defined as some of her counterparts, the designer’s collection of dresses and separates proved that she’s got plenty of good ideas. Case in point: an updated ’20s tennis dress in black and white with an asymmetrical drop waist. It wasn’t the kind of design that demands attention, but instead demonstrates a quiet thoughtfulness that’s hard to find. It must have been tempting for her to shorten or remove the sleeves completely to make the dress feel more current, but I think conservative dressing is making a comeback, and the choice transformed the traditionally summer garment into an excellent wardrobe addition for fall. Another hit was a gray and black tunic in an exaggerated space dye, a piece that I would like to own immediately and wear for the next three months straight. Much like many of Tessa Louise’s looks, it was stylish and sellable, a win for both the designer and her customers.
Despite living in Minnesota and growing up in Nebraska (which isn’t nearly as in-the-middle-of-nowhere as Minnesotans continue to insist), I don’t know a lot about Wisconsin. I know about cheese, the Packers, the ice caves, Scott Walker (sorry, guys), and Milwaukee’s hilariously weird-ass city flag. So when Madison resident Cory Allen’s work made its Envision debut, I was surprised and delighted. (Seriously, how can the same state produce this dude and Scott Walker?) Allen took plenty of risks, and judging by the audience’s reaction, those risks paid off big. The collection was inspired by horses, but not in any sort of equestrian sense. A sumptuous camel coat with ombré cuffs and a black rope belt inspired audience members to cheer when it was revealed to feature a mane of short black hair down the vertical back seam. (I do wonder if that coat wasn’t a little over-designed, but it was fabulous on the runway and is still the piece that immediately pops into my mind when I think of this season’s Envision.) Within his limited palette of black, gray, white and camel, Allen juxtaposed rich natural textures and incorporated both classic tailoring and modern athletic elements. Minnesota has a talented, but very small collection of menswear designers, so it’s exciting to add another artist to the pack. Bravo, Cory! Now tell us what we can do to permanently steal you away from our Midwestern neighbor.
Form Over Function
The label Form Over Function was another Envision rookie, but designer Lauren Kacher didn’t pull any punches with her post-apocalyptic gender-neutral collection. The looks featured plenty of luxe leather as well as some velvety suede, and strong urban trends such as dropped crotches and jumpsuits were still going strong. There were some fit issues, which can certainly occur when a designer takes on the challenge of designing a collection for both men and women, and especially when the assumption is that all of the pieces can work for both genders. Some pieces seemed so over-sized that the details got a little lost, a shame considering the craftsmanship that must have gone into them. Additionally, the collection seemed a bit disjointed, as if Kacher had created a much larger collection, but was only able to show seven of the pieces. A suede kilt and moto jacket seemed like it would fit in to a larger narrative, but felt out of place within this smaller scale presentation. However, even when something didn’t quite live up to its potential, it was worth the risk. You’ve got to love an ambitious designer with something to say, and I bet we’ll be hearing a lot more from Form Over Function in the future.
It’s hard to believe that there was a time when the Twin Cities fashion community didn’t know who Caroline Hayden was. Over the past four years, Hayden has firmly established herself as one of the most consistent and savvy designers in the state, and this last showing was another successful notch in what must be a very holey belt. Totally committing to fall, Hayden was all about layering. Turtlenecks were incorporated into every look. Even a show-stopping scarlet sequined evening gown got its own coordinating version. A bold houndstooth was glammed up with metallic thread, and deep v-necks conveyed a ’70s vibe. A faux leather jumper with a mid-calf pleated skirt was a surprisingly versatile piece, and pops of sequined plaid were playful without being childish. You can always go into a Caroline Hayden show knowing that you’re going to see some fantastic garments, and you can always leave with the satisfaction that, once again, you were right.
We already experienced a “Where the hell did this guy come from?” moment with Cory Allen, so it was a great surprise to get another such moment from finale designer Sarah Furnaé. We don’t usually spend too much time debating “couture” vs “ready-to-wear” in Minnesota, but to call Furnaé’s collection anything but couture would be blatantly incorrect. As if often the case with couture, the pieces were over-the-top and weren’t for everyone. I, however, was 100% on board. The opening look featured a sheer peplum blouse with and printed jeans. It definitely didn’t suit everyone’s taste (though it did mine), but no one could argue with the fact that it was very well-made and communicated a confident point of view. The looks that followed were both girlish and regal in shades of white and deep emerald. The highlight was a full-length lace gown with exaggerated hips, a sheer bodice and sleeves, and sequined embellishments that acted as pasties. Perhaps sequined nipple mimicry isn’t the most elegant choice, but it’s surprising, strange, and more than a little humorous, all those are all elements that couture can channel far better than ready-to-wear.
This may have been Envision’s strongest show to date. If each season continues to outdo the last, then we should have something pretty amazing coming our way this spring. I’m already looking forward to it.
* I am in no way hating on The Craft. I love The Craft. Fairuza, call me! Return to Oz ruled and you seemed like a really kind and sensitive person in Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau! Let’s invoke some spirits together!
** “Crotch” word count: 5
photos by Tyler Allix, courtesy of Envision