Checking out local designers for spring fashion gems

Checking out local designers for spring fashion gems

Perusing a number of magazines and websites to get a handle on the latest spring fashion trends, I came across a pair of black quilted leather shorts by designer Alexander Wang. The model wore them with a transparent chiffon and fleece sweatshirt, so you could see her bra, and white knee socks tucked into ankle-high, pointy-toe patent buckle boots.

Now I’m as much about biker-chic fashion as the next person, and I’ve been known to take a few (too many) fashion risks, but I’m thinking this look isn’t going to rock St. Louis quite the way it rocked the New York runway. Then again, maybe I’m not giving local fashionistas enough credit.

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At a sneak preview last week of the new JCC Staenberg Family Complex Arts & Education Building, a friend showed up wearing a gorgeous, multi-colored hand-knited sweater by Skif International, which has its world headquarters on Marconi Avenue in The Hill. She confided that she not only loves Skif designs, she also loves the idea of supporting a local business. After all, so many of us make it a point to buy locally grown food to put in our bodies, why not buy locally made products to put on our bodies.

True, St. Louis isn’t New York or Paris or Milan or even Chicago when it comes to cutting-edge fashion. But it isn’t Podunk either. Besides, not everyone wants cutting-edge. Fashion that’s fresh and affordable and fits grown-up women is what many of us are after, and the good news is that there are a number of St. Louis-based designers who understand that and style accordingly.

Amy Johnson is one of them. Designing under the KayOss (as in chaos) label, Johnson began her career as an environmental engineer (with a degree from University of Illinois) but got interested in fashion design when she took a course in Florence, Italy.

“I found these amazing fabrics and felt this is something I could do,” explains Johnson, who is originally from Highland, Ill. but now lives and has a studio in the Central West End. She participated in her first fashion show in 2006 while she was still a practicing engineer; then went fulltime into fashion in November 2008.

For Johnson it is all about the look and feel of the fabric. She travels seasonally to New York and Los Angeles to comb the fashion districts, but is always on the lookout for unique fabrics. Her spring collection of skirts, halter tops, dresses and T-shirts is filled with colorful silks and the softest of cotton jersey. Her skirts, in particular, are show stoppers; most boast great textures, bright colors and bold prints in styles that are playful and flirty.

“My clothes are for people who want to be noticed and complimented on what they are wearing,” says the tall, lanky Johnson, who wears her own designs well. “They look a little different either by the color or the movement of the fabric. You get noticed then it’s up to you to make whatever happens happen.”

The same could be said for the custom-made, body flattering swimwear designed by Lori Coulter of St. Louis. Understanding that many women hate (is that a strong enough word?) to shop for swimsuits, Coulter makes the process as painless as possible.

‘”We start with a three-dimensional body scanner that takes all the measurements,” explains Megan Christie, creative and fashion director at Lori Coulter. “Then we assign a body shape based on the scan and recommend a style (one piece, bikini, tankini, etc.).

“Ultimately, the customer selects the style she likes the best as well as options for each suit, such as colors, patterns, lining type, tummy control, leg height, neckline, straps and the like. The suit is made toward specification and takes about two weeks to complete. Then the client comes back for a fitting and any alterations that the suit might need.”

The cost for most suits, says Christie, is $225, including the body scan and fittings. “Our target customer is between the ages of 30 and 50, though we go up and down on either side of that,” she says. “They come in all body shapes and sizes but they tend to be women who love fashion and want a suit that fits them well.”

In addition, she notes, “we want them to feel comfortable, happy and satisfied with their body and how their suit feels on them. They shouldn’t feel as if they must lose 10 pounds to earn the right to wear a swimsuit.”

Also embracing the notion that people should love the clothes they wear and feel good in them is Skif International. Skif, which has been around for 15 years and stands for Sweaters Knitted in Freedom, is all about clothes, particularly hand-knitted sweaters made with natural fabrics — silk, wool, bamboo, linen and some unprocessed cotton – and created in an environment that is part storefront boutique, sales center, warehouse, design studio and production space. Customers are welcome to walk in off the street, browse the vast work area and racks of designs and buy what they like, or not.

Owner Nina Ganci, who began the business in her mother’s basement, now sells to boutiques in more than 80 cities and in four countries. Her sweaters, which were featured in the “Matrix” movies, are ridiculously comfortable to wear, with more than four-dozen deconstructed styles for women and men. The design team uses no patterns to make the clothes so that each garment is unique. Skif also features loose fitting, drawstring pants as well as some skirts and dresses in natural fabrics.

“I want people to feel happy wearing Skif,” says Ganci. “They are made to be easy to wear and last a lifetime. Our designs are aimed at those who have a creative, visual sense and enjoy the notion of freedom. I want our customer to stand out in a crowd and be comfortable at the same time.”

Skif International, Lori Coulter and KayOss Designs have all shown their collections at Saint Louis Fashion Week as well as other fashion weeks throughout the country. Each of these designers and design teams have made a commitment to stay in St. Louis and grow their businesses worldwide.

“You know, people underestimate St. Louis as a fashion destination,” says Johnson. “We have four universities with fashion schools and an excellent Fashion Week for a city our size. Believe me, I’ve done enough other fashion weeks to know that St, Louis has got it together. There’s a lot to be proud of (fashion-wise) happening right here.”

Local designers

* Kay Oss Designs

Designer: Amy Johnson

How did KayOss get its name? Johnson explains there is order within chaos by definition. We want some chaos to keep us from getting bored. If you do what you love and follow your heart you will feel calm through it.

Motto: Be awake, show the world who you are, enjoy the KayOss!e awake, Show the world who you are

Sizes: 0-14, but Johnson can do larger sizes on some styles

Price: Most skirts run between $100 and $200.

Where can I find it? Valerie Mills Fine Apparel, 139 Carondelet Plaza, Clayton and Alixandra, 9614 Clayton Road, Ladue.

More info: Emailing [email protected] or 314-398-9098.

* Lori Coulter Swimwear

Designer: Lori Coulter

Fashion philosophy: Swimwear designed for women who are body conscious and fashion conscious and sewn to fit a woman’s precise measurements. We call it TrueMeasure ®.

Styles: More than 40 styles of bikini tops and bottoms, one-pieces and tankinis are offered. All styles are available in any color or print offered.

Sizes: 0 to 22

Price: Suits start at $225, which includes a body scan, all measurements and any alterations. Cover-ups start at $60.

Where can I find it? Macy’s at the Chesterfield Mall has a Lori Coulter department, complete with body scan machine, or schedule an appointment by calling 314-727-9802.

More info: www.loricoulter.com

* Skif International

Designer: Nina Ganci and her design team

What It Stands For: Sweaters Knitted in Freedom

Motto: We love our sweaters and the people who wear them.

Sizes: Sweaters run from extra small to extra large, though it’s best to try on and see, or order in any size.

Prices: Sweaters generally range from $120 to $160, which is about half the price they sell for in boutiques located outside of St. Louis.

Where can I find it? Skif is located at 2008 Marconi Avenue in the Hill and is opened Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

More info: www.skifo.com or call 314-773-4401