Ellen Van Dusen has always lived a colorful life: sponge-painting with Mom at home in Chevy Chase, ripping apart fabrics to make clothes, and painting one too many pairs of pants. Today, she designs an eclectic line of clothing for New York City boutiques that’s earned attention from fashion giants Refinery29, Nylon, and Vogue—an experience she says feels “pretty weird.”
Van Dusen released Dusen Dusen in spring 2010, influenced by her creative adolescence and love for simple shapes and bold prints. This year’s spring line is bright, geometric, and fun, and there’s plenty more art-inspired design on the way in her fall 2014 collection, set to be shipped to stores later this month.
We talked to the Tufts graduate to learn more about how DC shaped her blossoming fashion career—and the worst thing she’s ever designed.
Tell us about Dusen Dusen. How would you describe it?
I’ve always been really interested in color and shape and art, so I wanted to make clothing that had really simple wearable shapes with bold, bright prints. I’m a big doodler; I love to draw. When I started making clothes in high school, I would buy stuff from thrift stores, then cut them up and sew them. Then I graduated to finding wacky fabrics and making stuff from there. I’ve always been interested in textiles and patterns and prints, so that’s where the line came from.
What was it like growing up in DC?
I lived in Chevy Chase, DC. My parents were both architects, so we had an art-plus-design-centric home. Instead of going to church or synagogue, my parents would take us to a museum every Sunday. It was our own little education. We would always go whenever there was a new show at the National Gallery of Art. We spent a lot of time at the Air and Space Museum. We would always do little projects in the backyard. We did tie-dye, we did sponge-painting.
DC is such a beautiful city. I feel like people don’t talk about that enough when they talk about DC. The architecture is so nice and so green. The contrast from DC to New York is extreme. New York is nice, but there’s a lot of bad stuff, too. My studio is in Williamsburg, and the walk to my studio, is very uninspiring.
Have you always been interested in fashion?
I’ve always made my own clothes and painted on things—I have pants that I painted a checkerboard on that I would wear to ska concerts. Probably the worst thing I ever made: At the Field School, I took a class called “Picture, Poem, Song.” I partnered up with a friend of mine and I painted a pair of pants while listening to music.
There are so many good thrift stores in DC, and I think my passion for making clothes came from thrift stores. I would go to G Street Fabrics in Rockville and make dresses out of quilting fabric. During high school, I had a hat-making business. I got really into it and started selling hats at my high school and made 200 hats over the course of one winter. I charged $15 a hat, which is absurd for a hand-knit hat.
What path did you follow when you moved away from DC?
I went to Tufts. I did a design-your-own-major program there called psychology of design where I was basically studying the visual system from a bunch of different disciplines. I did some internships while I was at school, over the summers, with designers in New York, and learned a good amount. I worked a costume shop at Tufts and picked up a bunch of skills there. I had to make all kinds of weird stuff for plays.
After I graduated, I moved back to DC for a couple months, and worked at Annie Cream Cheese [in Georgetown]. That summer, I made some clothes and sold them at Meeps in Adams Morgan. Then I moved to New York and interned for two designers, and then I started my own line.
What do you miss most about DC?
I definitely miss the space I had in DC. It was very different from the space I have here. I miss some of my old spots. I liked taking my dog to my elementary school park. I miss Rock Creek Park—it’s a great place to go jogging.
Tonight marks day two of Bethesda Row’s annual fashion extravaganza, the Front Row, and the appearance of this year’s VIP guest, Maria Menounos. The Extra host and reality television star is constantly on our radar for her impeccable style—from red-carpet stunners to cute, workout-motivating fitness wear and everything in between—so it seemed only fitting that she’d headline one of the area’s most highly anticipated fashion events. Before sitting front and center at the runway show that takes over Bethesda Lane Friday evening, Menounos will greet guests and sign copies of her newly released book, The Everygirl’s Guide to Diet & Fitness, in front of Redwood restaurant beginning at 5. While sit-down tickets to the show, which kicks off at 7:30, are sold out, guests are still welcome to purchase copies of the book and meet the star beforehand. Read on for our interview with Menounos, who told Shop Around about everything from her favorite DC spots to her closet essentials.
Welcome to Washington! What has your experience been with our city? Any favorite spots?
I love the city and being active in causes I believe in. I’ve advocated for diabetes awareness on the Hill and have been a part of other coverage and advocacy efforts. I also love the history surrounding Washington, and seeing the cherry blossoms never gets old.
What’s your impression of DC fashion?
Most people say it’s conservative, but I disagree. The style is some of the sharpest around; it’s smart and sexy.
Plagued by a false image of conservativism when it comes to style, DC’s self-described rep as an emerging fashion capital is often a controversial one. Personally, we feel its rapid spike in local labels with an increasingly edgy, entreprenurial lean (not to mention the roster of powerhouse designers that have come our way lately) has our city on its way to said status, but, alas, non-Washingtonians hardly see it that way. That's where Elaine Mensah comes in.
In her just-finished documentary The Politics of Fashion (produced by Svelte), Mensah aims to challenge the public's impression that DC lacks authority in the fashion department. The local-star-studded picture pulls together the city’s most powerful forces in style—including our own fashion editor, Kate Glassman Bennett—to offer the public some insight into DC's increasingly influential fashion scene. The remaining cast is a mix of creative talents that make up all facets of local style, from Pulizer-winning critic Robin Givhan, to the young founder of Worn Creative, Nicole Aguirre, to luxury public relations pro Aba Kwawu. A slew of bloggers, shop-owners, designers, and more also make an appearance. The film premieres tonight during a kickoff celebration at Mazza Gallerie; tickets are sold out, but guests can add themselves to a waitlist via Eventbrite. Take a peek at the trailer below.
Designers Alvaro Roche and Elsa Arcila have traveled the world for fashion—with stops in France, Venezuela, and Italy—but it wasn’t until they got to Washington that they decided to set down roots. Following years of experience in the industry, including Roche’s stint with designer Gianfranco Ferré and Arcila’s degree from LA’s esteemed Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM), the pair noticed a void in the style scene of their new hometown, and decided to take it upon themselves to fill it. Thus was born Aroche, their namesake fashion label whose inaugural collection of minimalist flats, patterned clutches, and customizable totes debuted online in early March. We caught up with the designers to hear more about Aroche’s origin and what’s next for the brand.
How and when did you decide to launch an accessories line?
Alvaro Roche: In the past three years, we’ve noticed a higher success rate in online brands. We want to be a part of that success. We also wanted to change the reputation that Washingtonians are unfashionable. DC is the capital of the US, after all! I was especially interested in customizing and personalizing bags. When we started figuring out who our target customers were, we realized shoes were the perfect product to complete the picture—light, well-proportioned nylon/leather bags and funky, comfortable flats.
Alvaro, you attended Parsons and worked for Ferré while Elsa gained fashion experience at FIDM. Can you give us an example of how you’ve applied skills from those experiences in creating Aroche?
AR: I worked at Ferré during a time when art and fashion were almost indistinguishable. It was a very free and creative period. I cofounded EPK, a children’s clothing line, and was designing thousands of items per year. I learned how to hone that creativity into salable products at an industrial and affordable level. When Elsa and I first talked about Aroche, we agreed it had to be the marriage of two concepts: great design and affordability. Instead of working on thousands of styles, we focused our attention on making sure the sizes, details, and proportions were perfect. We could only do that if we kept the collection small.
Elsa Arcila: At FIDM, I was exposed to new technologies and multichannel marketing. It helped me envision the strategy that Aroche would take as a brand. I also learned that e-commerce was the future of marketing and retail.
Cameron St. Clair Archer’s designs for her namesake jewelry line are a study in perfectly chic contrasts: Blend one part industrial (she works with reclaimed metals) with a dash of tough (hello, spikes and chains), and mix in a bit of earthy, organic beauty (thanks to the raw stones and delicate gems). Finish with a healthy dose of asymmetry and some lush color, and the result is that sweet spot between sculptural cool and endless wearability. Archer launched the line in 2010 after teaching herself to rework her own jewelry, and now it’s a full-time job.
We stopped by her Bloomingdale workspace recently to see where the magic happens, and chatted with her about why she likes working in DC, and how abstract concepts like spontaneity and adventure inspire her designs. Read on for the scoop—and peep her seriously gorgeous creations.
Tell us a little about your background. How did you end up designing jewelry?
I’ve always been pretty crafty, and I love using my hands—the dirtier the better, be it painting, sanding, drilling, refinishing, gluing, you name it. I suppose the jewelry came about from a real lack of creative expression at a previous job. I was hungry for it, and started to take apart/recreate jewelry I already owned just to see if it was something I enjoyed doing. I did some research and started buying simple starter materials. I would stay up very late designing, and I’d wear my creations the next day. I started getting compliments, and women would ask me who the designer was and where they could buy pieces. Thus, Saint Clair Jewelry. There’s something equally meditative and invigorating about designer jewelry—the combinations truly are endless.
How would you describe the Saint Clair customer?
The Saint Clair woman is not afraid to take risks. She stands out in a crowd; she is a leader, a thinker, an empowered woman who knows what she wants. She appreciates and practices openness and inclusiveness. She is a risk-taker, she’s goofy—unapologetically so—and, more important, she is confident, which is the most beautiful piece of jewelry anyone can own.
How has your work evolved since you started designing?
I definitely take more risks. I lean more toward asymmetrical designs, and I don’t stick to one genre. I also am not so obsessed with following the latest and greatest trends, which I’ve learned can really inhibit creative freedom. I make things I like—things that feel right—and I put myself out there. Like I said, design possibilities are truly endless, and if you limit yourself to one genre, it becomes a bit sticky.
When we started our phone conversation with Jessica Alba last week—she from nearby her Beverly Hills home, Shop Around from our DC office—we felt like we were talking to a girlfriend. She was nice, down-to-earth, disarmingly real, and pretty damn funny, which was refreshing because that’s how we felt about her new book, The Honest Life: Living Naturally and True to You. Unlike most celebrity lifestyle how-to tomes, Alba’s is surprisingly helpful, well-written, resourceful, and realistic. The 31-year-old mom of two offers tips and insight into creating an eco-friendly and healthy lifestyle for herself and her family—and does it in a way that doesn’t make us roll our eyes at the sheer impossibility of it all (ahem, Gwyneth Paltrow). We meant to talk clothes and trends with Alba, since she’ll be in Bethesda on Friday signing copies of her book at the Front Row fashion extravaganza, but she was so fun to talk to about her writing process and her future in acting that we didn’t get a chance. Plus we already know the girl can dress.
Your new book seems really well-researched and thoughtful—how did you become an expert in this sort of eco-friendly lifestyle realm?
Well, I wouldn’t call myself an expert, necessarily. I gathered the information over five years, and then it took about one year to format it and turn it into a book. And it was so difficult to gather [the information], which I did along the way as things affected me throughout my own life and personal experiences.
But you were able to dissect it and filter it into a book that is really easy to read, even for those of us who aren’t familiar with these sorts of toxic versus non-toxic issues.
The information is pretty dense, and unless you’re a scientist, you’re going to be like, “What the heck are you talking about?” But I knew there were things that weren’t good and that I wanted to avoid that touched parts of my life, from beauty to food to materials for my home. So it was such a daunting process to decipher it all, but I felt it was super-necessary. I mean, I wish I had this handbook and guidebook when I was learning and a new mom.
Alyson Cambridge is, of course, most famous for her spectacular voice: She’s a professional operatic soprano who’s in town for her fourth season with the Washington National Opera, performing as Julie in the Kennedy Center’s Show Boat, which opens Saturday.
Turns out this Arlington native is also a bit of a fashionista. She’s a brand ambassador for contemporary designer Monika Chiang and iconic jeweler Chopard, and girl likes to rock a look. We chatted with the singer recently about her personal style, and—bonus!—scored some of her insider secrets on what to wear for an opening-night performance.
How did you become interested in fashion?
I’ve always been into fashion since I was a little girl. I loved reading fashion magazines. I had to wear a uniform through eighth grade, and then when I got to high school I was so excited to be liberated from the uniform and be able to experiment and try new things. I was always very keen on whatever the new trends were at the time. I remember in high school I would come out for my dad to take me to school, and he would literally step out of the car, point his finger, and say, “Get back in the house!” because my skirt was too short. And I would say, “Dad, that’s what everyone’s wearing!” I would get made fun of because I was always wearing these tall or bright funky shoes and I always liked to experiment. But as much as I liked trends, I always wanted to have something that was a little different and uniquely Alyson. So I’ve tried to carry that through my fashion sense as I’ve evolved as a person and as a performance artist. I try to be conscious of the environment I’m in and wear things that are appropriate, but I also like to show my own personal style.
And what is your personal style?
I tend to be drawn to color; I’m drawn to things that are sophisticated and chic but have an edge to them. I might wear a form-fitting, classic, structured dress, but I’ll add some heels in a bright color or that have some spikes. Something that makes it pop and makes it a little different.
It didn’t take long for Carla Cabrera and Ashley Turchin to start dreaming up a fresh retail project. (If you think their names sound familiar, here’s why: Cabrera’s the fashion blogger behind the President Wears Prada, and Turchin’s past partnerships included a gig selling killer vintage for La Petite Marmoset, which closed in January.)
“It was kind of instant chemistry,” says Cabrera. “We started brainstorming within a year of meeting.”
The fruit of that brainstorm sesh? Anthom, which the stylish pair—along with their Web designer/photographer/creative mastermind, Marshall Johnson—launch this week as a Web-based retail concept specializing in emerging designers, exclusive pieces, and commissioned collaborations.
We recently had the chance to chat with Cabrera about the new venture. Read on to get the scoop on the project and Cabrera’s pet faves from the store’s offerings, then click through the gallery to snag a sneak peek of some of Anthom’s über-stylish wares.
In 2009, Jason Wu was just baby-stepping into the fashion world when Michelle Obama put his designs on global display, wearing his ivory one-shoulder gown with appliqué to President Obama’s first inaugural ball. In January, when Mrs. Obama opted once again for a Wu inaugural dress, this time a red velvet and chiffon number, it was clear the Taiwanese-born, New York-based fashion designer was one of the First Lady’s favorites—and now a bona fide star in the industry. (FLOTUS also wore a red and black Wu dress to February’s State of the Union address.) Wu will be in Chevy Chase on April 11 for a trunk show and appearance at Saks Fifth Avenue, as well as to host his fall 2013 ready-to-wear collection on the runway at the third annual Great Ladies’ Luncheon, which will take place in a New York Fashion Week-inspired tent being constructed in the parking area adjacent to the store. Prior to his visit, we had the opportunity to chat with Wu about inspiration for his new collection and why no one ever tells the First Lady what to wear.
For nine seasons, What Not to Wear has been a staple fashion reality show, there for you when nothing else is on. We’ve watched Stacy and Clinton play fairy godparents to countless sweatpants-clad Cinderellas as they diagnose the self-esteem problems beneath the tapered acid-wash denim their subjects just can’t let go of.
While London’s trademark sass may be front and center in every episode, her personal ups and down have, until recently, stayed behind the scenes. In her new book, The Truth About Style, London gives longtime fans a look at her own transformation—from a child plagued by severe psoriasis to a young woman with an eating disorder and, finally, to the empowered fashion guru who isn’t going to let anyone get away with wearing a dickey.