Designer Michael Alan Stein accepting his BTAA award for costume design in 2008
With Chicago's Fashion Focus quickly coming up in October, I have been interested to find out more about the local visionaries picked to showcase their designs in Millennium Park, Envent, Macy's and the other glam venues around the city. So I was thrilled to sit down with Michael Alan Stein, an award-winning costume designer and film wardrobe stylist, who is unveiling his first personal collection in years this season. The designer is gearing up to host "A First Look" Fall 2009 preview party of his new collection on September 3rd, but was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to speak with me at Water Tower Place last week.
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SCS: So Michael, what is the story behind your line?
MAS: Well the Michael Alan Stein collection that is coming out this season is the first collection I have designed since graduating school in the late eighties. I attended Parsons and upon graduating, I did create a label under the name Michael Stein but it was a temporary endeavor before staring my career in costume design. I always wanted to be a designer though, it has been the goal of my life. As a child I would sketch designs I had in my head and my maternal grandmother who, along with my mother was always my style muse, would get her seamstress to create them. When I was 11 years old I wrote to Anne Klein as sent her some of my sketches. She wrote me back telling me I had talent and to work hard to follow my dreams. Years later I met Donna Karan who actually remembered me from when Anne Klein showed her my letter and sketches when I was a child.
SCS: Who is the prototypical woman for your designs?
MAS: Modern, contemporary, on the go, someone who needs elegant, versatile pieces to take them from day to evening with something like a simple accessory change. The pieces in my fall '09 collection were inspired by Jacques Fath, a Parisian designer in the late 40s who innovated fitted silhouettes and meticulous cuts in his work, both of which I have implemented in my designs in a more modern way. I love dressing a woman who will use my clothes to enhance the confidence and respect she has for herself, rather than allow them to take over and kind of wear her. I want to make women wake up and feel great about themselves.
SCS: What is a favorite runway trend from fall '09 that you've seen?
MAS: Pretty much all my favorite trends I have incorporated into my new collection. Like I mentioned before, linear lines and fitted silhouettes are very important in my designs. I also use a lot of colorblocking which I've seen on other fall runways, though I prefer to keep my palette neutral with mostly black, gunmetal, and chocolate. I love that jersey is coming back, I share the same fashion philosophy as Donna Karan as far as the importance of fabric and draping. I included jersey in this line as well as wool double knit, wool satin gabardine, and a wool and silk.
SCS: Are you working on a spring line? If so, what is the inspiration behind it?
MAS: Yes I am. I have been so busy with the changeover back to designer but I am already working toward the next project. The retailers I have worked with so far have been very responsive to my fall collection, which has made me want to grow even further for the spring line. Without saying too much, I can say that my spring line will embody the exotic glamour in the height and breadth of Egypt. I was recently watching 'The Ten Commandments,' and noticing that the costumes were actually representative of the clothing thought to be worn back then, especially for Cleopatra. That's something that not a lot of movies do correctly with Egypt and it got me thinking that I could translate true Egyptian style into a more modern scope.
SCS: What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
MAS: I've always listened to my clients, and to women in general, to create a fit and cut that will enhance them the best. Because my designs are more like investment pieces, they range from about $375 to $950, I want them to be a full experience, a journey for the woman who owns them. Once you stop listening to your client, you lose your client completely. Also I learned, even from that letter from Anne Klein that in this business you need to want it and take your work seriously. Believe in your purpose, but don't stray too far from the needs of your client. To me, these things are like gravity. It's a law.
SCS: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
MAS: In ten years I would love to have several freestanding Michael Alan Stein stores in key markets around the world. Its important to me to create a sort of global lifestyle resource so I'm not thought of as only a Chicago designer or only an American designer. I live in Chicago but I design for the modern woman everywhere. I would love to see my label become a lifestyle brand including menswear, childrenswear, accessories, and even housewares. I am currently in the works of planning a bridge line for spring 2010. I would also love to have a solid celebrity following, having worked with during my years in costume design. I do currently have some celebrity clients, Angela Basset just placed an order for example, but I would love to see my pieces on more powerful and influential women as the label grows. I adore Armani, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, and I believe there's room for Michael Alan Stein!
SCS: Where can we find your line?
MAS: It is currently being sold at the U.S. branch of Japanese retailer Takashumaya on 5th Avenue in New York. I am looking at other retail locations in New York, Washington D.C., Virginia, and Arkansas and am hoping that the collection will soon be held at high end department stores like Saks, Bloomingdale's, and Neiman Marcus.
* Michael Alan Stein's, 'A First Look" Fall 2009 show will take place on September 3rd at the Victory Hotel, 311 N. Sangamon Street. from 6 p.m.—10 p.m. Tickets are $25 at the door or to purchase tickets and for more information, contact lfpromo.com
Photo Source: Michael Alan Stein's fall 2009 collection