Designer Interview. Serpico: Architecture Inspires Avant-Garde Fashion

April 15, 2008 • Fashion


Melissa Serpico Kamhout recently introduced her Chicago-based fashion line to the stylists, magazine editors, and tastemakers of New York. While shooting the lookbook for her Fall Winter 2008 collection with a photographer in New York, she hosted a luncheon for fashion insiders and charmed them with her avant-garde designs and sparkling personality.

1. At what age did you first know that you wanted to become a designer?

MS: As far back as I can remember, I was always very interested in clothing and what I was wearing. I clearly remember being very unhappy and uncomfortable at age least 4 or 5 if my mother made me wear something that I did not like. My mother gave me the freedom to wear whatever I wanted, with the exception of some holidays and weddings when I really did not have a choice.

I first started designing by making clothing for my dolls. My sister and I actually had a doll that you could drape fabric onto to make clothes. The doll had with side seams where you could secure the fabric to shape a garment. It was really cool and came with different pieces of fabric. My sister and I also painted bikinis on our little Glamour Gals so they would be ready for the pool on their cruise ship. We popped the legs off and put them back after the paint dried to get a clean bikini line.

2. When did you start studying fashion design?

MS: I always had a really, really strong interest in fashion but for some reason I did not think that it was really attainable as a career. Maybe because I grew up in Chicago where the fashion industry not as large as in other major cities. I probably would have entered the fashion industry at a much earlier age if I grew up in New York or Europe. I knew I wanted to be an artist or designer of some sort, but I decided to focus first on graphic design. I worked in the industry for a few years after graduating. I didn’t like it very much and I was lucky enough to get laid off during the dotcom fallout. I had been dreaming of going back to school for fashion and enrolled in classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. 

3. Who were your earliest fashion influencers/role models?

MS: I think every little girls’s first fashion influencers are their mother and grandmother. They are really the people that you spend the most time with and see dressing up. My grandmother was very glitzy – lots of metallic fabrics, very low cut anything, and always long gold chains. I joke now that I like anything metallic and it probably comes from her. Of course I played around a lot with my mother’s clothing. My sisters and I dressed each other up in anything we could get our hands on in her closet. 

MTV and Madonna, specifically, greatly influenced the way that I dressed when I wasSerpico_gown
really young. Madonna was a huge pop star when I was in the 3rd grade and I wanted to look like her. I had crazy hair with a huge lace bow with matching lace half gloves, leather miniskirts, and huge belts. 

4. What is your design process? Do you start with ideas, shapes or fabrics? Or something else?

MS: My design process usually starts with an idea or concept – some sort of feeling that I want to convey. With this mindset I look for fabrics and start draping. Draping on the form is really where my designs come together. Sometimes I drape and sketch at the same time working out ideas until they are look the way that I want them to. Then I finalize the design in a draped muslin. 

5. Where do you find inspiration for your designs?

MS: In everything! Since I started my line, I rarely spend one minute not researching. I would have to say my strongest influences come from art and architecture, modern to classical, movies from all time periods, music, travel, and different cultures. 

6. What inspired your current Spring/Summer 08 collection?

MS: The spring/summer 08 collection was inspired by magazine cover illustrations from the 20’s & 30’s called "Carteles" from Cuba. The illustrations were very flat and graphic with interesting line quality, shape, and bold colors. The women in the illustrations were very confident, sexy, bold, and strong. They dressed very modern and had to be a bit scandalous compared to the way that American women dressed in that time period. I took this idea and combined it with the structure and shapes of Santiago Calatrava architecture. I love his work, and it is completely modern and cutting edge. 

7. What is your take on form vs. function?

MS: I can go back and forth on this. Design objects are the most brilliant when they do not sacrifice either to fulfill their destiny. Function is great but sometimes it can be thrown out the window when the form is so amazing that it just doesn’t matter anymore.

8. What technological advances in materials and design most excite you?

MS: Some of the laser-cutting techniques in fabric are really pretty cool. Also, the way that knits can be designed and created now is really amazing.   

9. What type of women do you most enjoy dressing?

MS: I really love to dress really any woman who admires my work. She has to want to wear something a little different and be willing to take risks. 

10. What do you think about the influence of celebrities on fashion?

MS: Some of it is good – some bad. But I do love when I see celebrities, say Mary Kate Olsen or Victoria Beckham, taking big risks. They definitely have their own style and really love and appreciate fashion as an art form. Fashion needs risk takers who push the general public beyond their fashion limits. 


Melissa Serpico Kamhout
Creative Director
1932 So. Halsted St. no.202
Chicago, Illinois  60608
ph. 312.265.6236 cell. 773.259.4798

– By special contributor Joseph Ungoco

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