Creatures of the Wind

Gia Coppola
Lucien Smith
Camille Rowe
Lexie Smith & Georgia Hilmer
Cameron Russell

Get a wind of this. Partners in both love and profession, Shane Gabier and Christopher Peters are currently causing more than a breeze in the fashion industry. Their Chicago born NYC based label, Creatures of The Wind, was only founded in 2008 and it hasn’t taken long for the fashion elite to catch on to these two creative creatures.

Hand-picked by Vogue in 2011 as runners up for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Prize, finalists for the International Woolmark prize in 2013 and winners of the CFDA Swarovski Award for Womenswear in 2014, the graduates from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago are shaking things up in the women’s wear department as we know it.

Their latest Fall Winter 2017 collection? An effortless mélange of comfortable, flowing fabrics embodied with prints representing community, friendship and their definition of luxury and glamour today. Inspired by everything from film, music, heartbreak and to even being struck by lightning, no concept is too big or too little for their runway. This week Semaine discusses in depth the challenges of moving to NYC, their work and personal life balance and just what exactly defines their indefinable and truly unique aesthetic.

Semaine: Can you take us back to the beginning, where did you both grow up and what were your respective childhoods like?

Shane: I grew up in Northern Michigan, in a tiny town of around 450 people. I had a lot of freedom, and lived in a beautiful place in the woods near Lake Michigan, but had very limited access to pop culture, no MTV or anything like that. So, I had to search out music, art, films and the things that would then become important influences. In hindsight, I appreciate that things were a bit of a mystery, and that I had to find my own connections between things and had to use my own imagination to fill in the blank spots.

Chris: I was born in New Jersey, but spent my early childhood in Ireland, where my parents had a restaurant. I moved back to the States when I was 8. I grew up mostly outside! Lots of time spent in the woods and on farms. My mom has always been very into antiques and art, so I often went with her to shows and exhibitions. I’d say she was probably my first and biggest aesthetic influence.

Semaine: How did the two of you meet?

Chris: We met in Chicago. We both studied fashion design at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and we first met there. First we were dating, but started working together almost immediately, and in a few months, we decided to give it the name Creatures of the Wind. In the beginning, it was very project based, and we were making everything ourselves.

Semaine: What was your first show like, in 2011?

Shane: It was called Struck. Conceptually it was about the relationship between heartbreak and being struck by lightning, which, based on accounts, often causes an emotional reaction that feels like loss. There are so many songs from girl groups from the early 1960s that were focused on heartbreak and lost love, so we used this super emotional music to inform the feeling of the collection. We showed around 18 looks, and it was all whites, pale yellows, and black.

Semaine: Where does the name, Creatures of the Wind come from?

Shane: The name is taken from the song, Wild is the Wind, which was written in 1957 for Johnny Mathis to record for a film by the same name. The song has been covered by a lot of our favorite musicians, including Nina Simone, Cat Power, David Bowie, and George Michael. We liked the idea that every version was very individual but also very emotional. We wanted to apply this concept to the way that we design – each collection should be a variation on this theme, but should maintain a consistent feeling and message.

Semaine: Most of your clothing is made right here in Manhattan's garment district. What prompted this decision to keep the manufacturing of the label in New York?

Chris: It’s always been important to us that the clothes should be very well made so it only makes sense to produce it locally and domestically. We can walk to our factories in ten minutes. We have personal relationships with the people who make the clothes, and we can talk to them about what we’re making together. It’s the only way that we will do it. We are working 100% domestically right now. There are so many clothes in the world, and if we are going to be adding to this, it’s important that we are doing it in the most responsible way. We pay close attention to all our sources, and we know where everything comes from, how it’s made, and who is making it.

Semaine: What was it like coming from Chicago to start your label in NYC? Were there any times when you felt like outsiders in the system or perhaps conversely it gave you a fresh perspective?

Chris: We started the label in Chicago and this did give us a certain freedom. We didn’t have a fashion community around us there, so we relied heavily on our friends who worked in other mediums… painters, graphic designers, musicians etc. A lot of our early collaborations were born out of relationships with these people. We were back and forth between Chicago and NYC a lot, since we were showing here and producing the clothes here. So, by the time we moved to NYC and opened our studio here in 2013, we’d built up a strong group of friends and colleagues, so the transition was ultimately really easy.

Semaine: Music seems to be a huge part of the brand DNA. The ethereal performance from Twin Peaks icon Julee Cruise in Chelsea's Masonic Hall last season will not be forgotten and moved some in the audience to tears. Can you talk to us a little bit about your obsession with music and how it has influenced and continues to influence your collections?

Shane: Music creates feelings, evokes strong and direct emotions, and has the power to inform narratives. For us, music is one of the ways that we communicate with each other and how we describe the way we want the collection to feel. Collections often start with music as we will play songs for each other to express the vibes. For both of us growing up, music was the most important outlet. It was (and still is) how you find your people, how you see the world, and is sometimes the only way to express what cannot be otherwise described.

Semaine: You enjoyed industry recognition early on. Looking back to your younger self, or to aspiring designers out there, what advice would you have?

Shane: Honestly, it’s better to not know what you don’t know. If someone had laid out all the challenges to us at the beginning it would have been completely overwhelming. Small and steady steps are important. What we are most proud of is that we have always maintained our point of view, which would be the best advice we could give: stick to your guns.

Semaine: The industry tends to love to pigeonhole and define a label, while your label seems to evolve and never lose its idiosyncrasy season to season. If you had to even attempt to define your label and approach, what would you say?

Shane: Creatures is an honest expression of what we find to be beautiful. It’s hard to sort out influences and to say that this dress was inspired by this particular film, or this color is taken from this particular painting…. It’s just all our true interests, things that are important to us, as seen through our filter and made into garments. Our approach is always earnest, never ironic.

Semaine: Psychedelia, Polly Styrene, Kaiju, Jodorowsky's films... what inspires you?

Chris: In the end, inspiration is rarely taken directly from a person, character or film, etc. It’s much more about the atmosphere suggested by any of these things. For example, it’s not that a collection would (or even could) look like a Jodorowsky film but rather it’s an attempt to capture the feeling of that film. And it’s never one reference at one time; all the things that we’re interested in will always inform everything that we do. The idea of taking a single influence and connecting the dots in a completely linear way isn’t interesting to us. We always want to explore the emotions behind these influences, to find the tangible representation of the indescribable.

Semaine: Talk us specifically through your inspiration for this past show. How did you celebrate its completion?

Shane: We’ve just shown the Fall 2017 collection, which is called Be My Dream. Conceptually, it’s about finding a sense of belonging, and finding one’s place in a kindred community. We were thinking a lot about ideas and definitions of luxury and glamour, and how these are expressed through clothing and how perception of clothing changes so much based on its’ context. We’ve been thinking about context a lot lately; how the meaning of a garment can change so much based only on who is wearing it. It’s so interesting to think about the choices we all make when we are getting dressed; consciously or unconsciously, we are communicating something to someone. Chris: In practical terms, the fall collection is a lot of saturated colors and prints, many of which are taken from raw footage video stills of a commune in the early 1980s, where everyone wore the same two colors. We also used a lot more neutral colors this season as a counterpoint to the prints. Another idea that we’ve been exploring for a couple of seasons has been re-purposing of specific vintage garments. This season we reworked vintage fur coats from the 1950s and 60s, removed the linings to expose the inner constructions, and embroidered the reverse side.

Semaine: Why do you both do what you do? If you weren't doing this, what would you be doing?

Shane: It’s truly what we both feel compelled to do. Neither of us could say why. If we weren’t doing this… Chris would probably be in ecology and I would be doing ceramics or furniture design.

Semaine: What is the dynamic of your partnership, how do you split your roles?

Shane: We both do everything, from the first seeds of concept, to sketching with our assistants, to choosing fabrics, colors and prints. There is a period towards the end of a season’s development, which coincides with the next season’s beginnings, where Chris focuses more on styling the collection we are working on, and I, Shane, start to look at fabrics for the next one. For the most part, everything is done by both of us together. Even though we are working super closely, we definitely do not always see eye to eye. It’s a big challenge to work through every collection and bring it to a place where we are both satisfied. It requires a lot of communication and a lot of attention. We both must feel good about every piece before we go forward with it. In the end, this is good, because it forces us to talk about everything. Nothing is done without a great deal of consideration, so hopefully this helps us to make better and more efficient decisions.

Semaine: What is it like sharing your lives in both work and love? How do you keep a balance?

Shane: We just have to talk a lot. It requires total honesty with each other.

‘Honesty’ is exactly what defines both the men themselves and Creatures of The Wind as a brand. Undisturbed by fashion rules and regulations, the two are living proof of how hard work, dedication and defining your own version of beauty can take you places you never thought imaginable. As their brand evolves every season, they consistently twist heads by turning fantasy into reality. A well needed breath of fresh American air, Creatures of The Wind are flying higher than the rest.

By Joanna Reid for Semaine.

Photography by Andres Burgo
Styling by David Gomes
Makeup by Anya Nihei Hair by Evanie Frausto

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