Byline: ELAINE GLUSAC / AMY ROUTON / JANET OZZARD
CHICAGO — Up-and-coming designers of made-to-wear burlap “jeans” and made-to-order gabardine jackets have a new venue in Made to Fit.
The design cooperative in Chicago’s seedy/trendy Wicker Park neighborhood showcases 10 emerging designers of clothing, hats and accessories handpicked by owner/designer Leigh DeLeonardo.
“I liked the idea of collaborating with others,” says DeLeonardo who opened her doors last fall. “All the creative work is done alone, and it gets lonely.”
United they sell, and the proximity brews ideas. In the spirit of something for everyone, DeLeonardo and designer Lisa Zschunke took to collaborating on a men’s casual line, which includes their biggest crossover hit with women — burlap jeans.
“Most designers here are inspired by the past, by a love for lost details and integrity of design,” DeLeonardo says.
Indeed, Christina Bevilacqua’s hats reinvent styles from the 17th-century forward. Robin Richman’s luxurious handknit sweaters are often laced with satin ribbon, and Jamie LaPorta’s crocheted baby clothes seem eras old. Prices range from $50 to $300.
DeLeonardo herself quit the wholesale world after nearly 10 years to pursue her love of design in its purest form — custom clothing.
“I’m powering down,” she says. “Now I only work with the end customer, and I love that.”
ATLANTA — For store owner Tracy Rowell, denim with design sells itself. Her store, t. buggs, which she spells in all lower case letters for individuality, carries a variety of studded, painted and embroidered denim.
From Atlanta to New York, Rowell searches for what she calls fun classy clothing that has a personal touch for her store, which is in Peachtree City, Ga. Currently, her hottest item is a denim blouse that has the Atlanta skyline handpainted across the front, which sells for $55. She buys the shirts from various manufacturers, and local artist Karen Cipullo paints the design. Rowell said she has sold 24 in the past two months.
The 1500-square-foot store, which grossed $260,000 last year, will celebrate its five-year anniversary in March. Rowell said she hopes to beat last year’s figures, with a $290,000 goal for 1995.
“It’s not your average boutique,” described Rowell. “Many women say if I can’t find it here, I can’t find it.”
Besides denim, t. buggs offers a plethora of accessories, from watches to hats to ritzy checkbook covers, from lines such as Rhea, Counter Point and Kasey Fashion Jewelry. “I also organize my store by color,” said Rowell, “making it fast and convenient for my customers.”
Rowell confesses her windows are known to be the best in town and says it is her best form of advertising. “People drive by my store just to see my windows.” With new windows featured every two to three weeks, Rowell has a steady stream of customers. Although she is happy with her one shop, she said she is looking for the right opportunity to open a second t. buggs in another neighboring community.
NEW YORK — Denim is just irresistible. Even some Seventh Avenue names that aren’t associated with it are finding that their customers want to get into the blue.
While Andrea Jovine is known for her knit bridge line, the designer got into denim during the summer, introducing a group of denim separates that she said might become its own line.
Said Jovine: “It’s one of the only fabrics that looks better as it gets older, and it’s definitely a year-round look. For transition, I mixed it up with some stretch fabrics like twills, knits, supplex and Lycra spandex.”
Styles include zipper jackets, skirts, dresses and pants. While some of it can go to the office, Jovine said “it depends on which office.
“Let me put it this way,” Jovine said. “I’m not going to Wall Street in this.”
Eileen Fisher, the contemporary sportswear manufacturer and retailer here, introduced Tencel denim during its resort collection earlier this year.
“Now, we’re doing special cuttings for our accounts and for our own stores,” said Ann Kasper, vice president of wholesale sales for the company. “We all wanted a pair of jeans like the ones we had in college and high school, but more comfortable.”
Kasper said the company chose Tencel because “it’s environmentally correct — the chemicals that are used in making it are recycled” and because it has a soft feel and drape.
Styles in the line include a pull-on pant, a trouser, short and long vests, jackets and various dresses, which were the bestsellers, Kasper said. The average wholesale on the items is $40, and Kasper said that while the denim looks haven’t yet become part of every season, when it’s in the line, it represents “about 30 to 35 percent” of the total business.