Could Nanotechnology Dramatically Reduce Clothing’s Environmental Impact?

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted on Sustainable Brands on October 27, 2015.

Image credit: Dropel Fabrics
Image credit: Dropel Fabrics

If washing and drying clothes is a major culprit in the environmental waste wars, what if there were more natural fabrics that repelled stains, resulting in fewer washings? One such solution, introduced by Kelby & Co. at the Fashion Tech Lab demo day this summer, is being rolled out in the market next month.

Dropel fuses hydrophobic (water- & stain-repellent) nanotechnology with cotton fibers to create enhanced cotton that resists stains as stubborn as soy sauce and red wine. Spills can be rinsed off with a squirt of water.

Founders Sim Gulati and Brad Feinstein are working with cotton now, though they say they have the capabilities to blend all types of natural fabrics such as cashmere, silk, linen and wool.

“Maintaining natural feel (softness), breathability, draping and all other fabric characteristics are our differentiators,” Feinstein says.

He says Dropel is working in the types of innovation usually reserved for polyester.

“We want to move away from synthetics towards a world where we can use natural textiles with added benefits that require less energy and resources in the process,” he says. ”We’ve used synthetics for decades and we believe we’re at a point now where we no longer need to resort to petroleum-based fabrics for innovative properties. We provide a sustainable alternative.”

The proprietary development process was designed in a research lab and adapted for mass-scale manufacturing. Feinstein and Gilutai have filed their first patent application for Dropel.

While the company is currently working with a handful of luxury menswear ecommerce companies, the team sees the fabric as being suitable for women’s and children’s wear, home furnishings, and uniforms. Dropel Fabrics is expected to come to market soon – the company has begun trials with several brands for Spring and Summer 2016, with some doing full garment manufacturing with the company and others sourcing the fabric. Regardless, the company says brands like that the innovative fabric with embedded technology is a purchase consumers can feel good about.

“We feel sustainability and environmental care are elements of our value proposition,” Feinstein says.

Dropel is the latest in a spate of recent fabric innovations aimed at decreasing the environmental impact of textile production and use:

  • In 2014, Scientists at City University in Hong Kong revealed a new treatment for cashmere that enables it to self-clean with some help from the sun. The technology coats cashmere fibers with tiny particles of the mineral anatase titanium dioxide. When exposed to sunlight for 24 hours, the mineral starts a chemical reaction creating oxidants that act as tiny electric currents to break down dust, dirt, bacteria and even trickier stains such as coffee and wine. If the project succeeds and is commercialized, it could lead to substantial savings on energy, water, washing liquids and dry cleaning chemicals.
  • In April, textile upcycler Worn Again announced a partnership with H&M and Kering to trial a first-of-its-kind textile-to-textile chemical recycling technology that is able to separate and extract polyester and cotton from old or end-of-use clothing and textiles. Once separated, the aim is for this unique process to enable the ‘recaptured’ polyester and cellulose from cotton to be spun into new fabric, creating a circular resource model for textiles.
  • In August, Swiss upcycled bag and clothing brand Freitag expanded its F-abric line of European-grown and -produced workwear with a compostable, cotton-free jean — the E500 jean line will comprise 81 percent linen and 19 percent hemp. The jeans will contain neither rivets nor nylon thread, making each pair 100 percent compostable after the removal of buttons.
  • In September, adidas announced Sport Infinity, the sportswear giant’s plan for a new breed of sporting goods that will never be thrown away. Instead, football (soccer) players will be able to constantly reimagine and recycle their dream products using an inexhaustible 3-D “super-material.” The company’s goal is for every gram of sportswear to eventually be broken down to be remolded again into new products in a waste-free, adhesive-free process
  • And just last month, Levi Strauss launched its Levi’s Wellthread™ Collection, which touts a holistic approach to sustainable product design: The line was made in 100 percent cotton for easier recyclability, by empowered workers — and includes the first garments to feature Levi’s Water<Less™ fabric, which saves more than 65 percent of the water in the dye process, as well as Water<Less denim finishes, which use up to 50 percent less water.

The Stars & Stripes Store: A Philadelphia Story

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted on The Americanologists on October 18, 2015.

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In November of 2012, the giant red doors of Stars & Stripes Ltd. on Philadelphia’s Chestnut Street were opened to the public. The building is a circa-1881 decommissioned Gothic-style church with original wood details and soaring leaded glass windows. Inside, you’ll find an elegant shop with a stylish collection of American-made clothing and home goods.

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The store is owned by the husband and wife team of Jan and Robert Chevalier. Ten years ago they bought the church to house Robert’s furniture business, but left the parish house empty. A friend suggested it would make a great store. “Why not?” thought Robert, who has been an entrepreneur his whole life. ” I never want to look back and say I wish I had tried that.”

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They filled the space with antique displays, but found it challenging to stock those displays with the Made-in-USA clothes they imagined. Their first season, they found only 30-40 vendors. “We found, in the beginning, everyone wanted to talk about it but no one wanted to do it,” says Robert.

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“We would stop by booths at the trade shows and tell them that we wanted Made-in-America merchandise. They’d say, ‘Good luck with that’,” says Jan. Now the store, which is meticulously styled with vintage art, artifacts and accessories, has merchandise from close to 175 vendors.  They also wanted the merchandise to cater to a range of customers – from the college student to the career person who lives or works in the area.

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The look at Stars & Stripes is classic American style with a twist. The men’s area is stocked with heritage brands like Bills Khakis (above), which makes sportswear ranging from boxers to overcoats; Haspel,which brings a new perspective to traditional gentleman’s style; Gitman and New England Shirt Co, two storied Ameircan shirt-makers; B. Ella, a knitting mill producing fun and comfortable socks for men and women; R. Hanauer, a manufacturer of classic silk repp ties and bowties, and Schott NY, a company that has made iconic coats for over 100 years.

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On the women’s side of the store there are Leota, NY wrap dresses, architectural-looking career separates from Nora Gardener, new takes on classic shirts from Bell by Alicia Bell and merchandise from Fresh Laundry, like the sweater coat shown above. In accessories, there’s jewelry by Jan Michaels of San Francisco and Brewster Designs of Lambertville, NJ.

GrafLanz

Felt and leather Graf and Lantz (Los Angeles) handbags pop on the shelves and are among the most popular items in the store.

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Home pieces include Faribault Woolen Mills throws (Faribault, MN), and Visual Comfort Lighting (Houston, TX).

Stars and Stripes Ltd. is open daily 10 to 6, Sundays from 11 to 5. The store is located at 2129 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia PA. They can be contacted at (215) 587-2129.

Philadelphia’s Economy Boosted by Influx of Retail, Investments

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted on WWD.com on September 22, 2015.

This fall, Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama and the Forbes Under 30 Summit will descend upon Philadelphia, putting the city in a spotlight not seen in many years. Next July, it’s the Democratic National Convention that will come to town, bringing with it throngs of delegates and tourists who like to shop.

They’re in the right place.

Since 2013, 25 national stores have come to Center City Philadelphia and nine retail-driven developments have been built or are under way in Center City. In the next few years, more than 2.3 million new square feet of fresh retail space is expected to be added to what has already helped earn it the number-two spot on Condé Nast Traveler’s list of best cities and neighborhoods in the world for shopping and fashion, as chosen by the magazine’s readers, behind Barcelona. In 2014, national stores making a big splash included a 100,000-square-foot Century 21, a 39,000-square-foot Nordstrom Rack, and a 29,000-square-foot Uniqlo, which is the Japanese fast-fashion giant’s only free-standing flagship outside of New York.

But it wasn’t that long ago — 2007, to be precise — that Michelle Shannon, vice president of marketing and communications of the Center City District, sat around a table with brokers, developers and retailers wondering how they could attract more stores to plant a flag in the district.

The data seemed strong enough to entice businesses to come to town: Since 2000, population increased 16 percent downtown. According to the 2015 State of Center City report, Millennials (ages 19-34) now represent 40 percent of the greater Center City population and household incomes are hovering around $107,000.

But back then, brokers had a hackneyed image of the city.

“People thought Philadelphia was an old Rust Belt, blue-collar city that was unsophisticated and whose main diet consisted of cheesesteaks and soft pretzels,” said Shannon.

So she gathered a team that could show outsiders the “new Philadelphia story.” Shannon formed The Philadelphia Retail Marketing Alliance in 2008 to improve the quality and quantity of Center City’s retail offerings. PRMA started advertising in trade publications and chatted up the city at retail trade shows. A glossy promotional piece, with images of independent stores and restaurants along with testimonials was presented to potential leasees. A site was created, Philadelphiaretail.com, to highlight shopping; it has an accompanying campaign with the tagline “Be In On It.” Shannon brought fashion designers to the Eventi hotel in Chelsea to meet writers and tell them about the fashion scene in the city. She paired with partners visitphilly.com, the convention and visitors bureau, and the City of Philadelphia and held a press conference in New York to say “give us a look.”

Laura Krebs Miller, vice president of Cashman & Associates, a public relations and marketing firm, invited writers to check out firsthand what Philadelphia retail was all about. She took them on tours of top shopping neighborhoods, experiencing The Philadelphia Collection (Philadelphia’s version of fashion week) and visiting the design spaces of the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator at Macy’s, both initiatives that were outgrowths of the PRMA.

“Many hadn’t been to Philadelphia in seven to 10 years,” Miller said. “They couldn’t believe how incredible and lively the whole scene was — shopping and dining, arts and culture. Writers would often make comparisons — while shopping in the boutiques and designer co-op shops in Old City neighborhood, they’d say ‘This reminds me of Cobble Hill in Brooklyn, or The Village.’”

“The surge of Philadelphia’s retail offerings and commercial development over the past several years is a reflection not only of our city as a highly desirable place to live, work and visit, but also of the determination of the individuals on a civic level that work through the mechanics of the infrastructure to help make it happen,” said Mayor Michael A. Nutter. “There is heavy investment from the City in seeing these large-scale capital projects and marketing efforts through and we’re proud of how far we’ve come. It is a significant time for retail in Philadelphia.”

Over the past few years, national brands have flocked to Walnut Street and Center City West, one of the city’s prime shopping districts. One retail pioneer, Joan Shepp, long held a coveted spot on Walnut Street but when retail demand increased and rents rose there, she seized the opportunity to move to bigger digs at 18th and Chestnut, where she now has a 9,200-square-foot store with rooms of apparel and accessories, from buzzy to contemporary to edgy — J.W. Anderson, The Row, Maison Margiela, Moschino, Public School, Sonia Rykiel, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Dries Van Noten and Nicholas Kirkwood among them.

“Rents in Center City District range from $30 a square foot on the residential corridors to $225 a square foot on Walnut Street, the city’s most highly sought-after shopping and dining high street,” said Douglas J. Green, principal of MSC Retail. “Over the past five years, rents have increased by 25 percent in some portions of CCD, to nearly 80 percent in others. This rent growth has been spurred by significant increased demand in residential growth and minimal new product added to the market.”

While Rittenhouse Square was the crown jewel of Center City retail, there is growth in so many neighborhoods now, according to Jacob Cooper, partner and managing director of MSC retail, a family-owned boutique real estate firm. “When you walk the blocks, there is an energy. There is so much construction going on. There are 60 colleges in the region, and [students] have never been interested in living in Center City. But now there is nightlife. It began with the election of (Mayor) Ed Rendell, who was interested in the renewal of the district. In the early Nineties, more businesses came here and in the late Nineties there was a resurgence on Walnut Street.”

Cooper added it’s never been easier to sell Philadelphia.

“Suddenly there was a whole gamut of retailers willing to plant a flag here — from luxury brands to fast fashion. There are store openings every week, it seems,” said Cooper. “Now there are Vince, Bloomingdale’s and Michael Kors.”

The retail footprint is expanding with the development of the area near The Gallery and the Market East area, which the late, renowned developer Tony Goldman started in the late Nineties.

Just last fall, Century 21 took over two floors of the former Strawbridge’s department store. C21 will become the anchor for the new Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia at Market East (formerly The Gallery). Eddie Gindi, executive vice president of Century 21 Department Stores, said his team spent a year visiting and researching Philadelphia while exploring several other cities for their first store outside of New York. “Philadelphia’s culture, wealth of like-minded consumers who align with our mission, combined with the city’s proximity to our operations hubs, ultimately drove our decision.”

The strength of the Millennial mind-set was also a contributing factor. In a year, C21 has seen strong sales in men’s and women’s European departments, women’s contemporary and European labels in the children’s and teen’s categories.

Right next door, construction is under way on the former Gallery. The City Council this summer approved a $325 million, two-year remake of the 1.4 million square-foot mall, built in 1973, which will be reimagined and called the Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust bought the mall in 2003; it owns nine malls in the region, 32 in the country.

“We definitely don’t want to create just another downtown mall.  It’s important that the experience is curated,” stated Joe Coradino, chief executive officer of PREIT. “In addition to shopping, there will be dining, entertainment and events. I like to say we’re going to create a ‘gotta go’ experience, so people tell their friends, ‘When you go to Philadelphia, you gotta go see Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia.’ So we, and our partners, are focused on crafting the right mix of tenants to satisfy the diverse audiences we’ll have.”

Retail expansions are being seen in the suburbs as well. King of Prussia Mall is undergoing its ninth expansion in its 52-year history. This latest will feature 170,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, according to Kathy Smith, director of marketing and business development. Twenty luxury brands will be in the new section, 15 of which are new to the Philadelphia area and to date include CH Carolina Herrera, Robert Graham, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams home furnishings, Microsoft and a Burberry flagship. The mall currently does about $1 billion in sales a year and receives around 20 million visitors annually.

“Why expand now? There is a demand by tenants to be in the best malls in America,” said David Contis, president of Simon Property Group. “Good malls have a demand for space. “It is not just the luxury customer who shops here. It is young and old, wealthy and middle class.” Millennials are also a target audience Simon wants to appeal to. “They want to shop, walk to the movies and eat out.  People want to gather and socialize, so will have five new restaurants. We want to create an environment where they want to stay longer and shop.“

Simone Cipriani Pairs Designers and Impoverished Artisans

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted on WWD.com on May 20, 2015.

Tuscan native Simone Cipriani likes to call Africa “the new Italy.” While Tuscany traditionally has been a place where many fashion brands had their headquarters and artisans were at their core, Cipriani feels that “with mass production, the value of fashion was lost.”

This story first appeared in the May 20, 2015 issue of WWD. See More.

In an interview before a recent talk at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Cipriani said he wants to bring that artisanal value back to fashion. As the head and founder of the Ethical Fashion Initiative, a flagship program of the International Trade Centre, which is a Geneva-based agency of the United Nations and World Trade Organization, he and his staff link top fashion talents to more than 7,000 marginalized artisans, the majority of them women, in East and West Africa, Haiti and the West Bank to produce luxury accessories, shoes and textiles.

Stella McCartney underscores the value in fair wages and the empowerment of women in making products through the Ethical Fashion Initiative. McCartney and the EFI began their partnership in 2011 in Kenya, where the designer produces handmade accessories with local artisans specializing in screen-printing and tailoring. She makes canvas bags there, like the Noemi tote.

Ilaria Venturini Fendi of Fendi started working with EFI in the development of her Carmina Campus brand of accessories. She manufactures mainly in EFI’s Nairobi hub. Vivienne Westwood, Stella Jean, Mimco, Chan Luu, Sass & Bide, Karen Walker, Osklen and retailer United Arrows are among other designers who work with EFI. The group also develops and advocates young and emerging designers from these regions like Lisa Folawiyo, Sophie Zinga, Christie Brown and Studio One Eighty Nine, working on product development and connecting them with international buyers.

It was while Cipriani was working in Kenya in 2009 that the U.N. approached him with the idea for this initiative. He combed the markets for artisans making sure workers were paid a living wage, helping to lift them out of poverty.

“Fashion is a vehicle for capacity building,” he said.

In Kenya, where the initiative began producing in 2009, unit volume rose from 7,000 units that year to more than 170,000 units in 2014. From 2013 — when they started with fabric production — to 2014, volume more than tripled from 3,400 meters to 12,000 meters.

Production hubs are now in Kenya, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ethiopia and Haiti and they have begun working in Palestine, Cambodia and Peru. The organization has offices in Geneva and London and expects to open one soon in New York.

Cipriani sets up the network that trains and oversees the production until the microbusinesses can be handed over to the communities. Building structures takes time. So does wooing designers to join him in this movement.

“This is tough because they know this is a long-term project, not just a season,” he said. “The production times are longer. It is not fast fashion, but many see the benefit.”

Westwood, in her 10th season with EFI, is one who has, and she understands the high price of such artisanal wares comes with the territory. Christopher DePietro, her marketing and merchandising director, says a cheap product is of no interest to them — an embroidered canvas clutch retails for $99 while a duffel goes for $438. “The driving force is whether it is ethically made,” DePietro said.

Cipriani added, “When designers commit, we let them know the boundaries for the country,” like skill sets and materials available.

When ITC started working with half-Haitian, half-Italian designer Stella Jean in 2013, she began buying handwoven cotton fabric and natural-dyed bogolan in Africa for her men’s and women’s lines. These vibrant striped fabrics caught the eye of Giorgio Armani, who invited her to show her spring 2014 collection in his Teatro Armani in Milan.

“My collaboration with ITC Ethical Fashion Project started thanks to my mentor Simonetta Gianfelici [ITC project representative for Altaroma], who introduced me to Simone Cipriani,” Jean said. “The ITC team guided me and gave me the opportunity to go to Burkina Faso, Mali and Haiti. There, I found a rare treasure, looking at the busy hands of extraordinary women who tell, with dignity and hard work, a creative and cultural mosaic without any kind of mystification. Our work together is about a proper, accountable business, which is environmentally sound, promoting sustainable economic development and opportunities in countries that do not need our charity.”

Cipriani has other design houses on his wish list: one in particular is Hermès, because of its history of artisan products.

“Consumers want authenticity,” Cipriani said. “It’s a huge movement that can change the paradigm of fashion. When we talk to salespeople in stores, they say consumers like hearing the story behind the product.”

EFI has social impact studies on these businesses, which some of EFI’s designers use in their marketing. “Some say, ‘this is a good product on its own, without that distinction,’” said Cipriani, “but I say, let’s spread the message.”

Luxury retailer Hirofumi Kurino, founder and creative director of United Arrows in Japan and Taiwan, makes clothing and accessories in Africa including clutches and totes with beading done by Maasai women for their Tege United Arrows line.

“The more I come to know fashion, the more I am attracted to handmade materials that [reflect] craftsmen’s culture over mass-commercialized products,” Kurino said. “The EFI project enables manufacturing of handcrafted products while helping to improve life conditions of the producers. This is not only meaningful, but also enriches our heart.”

The Woman Behind Nicole Miller’s Success

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on August 18, 2014.

Entrepreneur Mary K. Dougherty has made fashion designer Nicole Miller a household name in Philadelphia.

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Mary K. Dougherty dresses Philadelphia women for a lifetime—from prom night to wedding continued on page 56 day—in Nicole Miller.

A few years after Mary Dougherty was recruited to be a road rep for a young New York designer named Nicole Miller, then company president and current CEO Bud Konheim approached her about opening a store in Philadelphia. It was 1993. Dougherty took Konheim and the brand’s team to the little-known town of Manayunk, where just a few restaurants and two retailers made up Main Street. “It was getting dark, and we were at the edge of town,” recalls Konheim with a laugh. “It was like being in a western—Mary showed us the building, which seemed like it was right next to the O.K. Corral. Mary said, ‘I think this is the next big thing.’ I said, ‘You know best.’ ”

With Konheim’s blessing, Dougherty took the leap of faith and opened the boutique the following March. Void of a marketing budget, Dougherty called in favors, recruiting then Philadelphia mayor (and later Pennsylvania governor) Ed Rendell, sports figures, local celebrities, and Miller herself to attend the opening party. The epic affair was the first of many bashes. “I was told I was nuts to open a store there,” remembers Dougherty, but this spring, she celebrated 20 years in retail in Philadelphia.

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Nicole Miller produces stylish bags and heels.

Dougherty now owns and operates the Center City and Manayunk Nicole Miller stores and is the wholesale representative for the brand in six states.

Looking ahead, she feels the fashion future is bright for the brand, the city, and the industry. “In the beginning, we worked from 11 am to 11 pm on weekends,” she says. “We added a second store at the Bellevue in 1997, back when the only things in that neighborhood were Le Bec-Fin and Susanna Foo.”

On Mondays, she’d hit the road, heading out in a 22-foot recreational vehicle built to house the entire collection for retailers. “If I had more Marys, I could quadruple my business,” says Konheim. “When people talk about entrepreneurs, she is the poster child for the American entrepreneur.”

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Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell with Miller and Dougherty.

The youngest of eight children, Dougherty was already working in the fashion business at 15, first in retail, then for a clothing rep in Philadelphia, and even doing some modeling at fashion trade shows. When she was recruited to work for Miller, the designer was the enthroned queen of the little black dress, a new icon of contemporary women’s fashion. But it would be the printed men’s tie—made of leftover fabric from a seasonal collection—that sold thousands and made the designer a household name. “Nicole Miller is an incredibly talented designer who makes my job easy,” Dougherty says.

For Dougherty, the brand’s impact cannot be understated. “Whether you’re going to dinner or the Academy Ball, Nicole Miller has played an important part in the fabric and style of fashion in Philadelphia,” says Dougherty. “One of my hobbies is counting how many of our dresses are worn at a single event. The record is 50-plus sightings at a local gala.” But at the same time, she has dressed many a Philadelphia woman for myriad milestones. “Girls come for a bat mitzvah or party dress, then they return for prom, graduation, and wedding dresses.”

Keeping Philadelphia fashionable for two decades has lent Dougherty a sense of permanence. “There is a feeling of vindication,” she says. “At our store, you can get a $500 dress and $5,000 dollars worth of service—that’s what distinguishes us.”

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The Manayunk and Bellevue locations stock dresses for every occasion.

Success has also created numerous opportunities to give back, and Dougherty and her family—husband, Erik Neumann, and teenage sons Nyle, Alex, and Ryan—are longtime supporters of Homefront, Juvenile Diabetes, and Philadelphia Academies Inc., where friend and famous customer, Philadelphia’s “first lady” Lisa Nutter, is president and chairman. “The charity work is hers alone,” gushes Konheim. “She does honor to our brand name.” Philly-themed printed ties and scarves were a recent merging of the two spheres—a hit for the retail stores with proceeds going to area charities.

But through it all, Dougherty remains humble about her contributions and her awards. “We have a lot more to do and give,” she says, citing a desire to become a job creator for Philly’s next fashion generation. “My hope is that Philadelphia continues to evolve and provide jobs and opportunities. I see showrooms, manufacturing, trade shows, an entire fashion district here. Now, the sky is the limit.” 4249 Main St., 215-930-0307; 200 S. Broad St., 215-546-5007

Nicole Miller Toasts 20 Years in Philadelphia

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted on WWD.com on April 25, 2014.

TWENTY IN PHILADELPHIA: Designer Nicole Miller, chief executive officer Bud Konheim and Mary K. Dougherty, who owns and operates both Nicole Miller Philadelphia boutiques toasted 20 years in the city at her Bellevue Hotel store in Center City. Some 200 guests enjoyed music, Champagne, Millertinis, hors d’oeuvres and an interactive photo booth while models showed looks from the past two decades. “It’s been an extraordinary journey with Nicole Miller,” said Dougherty, who has been a rep in six states for the brand.

Philadelphia has been one of the designer’s best-performing cities since the brand set up retail locations there in 1994.

Patrick Kelly’s Career Feted in Exhibition

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted on WWD.com on April 25, 2014.

When museum curator Dilys Blum interviewed more than 50 friends and business associates of the late fashion designer Patrick Kelly, she was taken aback by the admiration all had for the designer.

This story first appeared in the April 25, 2014 issue of WWD. See More.

Kelly’s career was cut short when he died from AIDS in January 1990 at the age of 35. “Everyone adored him. Everyone he met in his career tried to help him get ahead,” Blum said. His work is being celebrated with an exhibition of 80 ensembles opening Saturday at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love,” is the first exhibition to showcase the full scope of Kelly’s head-to-toe runway collections, and will include selections from the artist’s significant holdings of black memorabilia, videos of his playful fashion shows and Horst photos and Oliviero Toscani ads featuring his work for Benetton.

Kelly’s story is the stuff of movies. Born in Vicksburg, Miss., he left for Paris in 1979 where he designed costumes for performers at the Palace nightclub for two years. He dressed his model friends in his signature tube-knit dresses shaped with raw, deconstructed cuts. Models wore the dresses to go-sees and Kelly’s star was quickly on the rise. In 1985, Kelly went from selling clothes on the streets to a six-page spread in French Elle.

After that exposure, the Paris retailer Victoire gave him workroom space and, as payment, he designed exclusive collections for them. Yves Saint Laurent chairman Pierre Bergé personally sponsored Kelly in 1988 to form the Paris-based women’s wear house Patrick Kelly Paris. He was the first black designer to be voted into the prestigious Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode. While he only designed collections for five years, his impression on fashion was a big one; he was known for playful clothes that stood out on urban streets, runways and nightclubs. “His idea was to make high fashion affordable,” said Blum.

While Kelly had many fans (a young Vanessa Williams among them) and treated his employees and models like family, it was elderly actress Bette Davis who wore his clothes hoping to find him financial backing. She sported his wares on the David Letterman show twice, causing then-Warnaco honcho Linda Wachner to take notice. Wachner backed him under the Warnaco umbrella, where he remained until his death. While he never showed in New York, retailers like Martha, Bergdorf Goodman and Macy’s carried the collection.

The exhibition is broken into six sections featuring looks from his five years of runway shows. While many know him for his bow appliqués on knits or button-encrusted slinky knit evening dresses, his career represented much more than that, according to Blum. He was the first designer to draw on his upbringing in the south and push racial boundaries in his work. While his own signature look was denim overalls, sneakers and a cap, his collections featured glamorized denim in baby-doll dresses, tiered bandana-print skirts and dresses and black baby-doll brooches on suits that he handed out to editors and buyers at his shows. “He was into head-to-toe dressing, taking the church lady look from his southern upbringing and glamorizing her,” said Blum. Some of his playful looks were inspired by his muse Josephine Baker. One section of the exhibit is a nod to designers he admired: Coco Chanel-inspired wool bouclé dresses and suits, Elsa Schiaparelli-style dresses, Yves Saint Laurent animal-print trenchcoats and beautifully draped Madame Grès jersey dresses. He once said Grès was his muse and he would do anything for the designer including pick up her pins in her atelier.

His work included a line of swimsuits for Eres that converted into dresses, and he also worked with textile company Bianchini Ferier on printed textiles for dresses featuring golliwog logos. His power suits with strong shoulders always had a bit of whimsy — whether sprinkled with buttons, nails, pearls or balls. Blum used the exact accessories that were shown on the runway (Maud Frizon shoes and David Spada jewelry) or had pieces made to look like the ones Kelly used.

Kelly’s runway shows were like a party, with models crowding the catwalk and dancing rather than marching. He once said his clientele was “the woman who wasn’t dead yet.” While the French press adored him, the Americans were more skeptical. “He was touted as being an African-American rather than for his work,” said Blum, who feels his story resonates with young designers today. This past season, designer Michael Bastian paid homage to Kelly in his collection. And when researching the exhibition they found another designer, Gerlan Marcel, who used Kelly as an influence throughout her work from 2009 through 2014. The museum has a concurrent exhibit, “Gerlan Jeans Patrick Kelly,” in the Perelman Building, which shows Kelly’s legacy in the work of this young designer.

“He was a master at maximizing his brand,” said Blum, the museum’s senior curator of costume and textiles and organizer of the exhibit. “What Kelly achieved in the Eighties has continuing resonance today. His branding and self-marketing were unique at the time, but now in the age of fast fashion and brand-driven sales, it is a perfect time to reexamine Kelly’s contribution to fashion history.”

The exhibit runs from April 27 through Nov. 3.

Joi Denenberg Channels Marilyn for New Macy’s Collection

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on August 26, 2013.

Fashion designer Joi Denenberg has never had her name on one of her labels. In three decades in the business, she is as comfortable with her anonymity as some designers are with their fame. So modest is she about her place in the fashion food chain, when she was invited to Christian Dior’s Spring 1992 show in Paris (she had been working on licensed collections for the house) and saw her name on a front-row seat, she was so excited she cried. “That made me feel so important,” she says, “that I almost forgot that I wasn’t.”

Manufacturers and retailers beg to differ. Philadelphia native Sidney Kimmel—founder of The Jones Group (originally Jones Apparel), a leading global designer, marketer, and wholesaler—named Denenberg the designer of the clothing his company produced for the labels Lauren by Ralph Lauren and Ralph Ralph Lauren. “I have always loved Ralph Lauren’s clothes,” Denenberg says, “so this was so fun to work on. We would design whole collections based on imagery. They would say something like, ‘It’s 1922 on an ocean liner. You’re getting off the boat, and the wind is blowing your coat open.’ I knew what they were talking about.”

Opportunity knocked again last summer when a friend and former boss called about designing a juniors collection for Macy’s based on Marilyn Monroe. To design her boards, Denenberg watched Monroe’s movies, pored over books about and photos of the starlet, and studied vintage pieces in her own closet. The collection debuted in select Macy’s stores this past spring and was such a success, it will be shown to other stores next spring. The project’s pace is dizzying, even for a seasoned sartorial pro. There are new style groupings to create each month, trips to Asia every three months, and “testing” of new styles with her teen granddaughters.

“It has been one of the most fun lines to do,” Denenberg says. “Our Fall line is adorable. Our inspiration was a photo of Marilyn in tartan plaid high-waisted skinny capri pants. Then we mixed printed houndstooth, some colorful conversational prints, bomber jackets, and sexy bustiers together with dresses and fabulous sweaters, and graphic T-shirts! Everything is cute, sweet, and sexy, but ‘mom-approved.’ Just like Marilyn Monroe would be today—a touch of vintage, and a lot of modern.”

While she works in New York, Denenberg’s love for Philly runs deep. She graduated from Northeast High School and attended Moore College of Art & Design to study fashion illustration and later fashion design. When she was a junior, designer Emil DeJohn, now a professor at The Art Institute of Philadelphia, presented her with a fashion critics’ award, and a friendship was born. “Joi’s work was so beyond everyone else’s,” says DeJohn. “It was extraordinary and she didn’t realize it.” Denenberg worked a summer job at Villager/Ladybug (where she first met Kimmel and local designer Rena Rowan) and decided to stay, leaving school early. But it was reconnecting with Rowan years later—through a chance phone call with a mutual friend—that changed her course. Rowan, then at Jones New York, offered Denenberg a job. For nearly 21 years she helped invigorate lines The Jones Group bought or secured a license for. As executive VP of design, she and her team created collections for Anne Klein, AKAK, Evan-Picone, Christian Dior, Ralph Lauren, and Jones New York. While there, she remained close to DeJohn, donating funds to the fashion department of each school he worked for. “She is like a fairy godmother to the students in Philadelphia,” he says.

Every morning, Monday to Thursday, Denenberg leaves her Society Hill home for 30th Street Station, where she boards the train for her 12-hour day in New York’s Fashion District. Although she has an apartment in Soho, she prefers coming home to her three cats and her partner of 20 years, Tom Murphy, whom she met on a flight from London. “He’s a scientist and I’m a designer, so we both travel a lot for business, but usually in opposite directions, and rarely together,” she says. “When home, we like to go to neighborhood restaurants for dinner with friends, or just hang out. I love spending a lot of time with my daughters, Corey and Meegan, and my five irresistible grandchildren.” She calls her hometown “a big neighborhood. I love it. We walk everywhere and we know people in the restaurants we go to in Society Hill.” Of her business, Denenberg adds, “I really have a lot of fun doing what I’m doing. I think to myself all the time, I can’t believe I get paid to do this.”

Accessories Council’s Karen Giberson

By Kathleen Nicholson Webber

Originally posted in the Philadelphia Style Magazine on September 10, 2012.

It is 8 AM, and Karen Giberson is conducting a phone interview during a rainstorm as she walks in New York from Penn Station to her office at 36th and Fifth. The president of the Accessories Council, she is scheduled to take the week off with family, but a last-minute call from Evie Evangelou to join Fashion 4 Development has brought her in from her home in Media to prepare for meetings and a speech at the United Nations in three days. The organization, which helps fashion designers in developing countries sustain themselves and market their wares, is just another place where she is happy to make a difference.

It is all part of her role as president of the Accessories Council, a nonprofit advocacy group representing 160 of the biggest brands in the industry, where she does everything from nurturing new designers and helping them get picked up by stores, to hosting events like the ACE awards, an industry black-tie gala held every November that has honored the likes of Lady Gaga and Kanye West, and draws fashion legends like Tom Ford, Alber Elbaz, and Michael Kors.

Her latest initiative, of which she is quite proud, may have a far-reaching economic impact. The USAMade jewelry initiative will keep accessory manufacturing stateside and will add jobs to the economy. “There is a huge potential to bring an industry that was here 25 years ago back to the US,” says Giberson. When a number of AC’s brands said it was getting more expensive to make things in Asia, Giberson wanted to help. She researched factories here, built databases, and helped create a logo and signage to promote the initiative. “We had 25 companies sign up right away, and others are converting production from offshore to stateside. We are working with factories to see if they can make things here at comparable prices.”

One such designer who will participate is John Wind of Maximal Art in Aston, Pennsylvania, who has been in business 26 years. Wind appreciates what Giberson has done for the industry and for his business. “Discovering that the voice of our industry was a ‘secret Philadelphian’ was an amazing moment,” he says. Giberson’s career started in college, when she was part of the prestigious Macy’s executive training program. She moved to three states in four years with the company, but longed to come back to her native Northeast Pennsylvania. In 1991 she joined a small start-up called QVC, where she spent seven years as a merchant before rising to director of accessories, footwear, and intimate apparel. But it was her Shoes on Sale program with the Fashion Footwear Association of New York, which launched in 1995 and has raised millions of dollars for women’s cancer research, that helped land her a position as director of event marketing at the company.

At about this time, the Accessories Council was formed, and Giberson served on the board in different positions. When president Sheila Block died of leukemia in 2005, Giberson was asked to take the post. “One of my first days at the job, I found her shoes under the desk. It was symbolic—they were big shoes to fill.”

Giberson is thankful to be in the industry now, as it continues to blossom. “This is an exciting time. In the ’90s accessories were not really seen on the runways. Now there is great stuff out there and because clothes are less embellished, accessories can be the star of the show.”

While she likes the frenetic pace of her days in New York, she loves living in Media, where she is raising a son and a daughter. Her daughter, who has come to events with her mother over the years, plans on studying fashion marketing at Philadelphia University this fall.

“I remind her that the day before an event, I can be found crawling on the floor stuffing gift bags, working on seating, or fielding a call from a concerned sponsor,” she says. But Giberson still loves it. “The highlight for me has been the people. I feel lucky to work with designers and top executives in this amazing business network.”