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The Artist, Designer, and Bon Vivant

We recently had the opportunity to chat with Michael Cepress, local fashion designer, university instructor, and bon vivant. Cepress has spent the past few years bridging the gap between artist and fashion designer, turning out both art gallery bound and bespoke fashion pieces from his International District workshop. He has his eye on bigger and better things, though, including his first full men's and women's collection, and has recently launched a Kickstarter campaign in the hopes of bringing his collection to life.

Nark Magazine: This is your first full men's and women's collection. When did you decide to take the leap from creating individual pieces to mass producing a collection?

Michael Cepress: I made this leap in my own mind first when I realized that I was not connecting with as many people as I would like through my designs.  Making one thing at a time is wonderful, but in the end only one person gets to enjoy the finished product.  I am increasing production (but still on a local, small scale) because it is a way to invite that many more people to come be part of what I'm creating here at my studio.

NM: What do you see the biggest advantages and challenges to producing a collection locally as?

MC: The advantages are so many:  The clothes will be made locally, so I can be part of the entire process from head to toe.  The money invested in making it all happen then stays local.  Local craftspeople are hired to do the work, and my label then becomes one more example of how we can have an impact in mending the local economy and really growing some truly hip, enriching culture in Seattle.

The biggest challenge I see is that there is now simply MORE of everything for me.  More designs, more employees, more facets of the business to manage.  But that's a beautiful double-edged sword - because a little more on my end means a lot more perks for everyone else, and that's what I'm in this all for in the first place - to make people happy and bring them clothes that truly mean something.

NM: Clearly, the vertical nature of having an entirely local design and manufacturing process has its advantages in quality control, or simply control in general. Does this outweigh the cost disadvantage, then, when compared to having the clothes made overseas?

MC: Having clothes made overseas is not even an option for me, so I don't really compare numbers and look at it that way.  My vision is about being part of the entire experience.  I am an artist and love having my hands in the process every minute - so doing it all locally is a must, and will surely be an added point of pleasure for both myself and the folks wearing the clothes in the end.

NM: I love your modern interpretations on classic menswear styles, particularly your use of extravagant colors and fasteners. Do you see those styles as being practical? How do you see the average man on the street including them in his wardrobe?

MC: What I have planned for these next collections is entirely practical and artistic at the same time.  Some people get a little confused when they see my wearable art pieces and assume that I intend for them to be worn on the street.  While that could certainly happen with some, most of those works (my paper collars for instance) were made specifically for the art gallery and seem best suited for that environment.  My new collections are ready-to-wear, entirely designed and made for real people to wear on the streets in their day to day lives.

NM: Which pieces of your collection are your favorite?

MC: I'm particularly excited about a few pieces that are not specific to either men or women, but suited to be worn by both.  The current favorites that fit that bill are a series of long hooded caftan robes with multi-colored prism diamond patterns on them.  Macklemore was just wearing one for a photo shoot last week and loved the design.

NM: Your textile background is clearly evident in the gorgeous fabrics you've chosen for your collection. What was the selection process like? 

MC: When it comes to fabric, I indulge myself fully.  After getting my MFA in textiles and fibers there was really no turning back to working with poor quality or uninteresting fabrics.  I go for things that are made with some soul, have a good rich history in them, show signs of true quality and promise the wearer that they'll have their body against something very special - both in how it is designed and how it makes them feel.

NM: Your bandanas, scarves, and wraps are constructed from fabric woven in India and Sri Lanka. How did you find them?

MC: I have a host of mills, fabric designers and distributors who have been really wonderful about offering me their finest things.  I am in steady conversation with these people all over the world, constantly sending swatches back and fourth to choose the fabrics that are best for the collections.  It really is one of the most fun parts of this gig!

NM: Who's work inspires you the most?

MC: I don't follow mainstream fashion a whole lot, and whats on the major runways is always less inspiring to me than other things in the world. I look at history constantly for inspiration - looking back is the best way for me to move forward, it seems.  Kaisik Wong is an endless inspiration and I keep a photo of him and his work at the altar in my studio.  The Cockettes are a wealth of inspiration - namely Fayette Hauser and her decadent, complex style.  Alexandra Hart's book Native Funk and Flash is another one of those things that is part of the heartbeat of my process.

NM: How much of your own wardrobe have you designed yourself?

MC:I have a nice stash of MC designs in my own closet and I always give my own work a test run in my own life before I put it out there for others.  Since the real satisfaction comes from making clothes for others, I end up sewing for myself very little.  But I'm nothing if I don't practice what I preach, so I gladly do what I can to sport my own work as often as possible.  

NM: Once your Kickstarter campaign is complete, how long will it be before we see your clothing at retailers?

MC: Soon! If all goes as planned, I'll be showing the new collections at events by June, with things available at retailers at the same time.

Photos provided by Michael Cepress

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