How I'm Making It: Shane Gabier and Chris Peters of Creatures of the Wind

Shane Gabier and Chris Peters, the designers behind the amazing brand Creatures of the Wind, went from teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to winning a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund runner-up award in about seven months. Such groundbreaking recognition is somehwat unheard of in an the fashion industry, though even more groundbreaking might be the fact that this duo's designs actually live up to the hype surrounding them. They garnered attention for their innovative and meticulously crafted clothes, and have stuck to that vision through ups, downs, and awards. I met up with the duo on a rainy morning just before Fashion Week to find out how Shane Gabier and Chris Peters manage their high-flying fashion life with their low-key Chicago based existence. It's pretty unreal.
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Shane Gabier and Chris Peters, the designers behind the amazing brand Creatures of the Wind, went from teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to winning a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund runner-up award in about seven months. Such groundbreaking recognition is somehwat unheard of in an the fashion industry, though even more groundbreaking might be the fact that this duo's designs actually live up to the hype surrounding them. They garnered attention for their innovative and meticulously crafted clothes, and have stuck to that vision through ups, downs, and awards. I met up with the duo on a rainy morning just before Fashion Week to find out how Shane Gabier and Chris Peters manage their high-flying fashion life with their low-key Chicago based existence. It's pretty unreal.
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Shane Gabier and Chris Peters, the designers behind the amazing brand Creatures of the Wind, went from teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to winning a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund runner-up award in about seven months. Such groundbreaking recognition is somehwat unheard of in the fashion industry, though even more groundbreaking might be the fact that this duo's designs actually live up to the hype surrounding them. They garnered attention for their innovative and meticulously crafted clothes, and have stuck to that vision through ups, downs, and awards.

I met up with the duo on a rainy morning just before Fashion Week to find out how Shane Gabier and Chris Peters manage their high-flying fashion life with their low-key Chicago based existence. It's pretty unreal.

Fashionista: How did you meet? Chris Peters: Well, I was a student and Shane was a professor [at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago], but he wasn’t my professor! After I graduated, I was about to leave Chicago, but then I decided I was going to date Shane. I made it happen. [laughs] Shane Gabier: So then we started working together. It was really project-based in the beginning. We’d make small things ourselves, and do everything from making the patterns to sewing. Our first collection got picked up by WWD, by a string of incidents, and it ended up on the cover. Chris: Things started going a lot faster after that.

And then you ended up at New York Fashion Week for Spring 2011. Shane: We consider Spring 2011 to be the first “real” collection. That’s when we were producing things and working on a larger scale. That’s when we started working with Libby [their PR person]. Chris: Yeah, everything got “real.” It’s been a really, really, really fast growing process. Shane: But we’re still trying to take it slow. Take one step at a time. Add new elements slowly. It’s like building facets on to what we’ve done. We’re all about organic growth, not forcing it.

What made you want to come to New York and show at New York Fashion Week? Shane: Well, you have to, right? Chris: It doesn’t make sense for us to make it more difficult for everyone else to see our collection. Shane: But we’re making it more difficult for ourselves. Chris: Yeah, but we are exposed to so many more resources in New York – our samples makers are in New York, our pattern makers are in New York. We just live in Chicago, which is kind of crazy.

Did you ever feel like outsiders in the New York fashion world? Shane: Well, there was some prejudice, some adversity. You’d like to imagine that people are open minded enough not hold that prejudice. But it was actually really good for us because I think in turn we overcompensated by doing really beautiful production and using really beautiful fabric. It’s like, “Fuck that! We’ll show you how good we can be.” Chris: That’s how we started working with couture mills and other high-end businesses. Shane: We took that as a challenge. We wanted to make it [the clothes] more beautiful. And that’s what people like about it now, the really special fabrics and the special treatments.

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You must get a lot of compliments on the craftsmanship of your pieces. They are really something. Shane: The best was when Ikram’s head tailor, who has been doing high-end alterations for literally 60 years said, “I pointed out to Ikram how beautiful everything is made. We see a lot of new designers, and yours is really special.” I was like, “Are you sure you told her?” [laughs]

What is a typical workday like for you? Chris: Honestly, we’re our own interns. Normally, we wake up, go to midtown and do errands and stay there until we have to meet Libby [PR representative], and then we work with Libby for an hour and a half, and then we go back to midtown and stay there until everything closes. Then we go home and eat ramen. Shane: It’s something we talk about with Marcus and David [Marcus Wainwright and David Neville, designers of Rag & Bone] who are our mentors through the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. They said, too, that when they started they were doing everything, and it’s really important because now they know how to delegate well. Literally every day we’re in the garment district there’s a new resource we learn about. We’re kind of constantly building on our library of resources, and these are things that’s we’re dealing with so it’s really immediate.

How do you balance your time between teaching and designing and traveling? Shane: Well, I have varying degrees of flexibility with the school [SAIC] but for the most part they’re...happy because there’s nobody else in Chicago or on the faculty that’s showing during New York Fashion Week, so they’re happy that somebody’s representing the school. We have short semesters and long breaks so it’s like six weeks that I can be in New York, working. Luckily, those breaks fall like right in the crunch of production, and right before the show, so it kind of works out in a weird way. Chris: The good thing is there are two of us, so a lot of times I’m here [in New York] by myself for like two or three weeks, which isn’t the most fun…I mean, I just don’t like being alone, so we have iChat.

You guys are really cute! What is the most fulfilling part of your job, other than working with each other? Chris: I get excited from seeing the samples. I think I scarred one of our pattern makers because he was showing us the samples, and I just freaked out and hugged him. Shane: He just picked him up and bear hugged him. [laughs] Chris: It was just the best. Shane: For me it’s seeing it all together at the show, when we finally have all the dream girls that we’ve casted and the hair is done…We never see it all together until that moment. That’s the moment that makes it worth it, for sure.

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How did you pick the name “Creatures of the Wind?” Chris: It’s from the Johnny Mathis song “Wild is the Wind.” Music is our next biggest obsession after fashion, and we really like the transformative ability of the song. It’s been covered so many times, and each time it has a different sentiment. Also the original version is so weird, dramatic, and awesome. We like the feeling it gave us. Shane: What we like about it too is that it’s open to interpretation. It creates a different picture for everyone.

Do think about music a lot when you’re designing? Chris: The collections always focus around a musical focal point. For Spring 2011 it was “The End of the World” by Skeeter Davis. After that was "The Song of the Siren." It’s about creating a dialogue with the song to create a feeling. It’s all about feelings--we’re very emotional! [laughs]

Who’s your ideal customer? Chris: I think our ideal customer is anyone who likes [the clothes]. We don’t really have fantasies about the customer, it’s more about whoever responds to the collection in whatever capacity they want to. Shane: I think it’s important to keep it open. The idea of like, “Who’s your customer?” I think that’s really difficult. Chris: We have customers that are like sixteen and we have customers who are in their nineties. We have a very wide range. Shane: I think that’s a really special component of what we do. I like that it can appeal to these really, more conservative, older women but it also can appeal to, like, crazy teenagers. It has that breadth.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken for your business? Chris: I don’t know. Everything we do seems like a really natural extension. We’ve always made a point of being really careful with our growth and not over extending ourselves. We don’t come from money. We are doing it all on our own, and because of that it’s made us really careful with our decisions. Shane: Anytime you have your own, independent business, it’s a risk, but we wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

How has your business changed since winning a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund prize? Chris: For us it’s allowed us so much more smoothness in terms of getting stuff through. Things feel less start and stop, we’re not waiting for payments or whatever. Shane: Obviously, it’s validation, which is important to other people, too. It’s definitely brought a lot more eyes onto what we’re doing. Chris: Oh yeah, there are a lot more eyes. In terms of our visibility it’s like a bajillion times more than before.

Do you ever get nervous about presenting your collection? Chris: Yeah, we do a little. Shane: But we’re never not confident about the clothes. The clothes are easy for us. There’s always anxiety about the future, but I wouldn’t say we’re nervous. We’re definitely confident about what we’re doing. Chris: It’s just pressure, but everything has pressure to it, to be honest. And anything worth doing is always hard.

What’s in store for Creatures of the Wind in the future? Shane: Honestly, we’ve been so focused on this specific collection [Fall 2012] that it’s all we’re really thinking about right now. I mean, I’m sure there’ll be CFDA-related things that will be really exciting this year. Chris: Oh yeah, they’ll be some collaborations, but I can’t talk about them! There’ll be some fun things.

Wink, wink. Chris: Yeah, wink wink.