If you have Instagram, you may notice how many independent fashion designers are trying to create viable businesses. Although they’re up against plenty of competition, including “influencer” lines and corporate brands, some individuals have been able to cut through the noise. We were lucky enough to include three of them—all with a Colorado connection—in our fall 2019 fashion feature, which focused on Bauhaus-inspired styles. Read on to learn more about these unique designers, what drives their vision, and what you can expect to see from them this fall.
You’ve probably heard of Cherry Creek North’s Lawrence Covell—the 40-plus-year-old Denver boutique recognized internationally for it’s quiet, curated fashion edit. But you might not know that the shop’s namesake, Lawrence Covell, began his career in 1967 with a leather goods line called Phantasmagoria, which he sold at his “flower power” lifestyle shop in Boulder of the same name. Covell (who goes by Lawry) grew his business into a diverse line of handmade leather accessories and clothing, including sandals, jeans, and jackets, until he put it aside in 1978 to focus on his eponymous retail boutique, which sells both men’s and women’s fashions.
It wasn’t until 2010, on the suggestion of Covell’s son, Joe, that he relaunched Phantasmagoria as a line of belts. Contrary to his late-1960s counterculture style, Lawry’s modern belts are minimalist chic, crafted from supple vegetable-tanned cowhides sourced from a top tannery in Tuscany (which also happens to supply luxury leather goods to Hermes and Louis Vuitton). Covell finishes his belts with solid brass, nickel-plated buckles from France and Italy. The resulting belts are timeless, and can be worn with everything from denim to a midi-length skirt. “I keep the belts clean (in style); I’m not into a lot of ornamentation,” Covell says. “I like to let the quality of the leather and the hand finish do the talking.” $195, Phantasmagoria, available at Lawrence Covell, 225 Steele St., 303-320-1023
Abigail Stern may be a born-and-bred East Coaster, but having grown up in a family that skied, this Connecticut native knows the sport like a Coloradan. She even spent many college weekends on the slopes when she attended the University of Colorado Boulder. But the one challenge Stern had with skiing? The clothing. She didn’t want to always be seen in the same outfit, but as a college student, she couldn’t afford to purchase new items, so she ended up wearing pieces from her mother. “They were actually way cooler than anything I was seeing in the shops,” she says.
After graduating and working as a technical designer for companies such as NikeLAB Apparel, Asics, Kassia Surf, and Erin Snow, Stern decided to strike out on her own. In 2018, she launched Matek, a line of chic, modern winter base layers that were as cool as her mother’s vintage ones, but with updates to the fabric and function. Stern started by banishing wool from her line; although most traditional base layers are made from it, she finds wool itchy (who doesn’t?). Instead, she developed a four-way stretch jersey made from recycled nylon yarn with added sweat wicking and odor protection. “On top of being a highly functional fabric, it feels delicious,” she says. “It reminds me of when base layers were made from silk back in the day.”
But don’t think that Matek is just about vintage inspiration and fabric performance. “My design process is actually lead by two things: Fabric and fit,” Stern explains. “But fit is always my priority. I think a good design follows good fit.” To prove it, Stern has thought through all aspects of her capsule collection of five pieces: From a snap-crotch, extra-long turtleneck that can double as a face mask, to a full-body long john with a rear flap lined in 100 percent organic cotton, and even leggings with mesh panels that stop your socks from scrunching up inside your boots. And starting this winter, it won’t just be women who benefit from Stern’s good design sense—she’s expanding Matek’s best-selling, full-body long john, the Gentoo, to both men’s and unisex kid’s sizes.
Jeffrey Gonzales was raised in a family that sewed. He recalls being fascinated by both of his grandmothers as a child, watching them work at their sewing machines. Even though Gonzales would go on to study engineering in college and work at a large engineering firm, his love of fashion eventually won out. In 2011, Gonzales launched his own label, Ammunition Couture, a conceptual design house specializing in the creation of unique, artisanal garments and accessories. The brand’s aesthetic is minimal, yet high impact. The silhouettes tend toward the geometric, and frequently emphasize the human form (think spiral cuffs that extend up the arm, a collar necklace accented with rubber quills, or a kimono-sleeve dress with a draped front panel). He also incorporates layers of texture by working with diverse materials, from traditional textiles like knits, raw silks, and tulle, to latex and vegan leather.
Gonzales’s dark-yet-refined point of view means that his work caters to a specific clientele. He’s carried in a few select boutiques and showrooms around the U.S., as well as in France and Australia. And like many independent designers today, Gonzales doesn’t feel the need to decamp to New York City, Los Angeles, or Paris, and he doesn’t show his work within the typical two-season runway format to which the fashion industry still adheres. In fact, he says his release format varies, at times introducing a single look and making all of its individual pieces available, or releasing a small, but impactful capsule collection, as he recently did with his new sustainable, vegan tree leather pieces. For the near future, Gonzales says he’ll continue to focus on developing and creating new accessories and garments made of sustainable, cruelty-free, and ethically sourced materials with minimal to zero waste. If you want to see Gonzales’s work in real life, check him out at this November’s Denver Fashion Week.