Photography: Wyatt McSpadden
Model: Helen Burnett
Easily one of the strongest student presentations at the School of the Art Institute Chicago’s runway show last spring, Texas-born designer Mady Berry’s junior collection left us proudly craving her campy cactus-shaped knit sweater (See above). A fanciful master of storytelling, Berry’s three-part array, aptly titled, “Sand Doesn’t Need to be Bland,” represents her trying experience spent concepting, creating and executing the standout collection.
Each look serves a fictional “guide” through the creative “desert” Berry said she felt victim to last year; the “Cactus” outfit exemplifies resilience, finished with a crystallized “Peyote Coyote” stole, made in collaboration with Chicago artist Lane Preston; the “Siren” look is Berry’s flashy portrayal of passion, styled with an eyeball-adorned cactus bra that’d make Miley Cyrus weak at the knees; the third look, or “Creator,” represents Berry finally discovering her artistic oasis with a festive, hand-stitched scene of dancing coyotes, mountain lions and javelinas.
We caught up with the rising Chicago-based talent to discuss growing up in Texas, attending SAIC and her post-college plans.
On the collection’s origins:
“‘Sand Doesn’t Need to be Bland” came from a lack of inspiration and stamina. When I began designing I felt lost and uninspired and the longer that persisted, the more anxious and frustrated I became. I started to feel that I was walking through this metaphorical ‘desert.’ Once I began thinking of it in that way, I started to consider who would be my guides out of the desert and into the Oasis or ‘center of inspiration.’
My first guide is the ‘Cactus,’ at first intimidating, but really just a big softy. The Cactus is such a resilient and enduring icon and I am very inspired by that. The second look, the ‘Siren,’ is my interpretation of passion. She looks a little like a showgirl that got lost in the desert and became this animal. I learned a lot about myself while designing this collection and I expressed that in the third look. It’s a celebration of the creative process and the moment of inspiration. I think of it as a reminder moving forward that it’s always possible to find the oasis or inspiration.”
On growing up in Texas:
“While living in Austin, I never felt any affinity for the way people dressed. Every once and a while I’d see a guy wearing a cowboy hat and boots, but I didn’t really pay much attention. I don’t even own a cowboy hat or boots. After leaving Texas, that’s when my fascination and obsession with my home state manifested itself. I feel a little like Sandy from SpongeBob when she sings the Texas song, ‘I guess deep in my heart I’ll always be a Texas Girl.’ My sophomore [work] dealt with my longing for home and the fantasy versus reality of coming back to the place where I grew up. I have a lot of nostalgia for the mythology of Texas; I’m drawn to southwestern themes and imagery in my work because it feels like home.”
On her ideal customer:
“Anyone that relates to the story I’m telling. Most of my garments have very performative qualities. I think the person who wears my clothes is adventurous, optimistic and a true individual. I design for someone who can suspend their disbelief and fall into another world where the garments take on a life of their own.”
“SAIC really allowed me to explore my voice as a designer without any exterior industry pressure. The school is very conceptual and that’s how I enjoy working. This method allows me to tell a story and feel very personally about my work. I would be very bored if clothes were simply clothes. I love the multidisciplinary nature of the school; it allows me to think outside of the framework of fashion and expand into different mediums like textile design and sculpture. This freedom has been extremely important in my growth as a designer.”
“In the beginning I was very frustrated. I’m a bit of a control freak and enjoy having my hands in every step of the process. I hand-dyed almost every garment and many times I was matching colors. In order to get the color right sometimes I would have to dye fabric multiple times; there was always a chance it’d go horribly wrong and I’d need to start over from scratch. I also screen printed and beaded, so there was quite a lot of handwork involved.
I knew from the beginning I wanted the cactus to be a sweater, but I had limited experience knitting. I found the yarn, figured out the stitch, and consulted on the pattern with this knitting shop in Austin called, ‘Hill Country Weavers.’ The cactus was really a collaboration between me and my mom; she knit pieces of the sweater and we worked together to assemble it. I don’t think the collection would have been finished if it weren’t for my mom; she studied textile design in college and is a very talented artist.”
On post-college plans:
“I want to gain as much experience working for people I admire, while also working on my own projects. My dream is to work for Walter Van Beirendonck. I would love to apply to intern for him after I graduate; I have so much respect for him and his approach to the fashion industry. He’s basically my design hero, as I feel he has never compromised his vision. I would also like to work for Henrik Vibskov and Viktor & Rolf. I think about returning to school to get a masters degree and maybe start my own label eventually. I would also love to design costumes for a pop star and be part of creating some sort of multimedia experience.”