By Kate Jacobsen
What better way to kick-off fashion week than by featuring Chicago-based designer Elise Bergman who is representing the Windy City in New York for Fashion Week by competing in the Diet Pepsi Style Studio. Bergman was one of four designers hand-picked by Simon Doonan to participate in the competition. Doonan mentored the designers who are each creating three looks he conceptualized: fierce animal prints, avant-garde work wear and metallic finishes inspired by the Diet Pepsi can as seen through the lens of THEIR city.
Bergman launched her eponymous label in July of 2006 with a rack full of handmade, one-of-a-kind pieces. Her collection can be found in a handpicked selection of fine boutiques nationwide. While a Chicagoan through-and-through, Elise spent the past two winters living in the mountains of Montana. The rustic outdoors and fast-paced, sophisticated urban environments are equally inspirational to Elise. When designing, she keeps both city and country girls in mind. She uses luxurious silks and pairs them with organic cottons, hand-dyed or hand-woven natural materials, and rare vintage fabrics. She designs multi-functional pieces that are classic and elegant with a sustainable, feminine, and youthful twist.
TWW: Elise, congratulations on the exciting opportunity to compete in the Diet Pepsi Style Studio Runway Show! Out of all the Chicago designers that could’ve been selected, how does it feel to be chosen to represent the Windy City in New York for fashion week?
Elise: Thank you very much! There is an incredible pool of design talent in Chicago and it is an honor (and a surprise) to have been singled out to participate in the Diet Pepsi Style Studio Runway Show. I am grateful to be part of the Chicago fashion community and hope I represent our city well.
TWW: What have you learned through the experience thus far that you will use in the future to elevate your brand locally and nationally?
EB: Simon Doonan is serving as a mentor throughout the process and has offered some really great advice about how to present our designs on the national stage. We will be meeting him this afternoon for fittings and feedback, and I plan to listen carefully to what he has to say!
TWW: How does competing in events such as this help with the exposure of your brand? Are you currently looking to expand your brand nationally?
EB: Reaching a wider audience is an ongoing goal and challenge for an independent fashion brand. I can only hope that an experience such as this will lead to other valuable opportunities. But right now, I am just enjoying being a part of this and taking in the experience as something wonderful in and of itself.
TWW: What do you think you will contribute as a designer to the competition that will bring a “refreshing perspective?”
EB: I grew up in Chicago and love living here. Chicago is a major city with so many vibrant and thriving cultural elements (spectacular architecture, world class restaurants, amazing arts organizations, great music community, our lakefront, etc). As a city, I believe Chicago also has a laid-back, polite, Midwest mentality. The refreshing perspective that I hope to bring to NYFW is something that reflects the creative community I am a part of and is fashion forward yet accessible.
TWW:The press release talks about the designers in the competition translating high fashion for the everyday woman. TheWorkingWardrobe.com’s content caters to the everyday worker. How do you personally translate high fashion for the everyday woman? What are some tips you would give to women to achieve a high fashion look that is wearable and yet affordable?
EB: Simon Doonan gave us key style trends to serve as the inspiration for our three looks for the runway presentation. The categories include safari/fierce animal prints, avant garde workwear, and metallics inspired by the Diet Pepsi can. I worked with the categories and tried to find ways to subtly and in a sophisticated way incorporate them into my own design aesthetic. I want to recognize the trends and be inspired by them, but also stay true to my personal style and clothing that works in Chicago. I suppose that my advice would be just that: to pay attention to high fashion trends and work them into your wardrobe in small doses, but focus on/invest in simple, classic, and timeless pieces.
TWW: In your opinion, what three elements are currently missing that would help put Chicago on the fashion map?
EB: There are a lot of great minds in Chicago working to develop the fashion industry here. From the Chicago Fashion Incubator to the team of people who put on Fashion Focus Chicago, I think we have the right intentions about helping develop new designers and bringing awareness to Chicago’s fashion brands and we are taking baby steps towards having a bigger star on the fashion map. While we are getting there, the limited access to affordable materials and production make it difficult to do everything locally. However, there is a lot of talent and a lot of effort being put in to nurturing that talent and keeping it local and I think it just takes time. I am excited to see where we are on the map five years from now.
TWW: According to your website, you are ‘committed to using local production and skilled craftsmanship, paying fair wages, and staying involved in every single step of [your] business.’ I am very impressed and find it refreshing, but has it made it difficult to build a business by doing business the right way? Are you ever tempted to change your practices to expand the Elise Bergman brand?
EB: I love how my business is structured and will do whatever I can to keep it this way. “Doing business the right way” sometimes means the turnaround is slower, the yield is smaller, and the cost is higher. But, the artistic process and the little steps that go into making a garment are what drive my business and keep me excited about running a fashion brand. Even if and as business grows, I will do my best to keep production local and maintain some element of the custom, hand-made component.
TWW: Can you give our readers any hint or preview of what they should expect to see from Elise Bergman this week in New York?
EB: Custom designed prints for the safari look. I took the concept of “zebra crossings and spotty predators” and abstracted it a bit. I wanted to take the animal print trend and make it a little more subtle and in line with my other looks. I am excited about the result!
If you happen to be in New York, please join me in supporting Elise and other up-and-coming designers at the Diet Pepsi Style Studio Runway Show on Thursday, February 9th at 8:00 p.m. at The Box.