The drama of an uncertain economy and a shifting political climate has caused a stir in the world of high fashion. In a New York Times interview, Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld announced the death of decadence: “Bling is over. Red carpet covered with rhinestones is out. I call it ‘the new modesty.’”
Thread Social, a ready-to-wear line launched in 2006 and spearheaded 2002 University grad Melissa Akey and design partner Beth Blake, reflects this revolution in style aesthetics.
Akey, a Chicago native, came to the University as a walk-on for the varsity volleyball team. As an Art and Design student, she focused her studies on photography and design with a fashion slant. For Akey, fashion was a line of work she always knew she wanted to pursue.
“I was constantly balancing my two passions of athletics and fashion,” Akey said. “Let’s just say I was he only girl on the volleyball team who didn’t wear sweats to class.”
Akey left the volleyball team her sophomore year to devote herself to long days in the North Campus art studio and focus on her aspirations as a designer. Despite geographical and course limitations, she was able to gain experience by watching her mother sew or setting up fashion shoots with friends. Her real break came when she took what she calls a “leap of faith” and moved to New York City upon the advice of friends. Landing an internship in the graphic design department at Barney’s immediately upon graduation allowed Akey to take her design sensibilities and work directly to the world of high fashion.
“One of the best things about working in New York is that there is constant evolution and inspiration everywhere you look,” Akey wrote in an e-mail interview. “No other city embraces change as much as New York. You are free to be yourself and express your individuality because that’s what it’s all about, acceptance.”
From working in the design department to being a personal shopper, Akey grew within the Barney’s corporation until she met Blake (a Grosse Pointe native), who had already found success in starting Thread, a wildly popular line of bridesmaids dresses. The two Midwestern girls hit it off and Akey quickly became co-designer at the line. Thread’s classic cuts are known for eschewing traditional conventions for bridal wear because their collection of dresses, aimed at the chic city-girl, can (gasp) be worn again, and often.
“With us, there’s no veracity,” Akey said. “We have a kill’em-with-kindness attitude.”
With knowledge of their mostly 20-something customer base, the extension into ready-to-wear was a natural fit for the young duo looking to expand. Since they work with everyone from anxious brides to stressed celebrities, this kindness is an integral part of their business. Akey believes that fashion should make things simpler, not more complex. For Akey’s own wedding in December 2007, she chose to serve finger food and had all of her bridesmaids pick out their favorite little black dress from the Thread Social collection.
Inspired by artistic and experimental minds like Lagerfeld and Marc Jacobs with influences from business-savvy feminine forces like Diane Von Furstenberg and Tory Burch, Thread Social is quickly becoming one of the most talked about young brands in the fashion industry. The brand’s line of flirty and modern cocktail dresses and classic separates has been featured in nearly every major fashion magazine and is sold on a global scale at exclusive retailers like Net-a-Porter and Henri Bendel.
“We have a lot of overlap in customers,” Akey said. “Our customer is a fashion forward woman who wants to be noticed when she goes out, but not in a flamboyant way. There’s a nostalgia to it all. The dresses are ideal to go to a party in because they have sex appeal but it’s all in good taste.”
Rather than overt cleavage-bearing necklines or barely-there hems, sexiness is in the dramatic baring of a shoulder or the bustling volume of a modest miniskirt. With a ruffled neckline or oversized satin bow serving as a belt, Thread Social’s collection has an aura of balance between playful coquetry and modern urban functionality. The Fall 2009 line’s rich palate of deep eggplant, mustard and navy silk classics, along with geometric-patterned shift dresses, can easily be imagined in the closets of fictional Upper-Eastside socialites Blair Waldorf and Serena van der Woodsen of fashion-centric “Gossip Girl.” Real-life socialite Tinsley Mortimer wore a Thread Social piece in her guest appearance on the show this past September.
In the current economy, Akey encourages her customers to invest in quality pieces and try shopping within their own closet or exchanging clothes with friends.
“We’re making better decisions both design-wise and fabric-wise at Thread and Thread Social,” Akey said. “Sometimes an economic time like this can push creativity by forcing you to do it on a crunch.”
One example is ReThread, a new addition to the Thread Collection that takes the overage from their custom fabrics and “rethreads” them into some of the brand’s popular silhouettes at a lower price. The move is an attempt to gain new customers while serving existing ones with an ecologically and economically friendly product.
“I think it’s important to work and live within our means and get back to the basics,” Akey said. “Simplicity without compromising creativity.”