Designers

New, Local Design on Display at cARTel

Madison-based designer Sam Lundsten debuted an exciting first look at his Earl Gray line at cARTel, a spring fashion and art show held at 100state on May 1.

Lundsten’s line featured long lines, sharp corners, and heavy, natural fabrics. The looks were utilitarian and stark, almost Orwellian, especially a square green wool skirt held up by leather suspenders worn over vintage white wool long underwear.

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An all-white pants and tunic ensemble would have been at home on a New York City runway, while a denim tunic version of the look would fit perfectly in the closet of any sharply-dressed Northwesterner or Midwesterner.

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Perhaps the most intriguing look from the Earl Gray line was a white dress made of sharp lines and deep v’s. The  dress scissored from a central axis point on each side, creating a lot of leg (and butt too). The dress would be a challenge for anyone with curves, but for the flat bodied, it’s beautiful. Paired with boots and socks as Lundsten styled it, the look is strong and tough and almost Nordic in aesthetic.

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The dress is 100 percent wool, cut from a 1940’s Czechoslovakian soldiers blanket that, according to the man who sold the blanket to Lundsten, was used in war time and saw live ammo combat from the protection of a hand-dug foxhole.

“The blanket did most of the work for me. I just had to not take too much away from it,” Lundsten said.

A second shirt dress, made of linen, carried the same long, simple lines as the other pieces along with fitted half-sleeves. It is both humble and elegant, as well as more wearable for everyday affairs than the white dress.

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“Humility was at the forefront when I think about the inspiration for this show. I was thinking a lot about a modern day peasant,” Lundsten said.  “Simple refined minimalistic lines and shapes with natural, available fabrics.”

“I want to make pieces for people who like a challenge.”

Photographer: Cory Peterson

Models:

  • Shirtdress: Madeline Elledge
  • Blanket dress/tote skirt: Jess Ploessl
  • Male designs: Alieu Camara

Follow @realearlgray on Instagram to keep up with Lundsten’s latest designs.

Meet the MFN: Meg Lahti

Meg Lahti is a local designer and member of the Madison Fashion Network.  She talks below about a day in the life of a clothing designer, what it took to make herself a priority in her own life, and how supporting local makers contributes to a community. 

(We previously featured MFN co-founders Maggie and Melissa. No, we promise, your name doesn’t have to start with M to be involved!)

Meg Lahti

How would you describe your career in the fashion industry?

I left my job in May to concentrate full-time on building my clothing business, dimes & wednesday. I’ve worked in different facets of the industry since graduating college, learning as much as I could and applying that to running my own company. Despite working in the apparel industry since 2007, I really feel like this is the actual beginning to my career. I just participated in my first market event, I’m building inventory for my website, and I’m designing new items. 

When did you know you wanted to go into fashion? Why?

I was 16 when I realized that fashion was a realistic career path. It was at that time that I decided I wanted to start my own clothing line. When I look back on my childhood I think it was a natural progression. I always loved making doll clothes and designing paper dolls, and I had a massive collection of paper dolls growing up. (Not going to lie, I still have all of them stowed away in a closet!)

I also remember being about 8 years old and playing “tailor” in the basement with dress up clothes and a mannequin. I got serious about learning to sew in high school and started by adding fabric to the side seams of my jeans and hand sewing clear vinyl kilts with faux fur trim and huge buckles. I loved the sense of freedom I had in creating my own look and knowing that no one else had that particular garment. 

Full Service

What does an ordinary work day look like? 

I hope I never have an ordinary work day! I do try to make to-do lists, but sometimes inspiration strikes and I go off in a different direction than intended. At this point in building dimes & wednesday I’m wearing all the hats from sourcing to design and development all the way through production and sales. Some days I have a clear direction and others I feel I’m being drawn and quartered between what needs to get done. Eventually I hope to have more structure to my days, but for now the least I can say is that every day is interesting and something new!

What have you learned through your work?

I’ve learned a lot about myself through the process. One of the most positive things I’ve learned is how different your outlook can be when you’re finally doing what you’re meant to do. In the jobs I held prior to being a full-time entrepreneur there was always a feeling of discord in my life. I knew that I wanted to just work on my business, but the risks and financial uncertainty were enough to hold me back.

I finally realized that I’ve spent the majority of my life making sure that everyone around me was happy and comfortable, many times at my own expense. I thought “Once I have everyone around me taken care of I can concentrate on myself and my business” … And then I realized that’s not a feasible task.

All I was doing was standing with both my feet planted firmly in my own way. It’s been a struggle for me to put myself as a priority. It felt very selfish at first, but I can’t even explain how freeing it was to shed the overdeveloped sense of responsibility to everyone around me. 

MR Photo

Why does fashion matter to you?

Fashion matters to me because it’s such an individual concept and it’s such an obvious way to express yourself. It’s something that you don’t have to take too seriously, that you can have fun with, and it’s so easy to change it up.

I think it’s interesting how your dress can affect the way you conduct yourself, or alter your mood and body language. I know that I feel and act differently when I take more care to dress myself when I’m going out than when I get dressed to do errands and schlep around the house on a Sunday afternoon. I love the feeling of confidence when you put on a piece of clothing that you love and feel great in. It just makes the whole day better.

What value does fashion add to the local (or global) community?  

The global value of fashion is a two-sided coin. There’s the fabulous side with social media and international fashion bloggers uniting fashionistas across the globe. It’s awesome how we’re more in tune than we’ve ever been due to how fast trends can travel. I love looking at street style blogs from around the world. There’s limitless creativity, self expression, and inspiration! 

However, there’s also the darker side of global fashion: the economics involved in producing apparel for the cheapest prices at the expense of the people and countries who depend on those jobs to improve their national economy. You’re sort of damned if you do and damned if you don’t, but I won’t delve too far into that side right now. 

The global impact of fashion does segue into the increasing value of local fashion. There is such a renewed interest in buying US-made goods, sustainability and farm to table restaurants that it makes sense to extend that to local fashion. I grew up with close ties to the artist community in Duluth, MN, so I’ve always been immersed in local makers and never gave much thought to it until I was older. The goods you buy from local makers or businesses have so much more meaning to them and the transparency of who you’re supporting (as opposed to a multi-level corporation) is, I think, just so essential to building a better community. 

Local fashion also goes to show that you don’t have to move to NY or LA to be part of the fashion industry. We need to keep building up the fashion community and resources to keep the talent local and to show that the Midwest is more than plaid, camo, and blaze orange!

Sawyer

What are the next steps for you, and what do you need to get there?

For dimes & wednesday and my career I really need to focus on marketing and networking. Obviously, being involved in the Madison Fashion Network is a step in the right direction! It’s hard for me to say specifically what all the next steps are, however, because I have so many ideas for my business and right now I’m the only one so I can’t go in all directions at once. 

I have received a lot of positive feedback from guys about my jeans and button-down shirts so I may be looking into adding some men’s styles sooner than I originally planned!

Necchi

What’s your favorite thing about Madison?

I love the laid back atmosphere and attitude in Madison. I also love the diversity of the neighborhoods — it adds a lot of character to the city.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Madison?

I love to people watch on State Street in the summer. I also like exploring different landmarks in and around the city, I think everyone should do tourist-y things around the city they live in.  

BandanaPhotos courtesy of Meg Lahti.

Meet the MFN: Melissa Behrens

Maggie Welsh and Melissa Behrens launched the Madison Fashion Network last October to grow and centralize the fashion scene here in town.

Melissa talks below about how she got started in fashion, the impact of fashion on our daily lives, and how fashion defines cultural changes. (We featured Maggie previously here.)

Melissa Behrens

How would you describe your current career in the fashion industry?

I don’t necessarily see it as a career in fashion. I didn’t go to school for this and don’t necessarily have formal training in anything fashion-related. I see myself more as an entrepreneur who happens to be taking on fashion-related ventures right now. Current projects I’m working on are coordinating the Madison Fashion Network and making my own handmade jewelry.

When did you know you wanted to go into fashion? Why? 

There was really not a defining moment when I decided that, yes, this is what I want to do. There have been a lot of bumps, a masters degree, and careers changes along the way.

I was primarily interested in art growing up. I’d work on craft projects at home all the time and I took tons of art classes in school, mostly focused on drawing, painting, ceramics, and photography. But my interest in “art” also extended into wearable fashion. I’ve always found it to be a great form of expression and creativity.

Being a really shy, introverted child I used clothes, accessories, makeup, and hair as a way to show a little more of my personality that wasn’t otherwise heard. I learned how to sew in a home ec class in middle school and begged my mom for a sewing machine. I ended up getting one for Christmas/my birthday one year (I’m a Christmas baby) and I taught myself everything else I didn’t learn in school.

I would mostly do re-fashioning sewing projects—picking up things from resale stores and making them more my own or tailoring them to fit a little better. I’ve also taught myself a lot of the basic jewelry making techniques that I now do from books, YouTube and blog tutorials, and a lot of trial and error. I’ve recently started taking some metal working classes so that I can learn so more advanced techniques like soldering. I still have a lot to learn.

Geometric Brass Art Deco Necklace with Hanging Blue Sodalite Beads

What has been the hardest thing about being in the fashion industry?

I’m not sure I’m necessarily “in” the fashion industry, but I think the hardest thing is not being taken seriously. Fashion is sometimes seen as something that’s fluff, unnecessary, or vain. When you’re interested in fashion there’s sometimes this presumption that there aren’t “brains” behind what you do. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

What has been the most rewarding thing about being in the fashion industry?

I’ve met some of the greatest people in this industry. The connections you make are amazing. Everyone is truly inspiring, everyone has their own unique style and point of view. Fashion is constantly changing and I think it’s exciting to see what’s what’s coming next, what’s new, what’s different. It’s never boring.

What’s an unexpected turn your career has taken?

I have a masters degree in counseling. I always thought I would open my own practice or go on and get a PhD and be a researcher. That didn’t happen….

Melissa Behrens

What impact do you think fashion has on the individual? 

Everyone participates in fashion in some way, even if they don’t think they are. They’re buying clothes somewhere and putting them on in some sort of manner that makes the most sense to them.

I think what you wear on some level defines who you are and showcases your personality, character, and mood. I honestly think clothes have a huge impact on your mood. I know when I slump around all day in sweatpants and ripped t-shirts I can feel kind of crappy and lazy. But getting dressed, putting on makeup, fixing my hair—there’s something about the process of getting ready in the morning that makes me feel more ready to take on the day. I feel more put together, organized, prepared, confident, professional, all those good things.

What impact do you think fashion has on society?

When fashion is talked about on a societal level I think it’s usually pretty negative. We see a lot of coverage in the media about super thin models; unrealistic photoshopping; how it influences very young girls to judge themselves harshly and compare themselves to the magazine ideals; and the depression, anxiety, and eating disorders that “result” because of fashion.

But what I’m more interested in is how fashion defines cultural, political and societal changes. When we look back on specific time periods I think people immediately go to the fashion and style trends of those times. You know, women are now wearing pants. 🙂

Brass Fringe Statement Necklace

Why is supporting local fashion important to you? 

I think supporting local fashion makes fashion more accessible to the average person. When people think of fashion they think of the very high-end designer houses and over-the-top runway shows in New York, Paris, Milan.

Locally, people aren’t connected to that scene at all. The average person can’t necessarily afford couture and most people never have the opportunity to see a live runway show. I think by supporting local design we give up-and-coming designers the opportunity to show their work and it also provides a more approachable access point for the consumers to see what fashion is all about. A win-win for everyone.

What’s your favorite thing about Madison?

It’s a very smart city. People here are very educated and intellectual. You can have really meaningful conversations with complete strangers.

Henry

What’s your favorite thing to do in Madison?

I love taking my dog, Henry, to the dog parks.

Photos courtesy of Melissa Behrens. See more of Melissa’s jewelry on here.

Meet the MFN: Maggie Welsh

Madison Fashion Network cofounders Melissa Behrens and Maggie Welsh

Maggie Welsh and Melissa Behrens launched the Madison Fashion Network last October to grow and centralize the fashion scene here in town.

Maggie talks below about why she’s in the fashion industry, what fashion means to her, and why local matters. 

Maggie Welsh

How would you describe your current career in the fashion industry?

After working in the industry in NYC as a handbag designer, I moved back to pursue my own line here. In addition, I work at iona (a women’s designer boutique) as the Marketing Director.

When did you know you wanted to go into fashion? Why? 

I wouldn’t say that I knew I wanted to be in “fashion” necessarily as I never allowed myself to think ‘unrealistically’ until I was quite a bit older. When I was very young—about third grade or so—I hand sewed Barbie clothes for my younger sister. I was always voted “most creative” and loved anything to do with art. For many years I thought I wanted to be an art teacher (I admired my grandpa who was an art teacher), but after a heartbreaking year where I tutored seventh graders that couldn’t read or do simple math, I knew I couldn’t be a teacher.

I then studied Cultural Anthropology. After a year in, I decided it was not for me and dropped down to part-time. I was sewing handbags on the side for fun, and my boyfriend (now husband) asked why not do that as I really loved it. For some reason I had ruled it out because it was ‘unrealistic’ (not sure why I studied anthropology then!).

I made the switch into the Textile and Apparel Design major at the UW and was really excited about the opportunity to go to FIT my last year. It took me a while to allow myself to realize I wanted to be in fashion, but once I made the switch, everything clicked.

Maggie with a backpack of her own design

What has been the hardest thing about being in the fashion industry?

It’s highly competitive and you tend to work long, underpaid hours. At least in NYC you do. But, if you love it, you love it.

What has been the most rewarding thing about being in the fashion industry?

Seeing your designs made into real pieces every season is amazing.

What’s an unexpected turn your career has taken?

Setting up the Madison Sewing Studio was definitely not ‘the dream’ I came back to pursue, but I felt it was a necessary piece missing in Madison. I’m glad to say that we have successfully set up a space at Sector67 that will hopefully stay for a long time to come.

What impact do you think fashion has on the individual? 

This could go in so many directions. Fashion impacts a person every day no matter what they’re doing because every morning you get up and put something on. Whether you buy at Walmart or Alexander McQueen, you’re still a consumer of fashion. It’s the easiest form of self-expression and that’s why I love it so much.

What impact do you think fashion has on society?

Again, a hard question to answer. It has so many impacts. One impact I like to think a lot about is the effect fast fashion has on society. Fast fashion is the really ‘trendy’ fashion that goes out of style fast and is usually made very cheap. For example, H&M and Forever 21.

Consumers typically throw or give away their “fast fashion” pieces every season which eventually end up in a landfill. These items aren’t made to last and are also made with materials that are unfriendly to the environment and made in bad conditions (obviously, there are also exceptions). Fast fashion was not always in style and I do believe that we’re slowly realizing that it’s better to buy one item for more that will last longer, made locally and fairly over buying ten cheap items. The history of this is rather fascinating considering ‘Ready to Wear’ garments are only a century old and before that everything was handmade to fit the individual.

Maggie Welsh

Why is supporting local fashion important to you? 

For a number of reasons:

  •  Fashion is a business that could add to our community and create jobs for students that I know leave every year because there isn’t a job for them here. Aside from Lands’ End in Dodgeville, Kohl’s in Milwaukee, and Target in the Twin Cities, there aren’t a ton of opportunities, especially on a smaller, non-corporate scale.
  • With manufacturing costs rising overseas and more desire for local manufacturing, local fashion is becoming more important. I think we’re at a bit of a turning point and Madison is really affordable for its size. There’s a lot of opportunity.
  • It’s fun. Seeing peoples’ talent is pretty amazing. There should be a bigger platform for them. Connecting people is the first step.

What’s your favorite thing about Madison?

It’s an easy place to think clearly and get things done.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Madison?

Oh man, that’s a hard one! Ahh, I really love walking to James Madison Park and looking out on the lake—that’s perfect place for that clarity I was talking about. I also love the local food scene, and the development of the local DJ scene since the last time I lived here has been huge!

Photos provided by Maggie Welsh.