Interview. Cynthia Rowley Dishes Out Style in Chicago.

October 2, 2009 • Fashion

Me and Cynthia Rowley (with Garrett popcorn-her favorite) and Lance Chody (one of the owners of Garrett Popcorn Shops)

Last night I had the esteemed privilege of hanging out with designer Cynthia Rowley at her Bucktown store in Chicago. Rowley was in town to host former Elle editors Kate Power and Hillary Kerr at a book signing of their new publication, Who What Wear: Celebrity and Runway Style For Real Life. The book is a spin-off of Power and Kerr's popular website,, which provides style tips on popular trends. The cozy space of the boutique filled up quickly as avid fans lined up to buy books and then have them signed. Rowley herself made her way around, greeting guests and catching up with friends in her native city. Busy as she was, she was kind enough to give me her thoughts on the new book, as well as insight into her most recent success—her gorgeous Spring 2010 runway show that we covered at New York Fashion Week.

SCS: How do you think Who What Wear will be effective as a style resource?

CR: I think anytime someone puts fashion through a filter and makes it understandable, user-friendly, and accessible then its worth it weight. This book takes the intimidation and the fear out of fashion that a woman may feel toward it and just gives her a bunch of ways to make it work for her. And it says that you can look good no matter how old you are, or young! My niece, who's 12, just read the book and I invited her to come tonight. Well, my brother called and said they couldn't make it but he said it sure was a great book! So even he had read it! It just shows the range that Kate and Hillary have created.

Former editors for Elle Katherine Power (left) and Hillary Kerr sign copies of their new book, Who What Wear at Cynthia Rowley in Bucktown

SCS: What is it about the book that appeals to you as a designer?

CR: I just love what Kate and Hillary have done with making this book a tool and a guide for women who love fashion. As a designer, it serves as a kind of inspiration, an endorsement. It let's me know that I can be more relaxed and take more risks when creating my designs. I like to think that my collections are versatile and timeless looks mixed in with more trendy, of the moment pieces. And since I love to experiment, resources like these make my job easier because it shows different kinds of women different ways my pieces can be worn.

Guests mingle around the boutique an wait for their books to be signed

SCS: And speaking of your collections, congratulations on your Spring 2010 show in New York Fashion Week! Second City Style covered your show, which was amazing. Where did the inspiration for the diversity of the looks come from?

CR: Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Well, you'll notice in the beginning of he show the looks were mostly bare in that wheat colored canvas. I did that to convey a sort of blank canvas—or an open book—that the ideas would be filled in. I really tried to make the pieces individualistic, again in a 'make this your own', kind of way. So the black canvas, blank page motif helped with that in the beginning. Then we added some layering, some color, and some embellishments to signify the ideas sort of coming to life. But through the colors and the prints, like the watercolors, we made sure to keep the pieces looking like a work in progress, not too neat. The prints are hand painted on the fabric so before the show, we painted on top of them with water. Then we hung some up, and laid some out, anything to make the overall look blurry and kind of unfinished. I just wanted that unique, individualism of each piece to really come through.

SCS: Now this year, you pioneered this new ad technique of showing your collections through short films that played in the back of taxis. Your first one for Fall 2009 was successful and then for Spring 2010, your video was featured in 5,500 cabs around New York with an estimated 2.4 million viewers. How did this all come about?

CR: Well I really wanted to create something for Fashion Week that was more inclusive.You know, most things about the shows are so exclusive that I thought it would be fun to just let people in, and at the same time, let them be entertained. Both films were created by Andy Spade, Kate Spade's husband, with Red Bucket Films. He really came up with the concepts, the first one as a round of musical chairs and the second with the game of hide and seek, because he knows me and pretty much knows what I would like. We shot the film in one day, one week before the show and then it debuted on the first day of fashion week, running every fifteen minutes or so for the entire week. So yeah, I think people liked it and enjoyed the playfulness of it. The only thing was, we used the actual garments that were gonna be in the show so I was the one going, "Can we put some plastic on the ground please!" But it turned out great, and its only been two parts of a series so I'm already thinking about what's going to happen next.

Talking shop with Illinois native Cynthia Rowley and her friends

SCS: You're from the Chicago area originally and graduated from the Art Institute. We love that you come back to Chicago so frequently! Now that we're approaching our Fashion Focus shows, do you have any advice for Chicago's emerging talent?

CR: Well Chicago is a great fashion city, and it's a great consumer city. Anyone who wants to start a fashion business here, as opposed to say New York, will probably find it to be easier and more friendly since Chicago is more insular and New York is much more cut throat in the industry. At the same time, spending some time in New York is always be a practical move in fashion since there are more resources and more overall possibilities available. But talent bred in Chicago will always have a home in Chicago and that's how I feel whenever I come back, even after all these years.

SCS: Thank you so much and we will see you at the Fall 2010 shows!

CR: Thank you!

Photo Source: Second City Style
-Alia Rajput

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