By Elizabeth Seeskin
“I don’t know if it’s just a matter of me being jaded, but it seemed like people were just bored,” explains Heiji Choy Black of the spring shows in New York. As the owner of Wicker Park boutique Hejfina, Black has received national recognition for showcasing up-and-coming designers and for her dedication to innovative clothing. Unlike many boutiques (especially in the Midwest, which are often motivated primarily by profit), Black wants to (also) be inspired by the vision of the artists she carries. In order to maintain the store’s reputation for cutting-edge design by French, Swedish and Japanese designers not carried anywhere else in the Midwest, Black travels to New York and Paris twice a year to view the spring and fall lines. But like many critics, Black was disappointed with the collections for spring and summer 2008, finding revamped trends rather than true creativity. “It’s unfortunate but there was kind of a lack of newness,” Black says. “It’s nice to see a new color, but it’s still more eighties-inspired looks.”
For those outside of the industry, the cycles of fashion trends and the variable success from season to season appear as a mystery, proof that fashion is ultimately arbitrary and superfluous. But to Black the cycle is organic, a natural effect of cultural changes and artistic collaboration. In the failure of the spring collections she sees a symptom of larger problems plaguing the fashion community.
“Everyone is just guessing, ‘What does the consumer want?’ And they’re looking at their collection and they’re like, ‘What are the safest things to sell at Barney’s? Let’s just do more of that.'” Not that Black hopes to eliminate the commercial element from fashion (she is a boutique owner after all). But she points to the critical enthusiasm for a designer like Philip Lim, who is recognized everywhere outside the pages of Vogue for being adept at copying other designs and bringing in a huge profit. “There’s no line of authenticity,” she says. “I feel like everyone is focused—and I think this is to some degree a fault of Vogue and the CFDA—everyone is focused on commercial viability.”
Little problems, like smaller trends, become overwhelming and unavoidable in a community as small and dependent on inner-circle knowledge as fashion designers. “Everyone knows each other,” she says of the designers, editors and buyers in New York who dominate the industry. “Everyone is acquainted with what’s being designed, and that’s how we get to these cycles. People go to the same movies. They go to the same rock shows. It becomes this groupthink, where they’re all doing something that’s either sexy or good-looking, but not necessarily terribly interesting.”
However, Black is also dependent on her connections to this exclusive group of fashion insiders. Having lived in New York for several years, she is tuned into the industry gossip that circulates among designers and editors. “So much of the industry is about that underground talk,” she says, explaining that without New York connections she would be at a great disadvantage living in Chicago.
Despite the fact that Black is buying for our Chicago market, this season, like all the rest, will be focused on the lines that are popular or will be popular in New York. The Big Apple continues to be the center of the fashion world and bringing New York lines to Chicago is part of what has made Hejfina the go-to shop for fashionable third-coasters. Given the dull spring lines, and assuming that the changes in the economy have made her shoppers more “conservative,” Black says she’ll be buying less for the next season. But instead of viewing it as a problem, Black sees an opportunity to be more selective, choosing only the pieces that truly inspire her. “Because the ultimate goal is to sell. And if you don’t believe in it you can’t really sell it.”
Hejfina, 1529 North Milwaukee, (773)772-0002