By  on July 28, 2009

As president and founder of the downtown showroom The News Inc., Stella Ishii is typically a behind-the-scenes kind of girl; her firm has long been an incubator of young talent such as Vena Cava’s Lisa Mayock and Sophie Buhai, Alexander Wang and Wayne’s Wayne Lee. Spring, however, marks the first time the fashion veteran — she spent 14 years at Comme des Garçons and previously helmed Staff USA — will launch her own collection. Still, Ishii notes, it’s anything but a solo project.

“Creative Growth for Everybody” is a collaboration between The News and Oakland’s Creative Growth Art Center, a nonprofit group that provides support for artists with disabilities. The debut lineup of cotton tanks, T-shirts and T-shirt dresses, priced $24 to $34 wholesale, will feature the artwork of eight of Creative Growth’s artists, from Donald Mitchell’s crowded cartoon figures to Aurie Ramirez’s fanciful dancing desserts. “The organization is a great place to see outsider art,” says Ishii. “We’re trying to get the exposure for them. The same way I represent my designers, I’m working with these artists.” Ishii, in fact, has long been a supporter of Creative Growth, ever since Paper magazine’s Kim Hastreiter clued her in a decade ago. In the early years, Ishii’s showroom even held a few outsider art exhibits of its own, including one for the famous Judith Scott, during the lull between market weeks.

The impulse to start this collection, however, only came about in the fall, when Ishii was looking to bring a T-shirt line into her showroom. “The things I happened to see, I didn’t really find all that exciting,” she says. “Then I thought, ‘Maybe I could collaborate with some artists.’” By coincidence, she received an e-mail from the director of Creative Growth about its new gallery space in Paris. A lightbulb went off, and the two set the creative gears in motion. Proceeds from the sale of the collection — which has been picked up by Barneys New York, Ikram in Chicago, Confederacy in Los Angeles, MAC/Modern Appealing Clothing in San Francisco and Ron Herman and Tokishirazu in Tokyo — will go directly to Creative Growth.

To help produce and manufacture the line, Ishii brought in Joe Knoernschild, a founding partner of Hurley International and Billabong USA, and his wife, Cindy. (Their son, Joel, has his own men’s wear line, KZO, which is repped by The News.) As for marketing and promotions, Ishii has that part down. To punch up the collection’s look book, she enlisted her roster of designers to serve as models. Richard Chai, Doo-Ri Chung, Robert Geller, Wayne Lee, Vena Cava’s Mayock and Buhai and Band of Outsiders’ Scott Sternberg are just some of the names showcased. And the pairing of artist with designer, it turns out, was no accident: Chung, whose Under.Ligne collection features handwritten text, sported a dress with Dwight Mackintosh’s doodles. “I also realized when we shot Doo-Ri in her studio,” adds Ishii, “that she had a wall covered in similar scribbles.”

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