If you think Detroit lacks high-end fashion, you haven’t been paying attention. The Motor City has more to offer these days than American automobiles and Motown hits, and Anastasia Chatzka is living proof.
Chatzha, a Chesterfield native, is one of Detroit’s up-and-coming designers. Having landed the top honor at the Detroit Institute of Art’s Ruff and Ready competition and featured in Hour Magazine, Chatzka is just getting started. More recently, her work was displayed at the Pure Detroit Design Lab downtown.
Chatzka’s own style – feminine, fun and edgy – reflects the work of one of her favorite designers, Betsy Johnson, whom she interned for in New York. Chatzka was put to work making flat sketches, dyeing and trimming fabrics, and sewing sample garments. It was a chance for her to “really understand how the fashion industry runs. It’s not all glitz and glam – lots of dirty work is involved,” Chatzka said in a phone interview.
Aside from the first-hand experience in a New York design house, Chatzka discovered that Johnson’s bubbly stage personality is just that in person. “(She’s) very poppy and happy … going a million miles a minute.” And yes, she does those catwalk cartwheels in real life, too. But her proudest moment came when Johnson turned the compliments around and said that Chatzka was an inspiration to her. Not bad coming from her fashion idol.
Some of Chatzka’s other favorites include John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen, all known for their over-the-top designs and high-volume fabrics.
As for her own cutting-edge designs, Chatzka loves taking vintage pieces or period looks and transforming them for modern day. She updates historical silhouettes to bring pieces of the past back into a garment. Take a ’50s housewife dress, for example: typically flattering, iconic in shape, but not exactly a contemporary trend. Now imagine pulling the hem up to mid-thigh, add a subtle fabric ruffle to the bottom edge and swap boring solids for unique and feminine prints. Now that’s a dress.
Like any talented designer, Chatzka’s work covers a broad range of styles, from punk and futuristic looks to the more flirty and delicate. But either way, each piece carries its own signature details that are almost guaranteed not to show up at your local department store – atypical hemlines, intricate lace-up ribbons and sculptural spine pieces.
Chatzka is currently based in Chicago, but makes trips back to Detroit on a regular basis. As far as she’s concerned, both cities are on nearly equal footing in the Midwestern fashion market. Both fall victim to the five-year lag time in traveling trends, but they’re also big cities with populations that could potentially support an industry. A Fashion Incubator has been founded in Detroit, which could be a valuable asset to both cities’ industries.
According to its website, the Detroit Fashion Incubator’s mission is “to inspire, promote, and sustain a viable fashion community in Metro Detroit . our organization will help develop fashion entrepreneurs and our retail showroom will provide the opportunity for emerging fashion talent to interact with the marketplace.”
Chatzka thinks part of the problem is transfer of information and a lack of knowledge. Most people simply don’t know where their clothes are coming from or who is actually producing the garments when they buy from certain suppliers.
“Every person wears clothes,” Chatzka said, “it’s a matter of who they’re going to buy it from. Wal-Mart? Or the local designers who are producing it?”
In the future Chatzka hopes to gain experience abroad in the European fashion industry, but ultimately wants to open up shop for herself. In addition to her own facilities and design firm, Chatzka also puts a high priority on domestic manufacturing, rather than shipping her garments overseas. She would like to see the American fashion market evolve in the direction of Europe, where the general public tends to be far more fashion-conscious and puts a higher premium on personal style.
“European fashion is very loud, very bold, very outgoing,” Chatzka said. “They’re not afraid to wear what we would call crazy things.”
But Europe’s sense of style isn’t the only thing missing in the United States. Garment construction and well-made fabrics are integral in creating high-end fashion, but as Chatzka sees it, quality has been lost over the years at the expense of turning a profit. Chakzta aims to move away from highly commercialized fashion and produce more innovative, quality garments.
So what’s her advice to aspiring fashion designers?
“Learn how to sew!” Chatzka insisted. “Sewing is very crucial in knowing how to design. There are too many kids who have never touched a sewing machine before, and it puts them at such a disadvantage.”
At the end of the day, Chatzka believes it comes down to how clothes make you feel when you’re wearing them. You can feel “empowered” and “sexier,” and create “a whole different ambiance” for yourself.
“When you put on something that gives you a really good feeling about yourself, you can enjoy your day better – even enjoy your life better.”