By Isa Giallorenzo
We had the daunting task of finding designs that wouldn’t fade in front of Takashi Murakami’s magnificent large-scale works, on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago until September 24. That is why we picked Elena Bobysheva’s carefully constructed pieces, with strategic cutouts and strong colors—she creates clothes that are both elegant and impactful. The same could be said about Angela Morano’s millinery, hand sewn by the designer in a process that combines fashion and sculpture with quality as her strongest value.
How did you start your career in fashion design? What made you want to pursue it?
I went to design school where I received an interdisciplinary bachelor’s in business and fashion design. I launched my ready-to-wear line in 2013 using grants from numerous design and business competitions. The label was founded with my own deeply held values at its core—a commitment to sustainability, quality and authenticity. I wanted to create a label that reflected a slower pace and process: where things are made with care and detail, where tradition is more important than trend, where there is a purpose to every piece, and things are made to last.
What fuels your creativity? What makes you want to create a garment?
It starts from a passion for quality. When I start designing a piece the first thing that comes to mind is the fabrication and a silhouette, an idea. Then I do some rough sketches to get the idea onto paper so I can develop the proportions, color palette, design details, and so on. I have technical training in garment construction and pattern making and through that process the garment is developed even more.
What are the underlying themes of your collections?
I like story telling. When I design a collection, I think of a character and the character is the same from last season, but more grown up and evolved through her experiences. Each collection is a continuation and a new chapter within the one story. I then think: where would she wear this piece and why? Does this piece have a purpose in our modern world?
Who is your dream customer?
I am inspired by women who are strong and passionate; women who are very intelligent and use their intelligence in service of others and bettering the world. The EB woman loves quality and understands fabrication and fit. She wants statement investment pieces in her wardrobe. I’ve yet to meet a woman that doesn’t relate to my line.
What is it like designing luxury ready-to-wear in Chicago? How do you produce, sell and promote your creations?
Almost all of our products are produced in-house on a cut-to-order basis by professional tailors and are currently sold exclusively via our own e-commerce store on our website. We do not have a PR or marketing budget. The label has grown through word-of-mouth, social media and press coverage.
How do you overcome the limitations of manufacturing in a city that’s not particularly known for its fashion scene?
I think that fashion is a global industry but there are different capitals for different things. I think Chicago is still in its infancy stage of establishing a fashion identity and infrastructure but it won’t grow to be like New York, London or Paris. Every capital has its particular strength but talent can come from anywhere. It’s not defined to a specific geographical location. Plus with today’s technology, I can design a dress in Chicago and the next day a woman in Belgium could wear it to dinner.
What is the price range of your line?
I positioned my label in the designer price point. The clothes are not meant to be bought in bulk. The focus is on investment pieces. Full-marked products can range between $700-$1,500.
Where do you see your brand going in the future? What are your short- and long-term plans?
I think to get a wider audience to appreciate the product, you need to touch it and feel it so I want to start approaching potential retail partners next year for wholesale accounts. I think it would be wonderful if I could partner with a Chicago-based specialty boutique like Ikram or VMR. I think their customer would appreciate my product—the aesthetic, fabrication and fit.
You are very conscious about the environment. How do you take it into consideration while producing your designs?
I am devoted to minimizing waste. I want to do luxury in a smart and transparent way. Our factories and our vendors for our materials are usually Italian, French and Polish. They are family businesses, multigenerational that have dedicated their lives to their craft. We currently do not develop our own fabrics. Ninety percent of our textiles are high-end spare stock that already exists in the market but have not sold elsewhere. The remaining ten percent we wholesale from fabric mills. My Icon Collection, for example, features spare stock French Guipure lace and Italian wool-crepe. Having a finite supply of material makes the ready-to-wear collection more exclusive. Certain pieces are limited-edition. We also produce on a cut-to-order basis, meaning we make only what is ordered so to not contribute to dead inventory ending up in landfills.
Photography by Matthew Sperzel: matthewsperzel.photography / @sperzphoto
Clothes by Elena Bobysheva: elenabobysheva.com / @elenabobysheva
Hats by Angela Morano: angelamorano.com / @angelamoranodotcom
Shoes provided by City Soles: citysoles.com / @citysoles
Makeup and hair by Leanna Ernest
Model Monica Machado
Makeup artist and model represented by Factor Chosen Chicago: factorchosenchicago.com / @factorchosen_chi
Location: Museum of Contemporary Art at the Takashi Murakami exhibit (through September 24): mcachicago.org / @mcachicago
Special thanks to Factor Chosen Chicago’s Jessie Sardina and Lily Pike, and MCA’s Abraham Ritchie and Katy O’Malley.
Journalist Isa Giallorenzo was born in São Paulo, Brazil and has elected Chicago as her beloved home since 2009. She runs the street-style blog Chicago Looks and wants to see this town become one of the fashion capitals of the world.