Chicago sees genesis of hand-painted fashions

Fashion art coming out of this city, as manifested in hand-painted silks, is significant in the overall fall fashion picture, says Dorothy Fuller, fashion director of the Apparel Center here.

Three Chicago labels producing handpainted silks, all relative youngsters in the trade, demand the attention: Nicole Originals Ltd., Sansappelle, and Babacho.

"One of our hand-painted designs for fall, called Artist's Smock, explores color in big and small areas in such a pleasing way, that the painted fabric alone pleads to be framed," says Jacquie de Rosa, clothing designer for Nicole.

Another design, Pussy Willows, is painted in taupe and ice blue by an Indian artist. Leaves in another design, Rain forest, painted in earth tones, have a positive-negative, stencillike look.

They flow in unregimented fashion, much like the curlicued tentacles and branches in yet another design, Grapevines.

Designs are created from simple brush strokes -- near-abstracts in various color combinations that are much less limiting than strongly representational art. They flow across the garments.

Ms. de Rosa is excited about the weave of a new pure silk jacquard with which she is working. Texture is woven into the fabric which combines two different weaves, which, in turn, pick up dye in two different ways. The effect is a matte finish beside a shiny one.

"Usually we work with flat crepe de Chine, so the jacquard allows all sorts of new versatility," she says. All the fabric comes from Korea.

Background colors for fall are warm earth tones, coppers, rust, with loden green the front-runner. Accents are teal or cool blues. More colorful pieces incorporate black with fuchsia and violet.

There are lots of flounces this fall and much sleeve interest. Sleeves are tucked, pleated, gathered, or puffed. Sashes accompany all the dresses, which are hand painted by eight or 10 artists, most of whom are Chicago connected, at least by schooling. Among them they create about a dozen prints a season, with four colorations in each design.

Over at Sansappelle, Karie Patterson designs the dress shapes and works with six graduate textile artists (originally, all the Sansappelle artists trained at the Art Institute of Chicago), building on each other's creativity, to develop the collection.

The fall line, one of three produced a year, is Sansappelle's most opulent yet in its five years of existence. (It's the senior label among Chicago's hand-painteds). Fabrics are silk, chiffon, silk satin, wool, silk organza, Charmeuse; and crepe de Chine, (usually Sansappelle's signature fabrics), incorporating much good, silver, gleam, and shine. The paintings are basically flowing, asymmetrical geometrics with some stripes. there is also a sprinkling of florals.

The collection features full, long skirts with beautiful blouses -- separates that become a unit when put on the body. New for Sansappelle, these separates are attributable to, at least in part, Nancy reagan's influence fo elegance and classicism, says Frankie Welfeld of sansappelle. The focus is on late day, evening, and special-occasion, such as mother-of-the-bride, apparel.

Background colors for fall are copper, eggplant, purple, brick, gold, and silver, with lots of black. But, because of the immodest price tags, individual pieces can be re-created in custom coloration.

the young company also does a number of special items, such as quilted jackets, cocoons, and soft, dressy silk evening coats to cover strapless dresses or pajamas.

One choice quilted jacket is shaped to the hip bone, has a small collar, a little puff in the shoulder, and an overall pattern of multicolors. Tagged about $500, it pairs with a hand-painted strapless tube and face-pleated skirt -- all silk crepe de Chine.

One-piece dinner dresses have a place of importance in the collection, too. Women appreciate one item that will take them out for the evening with a simple pull of a single zipper, says Mr. Welfeld.

Babacho, on the other hand, is having fun with layering. His favorite in his fall collection is a coordinated dress, tunic, huge scarf, and pants, in three different prints, all hand-painted in electric shades of red, green, and lavender, on black.

"I like surprise color," Babacho says. Under a maroon and black hand-painted print jacket, for instance, he introduces a surprise line of mandarin red paint on a dress of otherwise matching print. He calls his paintings "easy-to-look-at , easy-to-wear, soft abstracts," which often involve as many as five layers of paint on a single garment.

"Layers of paint give depth," Babacho says. "Think of wet-colored tissue papers on top of each other, bleeding color through the layers, translucent. . . ."

"I'm using a lot of black and khaki this fall," says the Cuban designer, who worked in visual display at Jordan Marsh in Miami before coming to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. During his second year at the Art Institute he presented a collection at Ultimo, a shop on the city's Gold Coast, as well as at a few other small shops, and business soon became too good for him to take time to complete his degree. He is offering his second collection this fall.

He likes to play, too, with bronze metal triangles -- four-inch equilaterals which he uses to create different drapings.

"I read," says Babacho, "that the triangle is the perfect shape." The metal triangles are optional with his garments, but they add interesting texture and also increase the possible choices of ways in which to drape the fabric.Silk belts, also optional, he likes to paint in pewter and copper tones. Hand-painted scarves come with each garment.

Babacho hand-painted canvas handbags, each one-of-a-kind, also have four or five layers of paint. They're painted inside and out, as well as on the silk tassels. Tagged about $100, they are laminated with protective coatings for easy cleaning.

For inspiration, this spirited artist listens to music, plays with his dog, and paints with watercolors. He does all his own painting on the initial garment, has trained two other painters to re-create some of it for him on repeat garments, but adds firmly, "I have to control the whole thing myself!"

He is enthusiastic about the silks from Korea and the matte jerseys from France that he is painting on, and is excited about a suit collection of merino wool, gabardine, and flannel, with which he will pair hand-painted blouses, for his spring 1982 collection.

It will launch his third year, and, like the other artist-in-residence in Chicago who are turning out fashion art, he is only just beginning.

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