Detroit is perhaps not top of most people’s mind when they think of cool fashion cities. The likes of Tokyo, London, LA, NYC, tend to cast longer shadows but Motor City has been quietly and earnestly working to establish itself as a style hub. Its legacy of music, manufacturing and artisanal craft make Michigan’s largest city uniquely inspiring for both those who call it home and for visitors who might not be aware of what’s going on behind those imposing Art Deco facades until an insider invites them in. Once admitted you will witness a veritable festival of creativity, ambition, and innovation. But it’s the midwest, so you will not hear Detroiters blowing their own trumpet.
However, international interest has been piqued. A contingent from the city has been invited to Pitti Uomo in Florence, Italy, to participate in Detroitissimi, a showcase celebrating the best of Detroit’s design talent during the trade show’s June 13-16 run. Local brands that will represent hometown pride include Detroit Denim, Boswell, K.Walker Collective, B.May Bags, and Deviate.Since 2015 The College for Creative Studies, located in midtown Detroit, has developed a reputation for its accessory design program led by international shoemaker Aki Choklat, but the school is now shaking up apparel design. Its May runway show presented collections by the first cohort of the newly launched bachelors degree in fashion design led by Antwerp designer Rey Pador. CCS runway shows attract high-profile talent spotters from Louis Vuitton and Tapestry, among others. The Movement Music Festival, one of the longest-running dance music events in the world, has just wrapped up but a summer of festivals awaits the music lover. Pador told FashionUnited back in December 2022 that the city’s rich dance music culture was what sealed the deal on their decision to relocate there. Along with the fine dining options and boutique hotels, the city has a techno museum right next to the Motown museum. Carhartt, the workwear brand founded in 1889 is capturing a new generation of fans, not least because of its sustainability focus helmed by Gretchen Valade, Sustainability Director who runs its Reworked program. The brand collaborates with CCS students tasked with creating zero-waste concepts designed for urban farmers, seamstresses, factory workers, by donating deadstock clothing and scrap materials. Valade is also co-founder of Eugenie, a boutique that sells sustainable clothing, home goods, jewelry and accessories from local, mainly female designers while also creating initiatives to support the local community.
Detroit boasts local fashion talent and attracts global luxury brands
Veteran fashion industry Detroiters include another famous boutique owner, Linda Dresner, who in the 80s introduced the cosmopolitan Michigander to avant garde global names such as Comme Des Garcons and Martin Margiela, and NYFW designer Tracy Reese who now promotes local artisanal organizations, runs art workshops and community gardening initiatives through her brand Hope For Flowers. Both have hugely impacted not only the local industry but American fashion as seen through a global lens.
NYC-based Shawna McGee draws on her Detroit roots for the whimsical paintings and vibrantly printed womenswear of her S. Magee Collection. Founded in 2015 and named after former city mayor Hazen Pingree who started his own footwear company in 1894 providing jobs for fellow veterans, Pingree Detroit strives to follow in its namesake’s footsteps selling handcrafted bags, home goods, accessories and footwear, using high-quality leather reclaimed from the Detroit auto industry. Maison Black is a curated online shopping experience featuring Black designers founded by Tori Nichel who has designed for Tibi, Kenneth Cole and Jennifer Lopez, but who now marries her passion for fashion with her sense of purpose to serve the community creating access, exposure, longevity and sustainability for her brands.
Detroit's industrial sewing sector supports the city's contemporary fashion developments. Jen Guarino, President and CEO of ISAIC (Industrial Sewing and Innovation Center) runs a national non-profit committed to positive impact through responsible production of high-quality garments sewn in the US while highlighting the role that technology can play in developing US-based manufacturing with a strong focus on equity and workforce development. Guarino, recognized as one of Michigan’s 100 most influential women, led the creation of the Detroit-based watchmaker Shinola's leather manufacturing unit.Located in Dearborn the Henry Ford museum, a monument to innovation, specifically in the area of trains, planes, and automobiles, is the largest indoor–outdoor museum in the US. But it still doesn’t have space to display its extensive fashion archive that can be visited only by appointment but which features the wardrobe of Mrs Ford who had multiples made of all her shoes, as well as an impressive collection of American quilting, original Balenciaga gowns and Christian Dior fashion illustrations.
PR company Olu & Company is getting ready to open an arts, fashion and culture magazine shop, Periodicals, led by Aleiya Lindsey-Olu to coincide with the exciting fashion boom in Detroit, while Design Core Detroit, a department within CCS, is hosting its third Design Jam focusing on accessibility in outdoor fashion and products in September.For a city that only a decade ago was known for its poverty, high crime and shrinking population, and destined to be remembered only for its bygone successes like so many other industrial cities of the Rust Belt, Detroit has bucked the trend. In 2015 it became the first US city to receive the UNESCO City of Design designation. The decision by Gucci to open a 3500 sq ft store on Library Street last August, or by Bottega Veneta to present its summer ’22 collection in the Corktown neighborhood, were just the tip of the iceberg. On a recent visit when I heard a local bemoaning why the powers that be felt that downtown Detroit needed a Le Labo fragrance store over a deli selling an affordable sandwich, it might suggest that the pendulum had swung a little too far in the other direction. But there is little doubt that Detroit has designs on itself and the world is taking notice.