Fashion designer Steve Sells wears his art on his sleeve for Denver Fashion Week
fashion designer Steve Sells Artistry comes to life in his clothing, which is characterized by moving graphics, rich colors, and textured details. It’s not surprising that his garments have adorned such well-dressed celebrities as actor Billy Porter and actress Donna Murphy. Happy November 20th participants Denver Fashion Week Runway Show by Steve Sells Designs can convince themselves of its flowing fabrics.
Sells began his career as a painter in Kansas City in the late 1970s, taking an interest in textiles after seeing the work of his friends in the fashion department of the Kansas City Art Institute. He combined his paintings with fabrics, a practice that developed into making scarves. He got involved in the art-to-wear movement of the 1980s by turning these scarves into garments that he sold to stores across the country, and began a twenty-year career as a maker of extravagant evening and event wear.
Sells moved to Denver ten years ago, and after taking a break from design, a friend convinced him to take it up again a few years ago. In doing so, he adapted his designs for today’s casual market. âI used to work exclusively with silk, but now I work with Japanese cotton, Belgian linen and Italian crpe,â he says. “It’s more wearable and casual, but still luxuriously casual.”
Sells’ choice of colors and graphics highlights his work. In the 80s he was enthusiastic about the Japanese Shibori dyeing process. “A book came out of that Yoshiko Wada It documents this dyeing process in Japan, which was passed on over generations, but died out, “he remembers.” The American designers at Art to Wear picked it up and we began to integrate it into our work and to find our own variations. “
His fabrics go through a series of experiments, starting with the patterns he brings back from textile shows to see how they react to different processes. âOften I don’t care about a fabric at first, but when I get it in the dye studio it does really unique things,â he explains. âThat’s fun about the casual line. The unique weave structures react to the dyes in a way that silk would never have. ”
When it comes to silhouettes, much of Sells’ clothing has a simplicity and characteristic flow that is inspired by Japanese design. âThere is something about this Japanese aesthetic. I just love it, âhe says. âIt’s something I strive for – that clean simplicity and that zen feeling. Maybe it’s because my studio usually feels like total mess and chaos, so my mind yearns for order! ”
Sells also takes inspiration from mid-century modern design, and hints of this are present in his dresses, which feature contrasting 1960s-style graphic prints and stand-up or funnel-shaped collars. âI love these collar shapes that Jacqueline Kennedy wore,â he says. âI’m really drawn to this era, be it clothing design, architecture, or cars. There are lines that intersect with Japanese design and this minimalist aesthetic. ”
While his inspirations guide him, Sells also looks at his audience. âMy work is very labor-intensive. The fabric for each garment is colored individually. It’s custom cut and sewn by people here in Denver who I pay a viable wage that is expensive. So all of this flows into the costs. That means that only women who are more established in their careers and lives can afford this, and this is usually someone who is more mature, âhe says.
His market age includes women in their forties, fifties, and sixties, and Sells listens to whatever they want. âThey have the part of their lives behind them in which they want something bound and boned. You want a more relaxed fit with an interesting neckline that covers the neck and sleeves that cover the arms, âhe says.
While most of his collections are more casual now, he enjoys doing fashion shows because it forces him to think outside the box. âWhen I work for the stores, I know what appeals to my clientele, so I design within that framework,â he says. âBut that can get a bit monotonous on the catwalk. The shows are the place where I can do more dramatic pieces. ”
As he prepares to show off twelve looks from his Spring / Summer 2022 collection Denver Fashion Week, he notes that while these catwalk outfits are more extravagant, they find a home. The bold fabric color designs often evolve into simpler, repeatable looks for limited editions in his leisure collection. Some of the stores he supplies only ask for unique looks as their customers want exclusive outfits that no one can see.
The pandemic caused Sells to rethink how to reach customers as stores closed and all orders were suspended. âCustomers were still buying, but they didn’t dare go into brick and mortar stores,â he says. So he went online. âI was wholly in wholesale for stores for twenty years, but that screeched to a halt. So I added a retail department and posted a full selection on my website. We inform customers about new pieces by email and Instagram. ”
Sells has also developed a new form of shopping for selected customers. âWe talked about their sizes, what colors and styles they liked, and I curated a clothes rack for them. Then we had a Zoom meeting, which often became multi-person cocktail parties, and I showed the pieces. They chose what they wanted and I sent or gave them a box of clothes to try on. They kept what they liked and sent the rest back. ”
Zoom is now an integral part of Sell’s business; He recently held Zoom meetings with buyers who were still too nervous to travel and attend the fall market shows. “We would never have done that before the pandemic,” he emphasizes.
What he loves about his work as a designer, says Sells, is seeing a piece of clothing go from an idea to someone who wears it: âIt’s very rewarding to have a concept of something tangible that you can market and see how buyers respond. Then do a trunk show and see how customers react to it. Then you see someone’s attitude change when they try on something they love. My clothes don’t really come to life until they become part of someone else’s life. ”