How A Designer Gets Her Start

by Tonya Chen

Sloane Lenz converted her living room into a workshop, a space to create. Aside from her sewing machine, mannequin, fabric shelves, the room is filled with a poster of Bjork, a band whose music her parents played when she was growing up, fabrics that were purchased by the pound at a store in California, broccoli curtains, and a record player currently with a Steppenwolf album. Her workspace is where her one of a kind fashion designs are born.

Maintaining the status quo never interested 21-year-old designer Sloane Lenz, who’s always had an affinity for avant-garde fashion. Lenz began creating clothes from unconventional materials from local hardware and grocery stores to wear to concerts. When she showcased those pieces in Austin Fashion Week, her career rocketed.

“When I was 19, my mother heard about Austin Fashion Week and encouraged me to submit three pieces to show capsule collection,” Lenz said. “I didn’t think they were going to pick me but thought I might as well try. Shortly after, I found out I was picked and submitted a full 12 piece collection. It was such an exhilarating experience and made me realize this was what I wanted to do. After the show, Dallas Fashion Week asked me to show at their fashion show and later New York.”

Although all her collections have their own concepts, a dynamic aspect, Lenz says she always uses music as common vein from the collection’s theme to the lyrics she prints on her fabrics to the playlist selection on the runway.

“When I listen to music, I zone out and let my mind wander to think visually,” Lenz said. “The sounds can evoke silhouettes or prints. It creates a narrative for which I want to dress the girl for.”

Lenz revealed that she’s working on a collection inspired by Elvis Presley’s lesser known half-brother Orion, who had a voice almost identical to Elvis’ but spent his stage life behind a cape and mask. After Elvis passed away, people tried to pass Orion off as Elvis, which really fascinated Lenz.

Lenz has had her work compared to the designer Alexander McQueen, known for upending conventional, normative standards of beauty. In his final show in spring 2010, McQueen’s models wore reptile-patterned, digitally printed dresses. Other collections incorporate elements of Renaissance court dress, galactic disco wear, and a torrential wind tunnel. McQueen was a sponge. Each collection symbolized a stage of his life and the inspiration he drew from. In an interview, McQueen revealed he creates his collections from a concept, followed by a storyboard built around the idea and borrowing references from inspiration that can come from anywhere. There’s a story about how part of McQueen’s collection was inspired by an episode of “Friends”, where Joey wore a green sweater.

McQueen’s style is also shaped by multiple influences early on in his design career. His first job was an apprenticeship with Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard, which gave him the foundation to create extremely well-tailored looks. Afterwards, McQueen worked with costume designers Angels and Bermans, a primer for the dramatic, theatrical styles he’d go on to create. McQueen received formal training, obtaining his Master’s Degree in fashion design and shortly after, he was appointed Chief Designer at Givenchy.

Designer Coco Chanel started her career with a defining a few simple principles that guided her designs and changed the way women wanted to dress. Her philosophy originated from influences of practicality, which later evolved to showcase glamour. One of Coco Chanel’s first recognized pieces was a dress made out of an old jersey to warm herself on a chilly day. As Chanel’s name became more and more well-known, her style continued to be influenced by her surroundings, while maintaining her personality. For example, the Chanel suit, a style that borrowed elements from menswear and once again, emphasized the comfort her designs championed and the simple, little black dress, a wardrobe staple became some of the core pieces of the Chanel brand.

Fashion designers like Chanel and McQueen express themselves in the clothes they create. Everything from the theme of a collection to the very last detail of the stitching reflects the sources of inspiration. Like how the unique brush strokes of a painter are just as revealing as the signature on the corner of the painting, reflected by the timeless details unique to each individual.

Artists are inspired by more than one thing. The dynamic, sometimes confounding elements are the most influential muses. The designer’s motivations, emotions, struggles are presented in plain sight, on the runway. However, designers take a piece of their individuality with them, leaving behind the primordial touches of their sense of style. Walking out of Sloane Lenz’s workroom, I felt as if I was leaving a time capsule of how she evolved as a designer. Her strong sense of self is captured in items such as an old frog sculpture brought from her hometown in Athens, TX to recent paintings and sketches for her future ideas, the evolution of a designer.


Stylist Olivia Stein/ Photographer Emiliano Zapata/ Model Bonnie McEnnis / HMUA Olivia Yanbing

Read the full digital edition of Issue No.9 here.

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