Designer Caleb Clark says if he could have one secret power, it would be to know the history of any object. That's not a surprise, considering he uses mostly vintage material, like World War II-era flight kit bags, to create the clothing, accessories and bags in his fashion line Enemy To Fashion.
"Fabric has a history, you know? I don't know where all of it has been," he says, showing off an old flight bag with what he calls "gnarly bloodstains."
Clark's business is fashion, but he travels the most nontraditional route possible. For example, when he first started designing his own limited edition carry-on bags, he was approached by a buyer from one of the largest boutiques in Japan to create a version of his bag to sell in their stores. In his first order, he attached more than 1,000 studs by hand, using a screwdriver.
"It was very important to me and them to have it made in America. I did that first order myself," he says. "It cost five times as much to make them here, that bag, but we did it."
Clark, who calls himself a "zipper snob," says that his line is targeted toward anyone who appreciates details and craftsmanship. "Even some of our pieces that are mass-fabricated, they're all touched by human hands. A majority of our patches are hand-embroidered. The backs of the patches, I have the people who do them sign the back, even though no one will ever see them."
While trends are changing every day in the high-speed world of fashion, Enemy To Fashion is rooted in classic Americana.
"The fashion world is very fickle," Clark says. "Our aesthetic is something that can evolve and become timeless, since we are looking and taking designs from history and repackaging those with a modern flair."
So when it came time for him and his wife Liz to redo the backyard of their rental home in NoDa (which they plan to purchase this year), it's that love of history that ultimately played a role in what they would do with the space. A traditional gazebo from Lowe's just wouldn't cut it, and Clark, who says he's "kind of obsessed with ways to stay creative," was inspired by his own past.
"My dad is Cherokee, and growing up in California, we went to lots of Indian powwows and things. I used to love them when I was younger. And then when I was a little bit older, I hated them," he says. "But the one thing I always remembered was getting to go in these old tepees. I thought, 'I wonder if I could have one of those made.'"
After doing some research, Clark reached out to a guy in Oregon, who's made tepees for films like Dances With Wolves and The Last Samurai. A few weeks later, a freight truck arrived, carrying 30-foot poles, all hand-shaven and tapered. Within two weeks of receiving the kit, Clark and his wife finished constructing their new nomadic hangout.
"Our direct neighbors on either side love it," he says. "NoDa is a really cool neighborhood, so believe it or not, a tepee isn't the strangest thing that goes down."
And it's not like a passerby could miss the structure from the street. The 20-foot-by-20-foot teepee spans a little under 400 square feet — "It's like a New York apartment," he says — and is covered with a cotton duck weave canvas, which they plan to take down later and paint with Native American designs. Inside, there's a fire pit that the family will use in the winter, and Clark says he's working with a furniture designer friend to create some pieces for it.
"There's no technology allowed in the tepee, so it's not only a really cool thing for our boys, Xander and Jonah — hopefully it'll serve as some great memories for them — but it's a great place for me to chill and just think," he says.
Now that the backyard project has been completed (documented at www.urbantipi.com), Clark is working on a women's line, featuring maxi dresses and mini dresses, some with a Native American theme. He's also got a fashion fundraiser in the works: Runway 'Raiser, benefitting Beards BeCAUSE, takes place Aug. 27 at Amos' Southend.
"It's six local boutiques and myself putting it on and hosting it. The cool part is it's the same hot models from the agencies around, but they're going to have prosthetic beards, so it's a bearded lady's fashion show," he explains.
See what I mean about taking that nontraditional route?
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