When you first meet Melissa Beard, she is quiet and subdued, but the jewelry hanging from her neck speaks volumes. The vibrant and colorful handmade vessels offer a statement all their own: they prove she's come a long way from making beads with a Hobby Lobby startup kit.
Moving from Texas to Charlotte five years ago after a single visit to the Queen City ("We loved it, just said 'Yup, that's it, we're moving here,'" Beard says), she was browsing online one day when she came across a site that mentioned lampworking. Beard became fascinated and began exploring the science of glass. "I learned I could actually melt glass myself," she says. "Glass is hypnotizing when it's glowing brightly from the flame and flowing with gravity."
After some further digging, she took her love into the Charlotte community and found fellow glass artists via an online forum, developing her signature style as she learned. Each piece of jewelry is handmade with the use of blowtorches, small pieces of colored glass heated in the flame until they start to flow as liquid and manipulated into wearable glass art that has a vintage feel. Clean lines and organic flowing shapes that feature dark colors with a touch of sparkle define her work while simultaneously appealing to both sides of the gender gap.
With a clear vision in mind for her line, Beard set up shop on Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade and vintage finds, in 2011. "I always thought that if I sold like 10 things, ever, I wouldn't be embarrassed about it," Beard says. Now the shop has far surpassed her expectations, with 60 sales and counting. Items move at an unpredictable rate that can go anywhere from six pieces a day to one a month, with business coming in waves but still giving the support needed to continue her work as a jewelry maker full-time.
"The possibilities of this medium are seemingly limitless and there is always something new to learn," Beard says. "It is just magical in so many ways."
Creative Loafing: What sets your work apart?
Melissa Beard: I make many different things from glass, but my favorites are the vessels because they remind me of something you would find in an old treasure chest. They are small, two handled vessels, adorned with silver, copper and colorful glass and fitted with a cork stopper to keep oils, perfumes or other tiny treasures. My glasswork strikes a balance between feminine and masculine in a way that I think sets it apart from a lot of other glass work. In a way, it contradicts itself.
Is there a reason you were so drawn to glass as a medium?
I think it's in my genes actually. My grandmother was a big marble collector, and she passed away before I got into glass. But I make marbles now, too, and how cool would that have been? She probably would have bought them from me. I collect them now, since I have a bunch of hers and my own now.
What would your dream job be if glasswork weren't an option?
That's a hard question because there are so many... I could see myself being a world-traveling geologist, perhaps just a mad scientist, a woodworker, and a welder. Ultimately, though, the one thing I've always wanted to do is run a huge animal sanctuary. For all kinds of animals - cows, chickens, pigs, dogs, cats, turkeys, turtles, ferrets - the list is endless. If I ever found myself in a position to make that happen, I would be the happiest person on earth.
Polka dots, stripes and plaids? The world of fashion is breaking all the rules. According to local Charlotte designer Stan Frazier, “with complete chaos, and no type of governing, you’re left with nothing but Anarke” — the perfect title for his new clothing line set to showcase during Charlotte Fashion Week 2011 later this year.
A work in progress, Anarke currently features men’s denim, vests, T-shirts, hats and bags all hand-crafted and complete with Frazier’s personal touch. After all, he’s the man who can cut up a potato sack, sew it to a pair of jeans and make it work. His style embodies urban apparel with all the necessary details of high fashion.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Stan Frazier has been designing clothing since the age of 13. Given his first sewing machine by his mother, who also worked as a designer, Frazier quickly developed an eye for the craft.
“When I was high school, the kids would see me come in with outfits on and be like 'Yo! That’s hot, what is it?' I’d be like, my mom sewed it and everyone would start cracking on me.” Putting an end to the jokes, Frazier went to work on his first outfit and created a pair of pants. Proud of his accomplishment, the designer held up his pants only to find that he had sewn two left legs. “I think it’s fair to say I’ve come a long way,” says Frazier.
Designing out of a small office in his home, Frazier works in a heap of organized confusion. Fabrics, prints and designs are thrown all over the room with a printing machine in one corner and a sewing machine in another. Anarke is actually the designer's second line following his collection titled Nino Ross, a line created in the late '90s that, according to Frazier, caught the attention of big-time celebrities such as Nas and Fabolous.
As far as demographics, Anarke is for all races and ages. “I’m really striving for young teens. They are the trendsetters and if I can appeal to them, I’ll be around a whole lot longer,” says Frazier.
Known for his unique use of quality materials and stitching patterns, Frazier adds a real flair to men’s fashion. “The way I stitch my jeans, the bagginess is taken out,” he says. “It also gives men a bowlegged, cowboy stance that ladies used to go crazy over back in the day.” The pockets on Anarke jeans are cut short and wide instead of long and narrow like most denim. Just to make his apparel stand out more, Frazier uses wool and cashmere, two touches rarely seen anywhere else. “I stay in the material store for hours,” he says. “Things just jump out at me like, 'roar!'” While shopping for fabrics he’s constantly putting pieces together in his head like a puzzle.
Frazier has plans to "kill" Charlotte Fashion Week, promising that by the time of the show, Anarke will feature clothing for women as well. In the rebellious words of Stan Frazier, “It’s time to live free and rock hard!” Charlotte Fashion Week has yet to see chaos quite like this.
— Morgan Jones
As a writer, whenever I interview fashion designers, one question that comes up a lot is, "What inspired your collection?" And I have to admit, I've gotten some very abstract answers. So when someone can point to something concrete, something more than just "people" or "the things I see around me," I know that designer has a firm grasp on what they're trying to create.
Local designer Beth Pilger is one of those people. Her latest collection, for fall/winter 2011, will be featured at Passport For Fashion this Saturday, April 16. When asked about her inspiration, she recalls an exhibit she saw at the Whitney Museum in New York.
"It was an exhibit about Georgia O’Keeffe’s Abstractions. I’m a huge fan of O’Keeffe," she says. "It’s bold. She’s most known for her flowers. The colors, you’re just mesmerized by it. This exhibit was more on the abstract side, which is more of the work she’s not known for. It was part of her charcoal series, these beautiful charcoal images. Cloud-like formations. It just had such movement and bold strokes."
As a designer who wants to "push the boundaries and make people really take a look at what they’re wearing and what’s possible," bold is definitely a great way to describe Pilger's latest collection. Since the last time we spoke with Pilger, she's changed the direction of her work quite a bit. For example, she's chosen to move into the luxury market, thus tapping into a whole new audience.
But more importantly, Pilger has altered the focus of her collection. It's not enough to simply create staple pieces that people can wear through multiple seasons, as was her goal in the past. Now, she's revamped the process entirely.
"In terms of in which direction the collection has gone, it’s gone sustainable. I needed to find a deeper purpose than just designing." she says. "I wanted it to be something that’s good for the environment, and I really wanted to look at ways that the business could be as local as possible."
Do you ever get tired of seeing the same look/outfit in every store? Do ever just crave an original piece? Then Hems & Hers is the online boutique for you. You will find affordable pieces (and we mean nothing priced over $80) that have a "preppy with a fun twist" sense of whimsy and charm. What is even better? Any piece can be customized and made to fit each customer's specific measurements. You certainly can’t get that at the mall.
Caroline Black, a North Carolina State University graduate and Charlotte local, started Hems & Hers in the summer of 2009 as result of searching for a creative outlet once entering the workforce. When she began searching for the right hobby to satisfy her creative cravings, she considered the immense sewing talent her mother possesses, and the fact that she grew up watching her create gorgeous frocks and modeling the finished products (with a matching hair bow). It seemed only natural to follow in her oh-so-adept footsteps.
"This business was born accidentally," Black said. "After I made my first dress (the Hannah dress, our most popular dress style) my friends began asking me to make pieces for them. The Belle skirt (the most popular skirt style) was created when my best friend Belle told me she was having a hard time finding a high-waisted, full skirt with pockets. Several friends followed suit, and I started selling them. At the same time, I had a personal blog with about 300 followers who were reading daily as I documented my journey with the sewing machine. When I launched the hobby as a business (basically when I announced its name, Hems & Hers), I had 300 customers almost instantly.”
Black also noted that she is inspired by her eastern Tennessee roots, North Carolina surroundings, incredible Leave It To Beaver upbringing, deep-seeded faith, and the constant support and encouragement of my family and friends (furry and not). Her taste has never been subdued and that her eyes naturally gravitate toward vibrant colors and flirtatious and rich patterns — from paisleys to plaids to polka dots. Which is what originally drew me to her website — I was instantly in love.
If you are looking for original affordable pieces that scream sweet, feminine, effervescent, lively, flirty and quintessentially Southern, then you need to skip over to Hems & Hers. You will not be disappointed.
Tucked away in a corner of NoDa — the Hart Witzen Gallery on 36th Street, to be exact — is Elle VJ, a boutique that offers flirty party dresses and classy cocktail attire for the chic Charlotte woman. After a year in business, Elle VJ was honored in December at the Queen City Awards and won the 2010 Boutique of the Year award.
Recently, we checked out the loft-style boutique (now complete with a makeup styling station and offering designs from a local jeweler) and interviewed owner LaVonndra Johnson. Johnson, who has worked in event planning in the past, is a wardrobe stylist and also a partner with the magazine Cinhte.
Creative Loafing: How did you find your niche in this market?
LaVonndra Johnson: I would find myself going to the mall and piecing outfits together. I realized there wasn’t really one centralized place that you can go that only caters to party dresses and cocktail dresses, so that’s kind of how I got my niche. It's been great; I really like it because I’m able to service a particular type of woman. I know that when she comes in, whether she is going to a club event or a social function, she wants something that’s going to be comfortable, yet sexy but still showcase the true essence of a lady.
What sets your boutique apart from other locally owned boutiques?
I think mine is different, because of course, there is the factor of personal service. Typically, when the boutique is open, I’m always here so I’m usually the one that greets you. I think people really like that I’m here — I’m selling the service so I’m here providing the service as well, so that definitely makes me unique.
Also, the styling aspect of the business, because typically when someone comes in and looks at something or is interested in something, I’ll do a quick style assessment. I'll ask, "What is your style? Are you a colorful type or are you very shy and laid-back?" Or if they pick a dress, I’ll say, "Well, what did you think you were going to wear it with, what type of shoes or what type of accessories?"
Often in that conversation, whether they buy all the pieces from me or just the dress, I can put that outfit together for them. When they get home, it's not as complicated and they're not sitting there with 10 pairs of shoes, trying to decide what works and what doesn’t.
Do the styles that you're offering here reflect your own personal taste?
They really do. Some of them are more conservative, some of them are a little more bold. I’m the type who dresses by how I feel, so I may have a day where I’m in somewhat of a quiet mood, so I tone it down. And then I may have that day where I’m just flirty and whimsical and pretty much anything goes. Essentially, all the pieces do reflect my style. I don’t carry or offer anything that I wouldn’t wear myself — I’m just a firm believer in that. I won’t sell a person something that I wouldn't put myself in.
With the finale of Charlotte Fashion Week proving that Charlotte does have indeed a local fashion industry, I thought it was appropriate to interview a local Charlottean who has a lot to do and say about fashion, style and more.
Joey Hewell is a great asset to Charlotte’s local style scene as a man of many talents. Aside from owning J Studio, he also does makeup and styling, appears on the Fox News segment “Fashion Friday” and is starting a consulting boutique as a part of his current business at the salon. Read on to see what Hewell has to say about his love of fashion and the growing emphasis on fashion taking place in Charlotte.
Creative Loafing: How did you start off in the industry?
Joey Hewel: I actually started doing some modeling and signed with a few agencies, one of which was my mother agency in Charlotte. It was then when I realized that at every photo shoot, fashion show, etc., I was the one helping with the hair and the makeup, and that’s when I decided that I wanted to be behind the scenes helping with the styling instead of in front of the camera.
Tell me about your new boutique and the clothes featured at this year’s Fashion Night Out.
The clothes I design and that were featured are vintage pieces that I modify and tweak for the everyday woman. The goal for the boutique is not to come in to the salon and buy a jumper off of a rack. Instead, it’s meant for clients who want to have a one-on-one consulting experience when clients are able to come to me with their tastes and style aspirations and I am able to consult them and help with wardrobe styling.
What is your style philosophy?
I believe it is so important for people to genuinely be themselves and express that through their style. What you wear, how you style your hair and so on is what reflects your attitude on life. When I see that someone has his or her own style (whether I like it or not) … that, to me, is everything. Fashion isn’t just a statement that says, “Look at me!” It’s a reflection of who you are.
What do you feel Charlotte needs to become more fashionable?
Charlotte needs more confidence. As Fashion’s Night Out showed, we have a ton of creative people in Charlotte, including boutique owners, hair and makeup stylists, etc., who are pushing the boundaries and trying to create a name for Charlotte. The city needs everyday Charlotteans to be more confident in expressing themselves through fashion.
Keep your eyes on Hewell and his projects for we may just see him at Charlotte Fashion Week 2011.
Visit: J Studio at http://www.jstudiosouthend.com/ or call Joey 704-330-5757.
Sparrow Boutique owner Tracy Luttrell and her associate, Terra Cass (along with associate Rachel Barker) travel all over the country to find unique pieces of jewelry to offer to their customers. With their different tastes and styles, they have created an eclectic collection of handpicked items without that nasty boutique price tag. Even better, with their selection (they never buy in bulk) chances are you’ll never have an awkward run-in with someone wearing the same necklace as you.
Creative Loafing: What inspired you to create Sparrow Boutique?
(Terra Cass): Our inspiration starting Sparrow stemmed from a concept. We wanted to start a boutique that truly carried unique, one-of-a-kind pieces, but keep the prices low enough that if one of our customers falls in love with it, they can afford to buy. We are very fashion-forward and ahead of the trend. We research and are constantly looking at where the trends are heading. Also, our inspiration comes from our love of fashion. It’s fun, constantly changing and is truly a desire of ours. Lastly, we are inspired by pieces that make a statement. Most of our pieces can be worn alone, with no other accessory and make a statement. Accessories truly make an outfit, and they tell everyone who you are.
Where would you like to take Sparrow in the future?
(Tracy Luttrell): Our ultimate goal is to have an actual storefront boutique. We are currently online, but since we only carry one or two of the pieces we buy to keep them one of kind, we cannot keep up with inventory online. Customers can see what we get in by looking online, but they cannot actually buy the pieces there since our inventory goes so quickly. We do red carpet events, charity events, private trunk shows and festivals at this time. We want to brand Sparrow and the products we carry. If someone sees one of our pieces, our definitive goal is for them to know right away that it came from our store.
What is your motto?
(Luttrell): Fashion-forward, unique, beautiful one-of-a-kind pieces at an affordable "one-of-a-kind" price. We want to be known as the boutique that has the million dollar pieces without the "boutique" price tag.
Melissa Davis is almost like the Batman of fashion. She’s an executive assistant for Bank of America by day, and the fashion designer/owner of clothing company, Foxx Skynz by Design by night. She’s also self-made, much like Batman (though Bruce Wayne always had money, Batman did not always have a cape) having paved her way into the (often elitist) fashion industry. Maybe it’s because she’s got serious talent and a knack for taking the boring out of office apparel, specifically with her newest collection, a business-meets-edgy design, perfect for the fashionable-yet-timid office worker.
Davis, also like Batman, has an arsenal of varied materials for her garment design. “I use everything from fur to cotton. I am definitely a variety person," she says. "I know for some folks they say, 'Oh you need to have a niche and work in only one.' That’s not me. I don’t want to just do cocktail dresses, I don’t want to just do prom. I want to be able to do the whole rainbow if possible.”
Davis says she never intended to be a fashion designer; in fact, she went to school for communications and landed a job in the banking field. In a way, she kind of fell into fashion design.
“In high school, I actually wanted to take an auto-body class, but the men had it on lock, and they would not let any women in there. I ended up doing sewing. I made a set of scrubs, like what a hygienist would wear, out of denim, with pockets and snaps in the front, it was basic.”
It turned out that it was more than a basic design, as a teacher accused her of buying it at a store and passing it off as her own creation. “That offended me, and I quit the class after proving to her that I did make it. She did apologize. That was in ’87, and I didn’t pick up a sewing machine again until ’97, so I basically had to re-teach myself everything.”
No one who reads this blog will argue that fashion isn't art — the colors, the cuts, the designs, the way a fabric accentuates a person's figure? All art. But local fashion designer Beth Pilger recognizes that dressing up is an art as well.
Pilger has been interested in design since high school. She attended Parsons The New School for Design for three years before deciding to pursue business. "While I was there, I did everything from assisting and costuming and learned very quickly that fashion is predominantly business driven," she says.
After some years in the private industry, Pilger moved to Charlotte and in 2009, started her own clothing line, which she unveiled at Charlotte NC Fashion Week. Her clothing line targets women in their twenties to sixties.
"One thing that I am trying to focus on is actually getting back to more sustainable products where you can buy a dress or a shirt or a pair of pants and it actually becomes a staple in your wardrobe that you could wear through several seasons," she says. "For the spring and summer collection I focused a lot on having contemporary pieces that were made with classic fabrics and tailoring."
Pilger calls her staple items simplistic, but when you look at some of her custom pieces, they are anything but. From glancing through her portfolio online, some of the dresses stand out as dramatic, eye-catching, bold, and maybe even a little forbidden. For example, the Cupcake dress:
I'd hardly call that simplistic or sustainable.
"With Charlotte being a new market and with me being a new designer in this area, it was important for me to continue to show my versatility," Pilger says. "So while the staples of the collection are really what makes the company money, you always like having items like accessories or custom dresses that people can also identify with, and that’s one area of my business that I really enjoy doing. I like working with my private clients and being able to create something for them that’s one of a kind."
Since I started this blog and began getting to know local fashion designers, I've always wondered if I could do what they do. I'd like to think I've got a few ounces of creativity in my blood — fashion, much like writing, stems from the right inspiration.
After chatting with Emily Morgen, the creator of the line Emily Jane, I'd have to say, nope, nuh uh, I don't think I can do it. Why? Because inspiration hits true artists at random times, without warning. "I get ideas in a flurry and then I have to write it down and oftentimes that is late at night," Morgen says. "Or it will wake me up out of my sleep. I’ll have a concept in a dream and I’ll wake up and I have to sketch; I have to get that down before it leaves."
I just don't know how I feel about a muse waking me up in the middle of my beauty rest to give me an idea. Thankfully, Morgen doesn't mind, and her designs reveal how devoted she is to her craft.
Originally from Charleston, her mom taught her to sew when she was a kid, not knowing that one day, Morgen would be putting those very skills to use in developing her own line of women's clothing, sold at local boutiques like chez Elle, The Pink Hanger and Bella Ropa. Her market is generally women between the ages of 30-45 who like to go out and have a good time. "My things tend to be dresses and tops and more for going out to dinner or getting together with friends. A little bit extra, not so many daytime looks, more nightlife looks," she says.