It would do well for the Detroit Transportation Corporation to consider combining its $200-million rapid-transit mistake – popularly known as the People Mover – with more hand-sewn, urban couture.
Derided by bitter commuters and non-native Detroiters, the People Mover found itself in more fashionable light as both tram and catwalk for Pure Detroit Design Lab’s March 11 fashion show. The event featured the Fall 2006 collection from Wound, Design Lab director Sarah Lurtz and partner Sarah Lapinski’s handmade menswear line.
Swathed in reverse-stitch blazers and genie pants, lanky, kohl-eyed models slinked down the Times Square station platform and into the People Mover cars housing VIP buyers and media personnel. Other fashion enthusiasts, photographers and curious onlookers clustered on the platform, cosmic experimental music undercutting the chattering voices.
Wound’s People Mover runway show was a twist on Pure Detroit Design Lab’s usual opening festivities. The store-cum-studio features a new artist every two to three weeks and one of their 25 contributing designers about once a month, kicking off each respective line with a party.
“Whenever the feature designers have a new collection, they get their own rack,” Lurtz said. “(Parties) are always on a Friday night . usually have a DJ and food and drink.”
Designers also play dress-up with the window showcase. The current display features the Western-inspired dresses of Kate Bennett’s new ready-to-wear line, accented by pairs of cowboy boots and carefully arranged bales of hay.
“Designers can pretty much do whatever they want (with the window display),” Lurtz explained.
Part of the growing Pure Detroit mark, the lab functions as both a boutique and a fashion thinktank. Lurtz is most often seen working at the store’s centerpiece – a do-it-yourself island with Singer sewing machines – but the variety of designers on tap are encouraged to work in-store as well.
Compared to the typical clothing store and its neighborhood, the design lab is a self-contained party.
“It’s the financial district; most of the people down here – it’s not their style,” Lurtz said. “So come in and find us – we’re the weird art kids on the block, I guess.”
While the Pure Detroit label is know for its own line of t-shirts, automotive seatbelt buckle and other 313-friendly products, there are no “Detroit Rock City” or “Cass Corridor” shirts to be found.
“We don’t have any (Pure Detroit) product and they don’t have any of ours,” Lurtz said. “Everything here is pretty much one-of-a-kind, hand-made by local designers.”
A little more than a year old, the design lab takes up the corner of Shelby and Congress, down the street from the historic Guardian Building. Its clientele is made of mostly Detroiters, Lurtz said, as well as “destination shoppers” who drive out to browse the colorful racks of recycled vintage clothing, menswear and splashy T-shirts.
“We do get some . international customers as well who just happen to be downtown and come in, so there’s definitely pieces floating around in Germany and Japan,” Lurtz said. “But when they were filming the movie The Island downtown, when the store first opened, we sold tons of stuff to the people who were cast and crew of The Island, like going back to L.A. and everyone who comes in here is like, ” ‘Oh, it’s so New York!’ “
Still, Lurtz maintains her shop is something unto itself. Though she says it resembles a mishmash of stores from around the globe, she has yet to see its defining feature copied elsewhere.
“I’ve traveled a lot and I always find I always scope out the local shops. Internationally, there’s a place in Mexico City that reminds me a lot of the design lab – it’s like a co-op of local designers,” Lurtz said. “(The lab is) kind of a montage, I guess, of shops I’ve seen and been to. And I don’t know of anywhere else that has the sewing machines as well that any (designer) can use.
The store’s roster of designers include D.S. Bullock, Zak Ostrowski and Anastasia Chatzka, a former Betsey Johnson intern with already-impressive P.R. Reconstructed brands like Golden Kitsch and Vintage Rescue pepper the racks as well.
“(Golden Kitsch) is very representative of Detroit fashion – really kind of pieced together, random, reworked pieces. Inexpensive. (It’s) very do-it-yourself, kind of raw . a lot of found resources, people finding things and piecing them together all crazy,” Lurtz said. “I don’t know how to define it.”