by Beth Hammarlund
In a community full of talent that has struggled with organization (thankfully, Fashion Week Minnesota seems poised to correct that), Envision has been the biannual fashion event that we can count on. For nineteen seasons, every spring and fall, they’ve presented collections from local designers and boutiques. And with each season, the event gets better. The defining moment of Envision’s current incarnation was its 2013 move to Orchestra Hall in downtown Minneapolis, a venue that seems practically designed for the event. With a beautiful hall acting as a runway and a VIP lounge hosted by Public Functionary (who co-produce the event with Ignite Models and V2), it’s hard to think of a more beautiful setting.
This year the production was smoother and chicer than ever with a beautiful floral backdrop designed by Grace Klein, a new host in Minnesota Fashion Week organizer John Mark (pictured leaping below) and music from Envision veteran Monsieur Adi. Unfortunately, the curse of producing an event beautifully is that your guests barely notice that anyone’s producing it at all. In this case, that puts all of the focus on the eight designers and one boutique that showed collections. And although that’s as it should be, Envision Team, please know that we appreciate how hard you work and we are very grateful.
And now, with the exuberance of a young man springing and bounding in a drop-crotch jumpsuit, let’s get to the fashion!
Jenny Carle is an Envision veteran and we’ve come to count on her for consistently charming and wearable collections. Unfortunately, this season was not up to her usual standards. Her collection was inspired by Valley of the Dolls and Clueless, so as a ’90s teen and lover of terrible ’60s cult films, I was ready for a sea of brights and pastels that would circle the drain of reality and be lost to insanity and drug abuse and forever being a virgin that can’t drive. So I was surprised to see Carle present a collection of ’70s and ’90s looks that were disjointed and not particularly remarkable. And despite her stated inspiration, I couldn’t find a narrative or aesthetic that truly bound the pieces together. Multiple looks, if placed side by side, would not appear to be from the same collection. That said, everything was beautifully made and there were a few pieces that seemed more in character for the designer we know and love. Her lace-up halter jumpsuit was the perfect opening look for the evening, and it somehow managed to be both trendy and timeless (a hard-to-hit note that Carle often nails). Her white sheath featured a ’90s neckline straight out of Shannon Doherty’s closet on Charmed (I watched the first season on Netflix but only for the clothes!), but the matching long vest kept it current. Her final look was pure Cher Horowitz, but executed in navy and black, one of the chicest and most underrated color combinations. Those looks were a reminder that, although this collection was not one of her best, Carle’s still got plenty up her sleeve.
Joeleen Torvick found her groove this season with a collection that was refined, elegant, and above all else, expensive-looking. Her dresses and separates convey that effortlessly sophisticated look that is deceptively difficult to nail. She found inspiration in the natural world, and while the colors, shapes and patterns had a geological feel to them, the lines remained fluid and easy. The palette was a surprising choice, a limited sampling of neutrals with a splash of tangerine. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it was a strong choice that made her collection memorable. Torvick continues to improve her execution and distill her aesthetic with each passing a season, a pattern that promises much to look forward to in the future.
Hiccup by Handley
This season was designer Handley Elizabeth Woodall’s first at Envision, and though she caught my attention, her collection showed that she’s still trying to find the right balance in her vision. Her decision to play with retro beachy looks was charming, but she stumbled when she added more whimsical elements. In this case, the elements were brightly colored hair tassels and trims. In her video interview, the designer cited Jeremy Scott as an inspiration, and she could learn a lesson from the bad boy of pop fashion: never hold back. She was clearly having fun working with color and texture, but the addition of brightly colored faux hair was distracting. The issue wasn’t that the faux hair was necessarily a bad idea, but that it was used so tentatively, creating the impression that the designer herself wasn’t too sure about the choice. If you’re going to add fuchsia faux hair to a bustier or a crop top, don’t just add a tuft. Make it an organic part of the design. Make it count. Don’t be afraid to assault us with fuchsia faux hair. This hesitation could be due to a lack of experience, a virtue that only comes with time. Woodall clearly has a head full of fun and exciting ideas, and I suspect that once she lets the floodgates open, she’s going to blow us all away.
If you’re lucky enough to see several collections from a designer in a row, one of the delights is witnessing a story being told over the course of several seasons. At the Fall 2015 Envision show, menswear designer Russell Bourrienne returned from a self-imposed hiatus during which he restored vintage bicycles. His fall collection grew from this beloved pastime, and the result was a line of menswear reminiscent of early 20th century English bicycle touring. For spring, Bourrienne took his journey east, gaining inspiration from Indian bicyclers. Still present was the fine London tailoring that traveled east due to British colonization, but it was brought to new life with Indian paisleys and jolts of color. Like last season, one of the highlights was high-end poncho that demonstrated the ideal blend of form and function. The collection featured the excellent tailoring and attention to detail that we’ve come to expect from Bourrienne. And the finishing touches, messenger bags and ties, would be perfect additions to any gentleman’s wardrobe, even those hesitant to go full dandy.
Kjurek continues to do what they do best: dark bohemian. They know their audience and their aesthetic forward and backward, and their collections never show a hint of doubt. My concern is that I often find myself considering the same words when reviewing their collections. “Witchy.” “Hippie.” “Fringe.” “Stevie Nicks.” Those are all excellent descriptors, but I’m starting to worry that my past self might take me to task for plagiarizing her reviews. This season, Kjurek presented a collection that reimagined some of the best looks of their career. There were those relaxed cool girl silhouettes, curtains of dramatic fringe, and that impeccable dye work that we’ve come to equate with their label. And though it gave new fans a chance to understand their point of view and appreciate their fantastic technical abilities, the concept itself is repetitive by nature. Designers Kimberly Jurek and Jen Chilstrom are so good at what they do that I can’t help but expect more from them. But maybe that’s what this collection was indicating. Maybe they were paying respect to their past in order to prepare themselves for something new. If so, I hope I’m lucky enough to get a seat.
Form Over Function
You can’t force a square peg into a round hole. That’s what I found myself thinking as Form Over Function’s final look came down the runway. It was a men’s bomber made from a heavy puffy material so stiff that it almost seemed upholstered directly onto the model. The piece ran into a simple problem: you can’t create interesting lines when manipulating fabric that cumbersome in an amount of space so small. The goth bomber was a good idea. The upholstered black material was a good idea. But they weren’t good together, and by forcing that combination, they both lost their appeal. Form Over Function is a relatively new line from University of Minnesota alum Lauren Kacher, and though there’s a ton of potential, she still seems to be working out the kinks. I love that she designs androgynous styles for men and women. (Anything that toys with gender norms is a plus for me.) I love her dark gothy palette and sensibility. I love that she uses unconventional materials. (I wasn’t wild about the idea of incorporating seat belts, but that vest in the opening look persuaded me to reconsider.) But she still has to find a balance between her vision and her execution. Sometimes a great idea doesn’t work, no matter how hard you push. But if you stop trying to force it and instead approach your idea from a new angle, that’s when the unexpected happens. Kacher is young and talented and promising, three things that most of us can only wish for. She’s going to learn and improve as she goes. This is still just her beginning.
I have waxed on about my love of Cliché’s Envision segments plenty of times before, and since they keep producing delightful runway segments, I see no reason to stop now. As the only boutique in the show, Cliché faces unique challenges and advantages when curating their presentation. Boutique runway segments often fail to stand out or define themselves, and Cliché consistently avoids this trap by creating characters and building a world. This season’s theme was as delightful and unexpected as ever: diner waitresses meet secret societies. (Seriously, how did they come up with that? Did they pin a bunch of nouns on the wall and throw darts?) Models strode down the runway in crisp dresses and separates of pale lemon, teal and cerulean. Each wore a white fez, round white sunglasses, white ankle socks, and white walking shoes. While watching the presentation, I found myself wishing it were a short film. I had so many questions: What is the purpose of this secret diner waitress society? Where do they meet? Exactly how sinister is their organization? How did they decide on such a cute color palette? These questions are still bouncing around my brain, and a boutique runway presentation that’s still stuck in your mind days later is a major victory.
Sometimes we get to watch our local talent grow. (See: Emily Trevor, below, whose rise to the top was swift, but we were treated to the entire journey.) And sometimes there are designers who come out of nowhere and leave us with our jaws on the floor. In this case, the designer is Cory Allen, and the “nowhere” is Wisconsin. (I’m sorry for the dig, but making fun of Wisconsin is a biannual requirement for all Minnesota-based writers. I’m just trying to hit my quota.) Allen first came to our attention at last season’s Envision, where he presented a dark and ambitious equine-inspired collection. For his second round, titled “Palomino,” he found his inspiration in horse-lovers, rather than the horses themselves. His cowboy-themed desert-hued menswear brought to mind the friendly fireside cowboys, like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. That is, if Roy Rogers and Gene Autry lived in the ’80s and were willing to soak in the sun wearing nothing but a pair of horse-printed briefs. Though that look was likely the most memorable of the collection, the highlight was a pale salmon bomber featuring a hand-painted rendition of a cowboy riding a bucking bronco on the back. Beautiful knits, classic trousers and shorts with stylized details, and a baby blue shirt with a cowboy-style yoke rounded out the collection. I’m already curious about what he’ll do next. Maybe he’ll keep the horse theme going with something less literal and give us a collection based on They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Emily Trevor is the Minnesota equivalent of Marc Jacobs. Every one of her collections is impeccable, but you never walk into her shows knowing what to expect. She certainly has her fair share of aesthetic through lines: a fondness for cut-outs and shots of sheer fabric or mesh, a flair for combining traditionally feminine and sporty elements into something fresh and pretty, and a love of stark clean fresh-sheet-of-paper white. But despite these familiar components, she’s constantly seeking new stories and new inspirations. This season, she found her muse in the materials, specifically sequins. Her newly discovered passion for the shiny discs and her husband’s deep passion for sports found harmony together in a collection that’s rooted in both sparkly spangles and American sports culture. A stylized lace basketball jersey acted as a flashy minidress and a lilac bomber featured stunning sequin-work.. A structured off-the-shoulder dress was fit for a fashion-forward lunch at the tennis club and a pale lavender polo had me wistfully wondering why no one wears sequins to the driving range. (If sequins became the standard uniform, I would actually watch televised golf. Without a gun to my head.) She clearly found plenty of other inspirations as well, as demonstrated by a gorgeous lupine Mongolian lamb jacket that was part Party Monster and part muppet pelt. But the highlight of the collection was the evening’s heavenly finale dress, a springy strapless gown that required over a hundred hours of pleating and sequining by hand. The experience of watching it float down the runway was practically transportive, but I couldn’t say to where exactly. Maybe to that big country club in the sky, a kind and welcoming place where we all wear pastels and sparkly things and spend our days sipping champagne, playing croquet, and feeling happy and loved in the sun.
I’m looking forward to the next Envision more than ever. It’s getting harder and harder for Ignite Models to top themselves, but I’m guessing they have some surprises in store for the tenth anniversary of their signature event.
Photo Credits: Josh Stokes and Tyler Allix, courtesy of Envision