Given the electricity surrounding Creatures of the Wind at the moment – CFDA/Vogue Award nominations, a rising, word-of-mouth New York fashion week reputation, a capsule collection for J.Crew under the belt – it’s appropriate that the label’s first collection proper, for spring/ summer 2011, was inspired by lightning. “I had been struck by lightning indirectly,” begins Chris Peters, the bleached-blond half of the American design duo behind the brand. “It hit a tree and I got zapped. The feeling was like the most intense emotional ache – I felt as if I had my heart ripped out of my chest.”
Commissioning friends Matteah Baim (who has collaborated with Antony Hegarty) and Rose Lazar to do an aching cover of Skeeter Davis’s “The End of the World”, the designers conjured a bewitching mood that hovered over their presentation: a broken late 50s/early 60s melancholy that tainted every piece of cloth in the room.
“We’re not about one important piece of tailoring or a beautiful garment – it is about that and how all of these garments cumulatively build this kind of image or picture or feeling,” says Shane Gabier, the darker-haired half of Creatures of the Wind.
Did the feeling come close to being electrified by Mother Nature? “I was simultaneously really emotional and choked up in a heartbeat,” says Peters. “You could say it was adequately moving!” Gabier graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1999 and headed straight to Belgium, where he gained experience at Dirk Schönberger and Jurgi Persoons and worked for a knitwear company, sampling for Raf Simons, Veronique Branquinho and Walter Van Beirendonck. He met Peters after returning as a professor at the school, and they began dating and collaborating shortly before Peters’ graduation. Creatures of the Wind was established in late 2007, based around intricate patchworks for men and women.
We’re not about one important piece of tailoring or a beautiful garment – it is about that and how all of these garments cumulatively build this kind of image or picture or feeling
“We were making things in our basement in Chicago and it was a bit of a bitch – it was really small-scale,” says Peters. “A friend of ours wore a dress to a party and somehow met someone from Women’s Wear Daily. Next thing we were on the cover... and still working out of this basement!” Said cellar is in the Windy City’s Humboldt Park neighbourhood. Ten years ago it was rough, five years ago it was dodgy; now it’s “up-andcoming”. “What’s our working environment like? Plain, cold and isolated from the rest of Chicago. It’s nice to have a distance from distractions,” Gabier reveals. “We live and work on different levels of the house.”
Much of Creatures’ collections are physically realised in New York, such as the sampling and the majority of the pattern cutting. “There is so much planning you have to do to get any simple thing done, like getting a zipper to a factory. We’ve learned a lot about delegation. Beyond that, we have enough frequent-flyer miles to go to Japan. Twice. Both of us.”
The breathing space has been a strength – left to their own devices they’ve been able to build a creative community around them without the tinnitus of fashion politics or ephemeral distraction. ”We search out a couple of collaborators every season,” says Gabier. “Chicago is a great city for art and music and design and, you know, all kinds of other things. We want to create something interesting so we’ll work with friends that are visual artists to help us create prints. Or collaborate on accessories somehow. Or, as with Matteah and Rose, work with musicians on unique presentation soundtracks. Music in particular is really important. We frame ourselves with it and spend a lot of time figuring out who we can work with to fulfil that. We work backwards, starting off with an atmosphere and the feeling that we want to represent first of all.”
The autumn/ winter 2012 collection, shown in New York earlier this year, was styled by Dazed deputy fashion editor Emma Wyman, who also directs the editorial in these pages, shooting a (current season) patchwork scarf reminiscent of those early, handcraft Creatures days. Back on the runway, models walk in shoes made in collaboration with lauded designer and superstylist Tabitha Simmons.
“The fall collection is important to us,” explains Peters. “If we were girls this is what we would be willing to buy. I really don’t like it when fashion feels like it is going to have such a distinct moment in time; the lines of it are so set that if you see it in a year you can’t wear it and you even hate it. That’s not a good thing! We always want to have this sort of nebulous-y foreign quality.”
The designers achieve that by working with textures and materials. Gabier and Peters have a healthy disrespect for $222-a-yard lamé from a French couture mill, mixing it with $2-a-stretch dot cotton from the 1970s. It’s about inherent value and not notions of status. This is metafashion, if you will, for the net generation. Preconceptions should be left at the door. “That is probably one of the biggest hurdles in terms of what we are trying to do,” says Gabier. “People just don’t really get the idea of luxury being a particular goal when it comes to our materials. A weird, freaky, plastic-y tarp thing that we found rolledup in a thrift store is put with another fabric. Confusion for us is beautiful.”
The fall collection is important to us. If we were girls this is what we would be willing to buy. I really don’t like it when fashion feels like it is going to have such a distinct moment in time; the lines of it are so set that if you see it in a year you can’t wear it and you even hate it
If the collection isn’t easy to pigeonhole, that’s because the designs aren’t easily signed off as silhouettes. There’s labour in each garment, and the styling is done afterwards.
Gabier grew up in a small farming community with a population of 500. “My first real kind of connection – and this was pre-internet – was Smash Hits magazine,” he explains. “For some reason the drugstore had it. I don’t know how, I think it was from God! I never had MTV so it was solely though Smash Hits that I would see anything. It was an important influence. This was in Michigan and there were lots of hippies and communes in the woods.”
“I didn’t really have friends when I was a teenager,” says Peters. “I had so much difficulty finding people who were interested that in the end I entertained myself. Napster had so much stuff when I was getting into music, and in New Jersey we had WFDU, which is this amazing radio station, with some of the most esoteric and specific radio shows you can listen to. There would be an hour of Scandinavian girl-pop and then it would be experimental Japanese music from the 80s. I’d have it on and be trying to write down songs on my steering wheel and not crash my car. Then I liked fashion – I worked for my parents as a coat check at their restaurant. As I didn’t have any other things to spend money on, because I didn’t do anything, I started buying clothes. All the way through I was on the internet, playing video games. I was always very nerdy and still am.”
Gabier chimes in: “I am a nerd about fashion in the way a Star Wars fan would be a nerd. I am obsessive and follow pattern cutters. I geek out over mills. I guess we’re kind of spooky sometimes in that way.”
Working and living together builds an intuition (and a design language) bigger than either individual. The duo began in “two very different places” and their earliest collections saw garments that were either “very Shane or very Chris”. As with any partnership, it’s not the shared ideal but the nuances within that create a spark. “Generally I think I want it to be a little tighter and shorter and sexier and harder and Shane is more... romantic,” says Peters. “No! Not romantic,” Gabier volleys back, laughing. “A little more protected, maybe. I think that’s something I got from Antwerp. My aesthetic core is very much born from that.”
Don’t get them started on fashion’s endlessly marketable fixation with art, though. “When you speak about art and fashion it is always scary,” says Peters, “because I think sometimes people use art as a thing they just tack on the inspiration board. To us that seems really arbitrary, even abusive.” When they do work with an artist, it’s done respectfully. Creatures’ friend Stephen Eichhorn has collaborated on prints and created both sculptures and headpieces for the AW12 presentation, the latter woven in by hairstylist Odile Gilbert. It has to make sense within their universe – you won’t find Gabier and Peters plundering greatest hits from exhibition catalogues.
“A lot of super weirdo, freaky kids at the school (of the Art Institute of Chicago) like our collection,” says Peters. “They are cool. And all the good ones are enlisted to help us. When they move to New York they can shadow us and become our remote operatives!”
Film by Harrison Boyce
Photography Chad Moore
Styling Emma Wyman
All clothing and accessories by Creatures of the Wind
Hair Andre Gunn at The Wall Group using Oribe
Make-up Stevie Hyunh at The Wall Group
Prop Stylist Natalie Labriola
Model Zen at IMG
Photographic Assistant Jeff Luker
Styling Tamara Malas
Hair Assistant Holly stamey
Make-up Assistant Grace Ahn
Retouching Patrik Dyer
Casting Noah Shelley for AM Casting