Beyond the time warp
A local design collective creates clothing for the here and now.

By Isa Giallorenzo
Chicago Reader – April 13, 2022

Fashion often has a nostalgic quality. It seems keen on repeating itself every 20 years or so. Right now, for example, we are somehow back at the early aughts. Nothing against it—after all, there’s always a way of making anything work, and it can be fun to bring back certain styles. But it’s also very refreshing to see garments that are beautiful for their own extraordinary design, without needing any reference to be fully appreciated. These items are usually both timeless and contemporary, existing above trends. They’re also often versatile (fitting all kinds of bodies and occasions) and minimal (featuring carefully considered clean lines).

Clothing and accessories by Anna Brown, Gillion Carrara, and Andrea Reynders are certainly an example of that. Together they decided to join forces and establish we are MATERIAL, a fashion collective founded in 2017 to include “designers who are committed to a creative practice that redefines the intersection of artisanal tradition with contemporary silhouettes,” in the words of Reynders. “Handmade” definitely has a sophisticated feel in their creations, which tastefully make a statement.

“Being an independent fashion designer in Chicago has always been challenging,” she says. “We realized that our trio of mutual friendship and admiration for design could be shaped into a collective that approached selling our work with an insight to understanding the why and how we make things. We wanted to create an opportunity for people to connect with the process behind the design. For special events we invite other local designers to join us.”

“We are designers united by a certain aesthetic, who care about ethical practices, and designing and making pieces that are modern. We explore fabrications, repurposing materials that are beautiful and timeless. We also speak about our work and the process of design and making. We are united by our respect for good quality and for each other. We are also generous in remembering how difficult it is to do things alone and how as a collective we give and have support,” she adds.

Both Reynders and Carrara have had important roles in the fashion department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), and have had considerable impact in the evolution of many local designers (Anna Brown herself being one of them). Carrara has been a metalsmith for over 30 years, as well as an adjunct professor in both the art history and fashion departments at SAIC. Carrara also founded SAIC’s Fashion Resource Center, and directed it for most of its 30-plus years. She is an iconic figure in our fashion scene, all-clad in her black looks fashioned in avant-garde volume, sporting her thick-rimmed eyeglasses and striking accessories.

“I make jewelry and accessories for women and men, and also tableware, involving silver, ebony, briar root, horn, and bone, initiated by my interest in both the natural object and modern design. I am a one-person studio designing and creating each piece individually. I collaborate with a woodturner and a glassmaker when a series of objects require their expertise,” says Carrara. Her sculptural pieces are geometric and bold. They can truly make an outfit and beautifully complement the designs by Reynders and Brown.

Spring Forward: Fashion at Epiphany, a two-day pop-up sale curated by we are MATERIAL Design Collective, featuring wares from Alex Carter, Bird & Tale, Gallery 2052, Lola Elan, Misanthrope, Neon Fringey, Production Mode, Sublime Remains by Av Grannan, and we are MATERIAL
Fri 4/22 noon-8 PM, and Sat 4/23 noon-5 PM, Epiphany Center for the Arts, 201 S. Ashland, 312-421-4600, and, free to enter but reservations requested at Epiphany’s website.

Reynders has “always been designing and making.” Her first collection was sold at the legendary Ultimo boutique in the Gold Coast. “My designs reflect and define the space between body and garment, dreams and reality and the relationship between our private worlds and our lived expressions of being. This aesthetic approach inspires a vision of dressing that appeals to women and men who seek uniqueness and quality in timeless design: clothing that is easy to wear and easy to pack and travel with and live in,” she says.

This refined practicality is clearly seen in her flip coats, which can elegantly accommodate any kind of garment, and miraculously morph into two different lengths. Besides her own work as a fashion designer, Reynders also doubles as a mentor. “Through my tenure at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I taught and helped shape the fashion department, through being the Design Director at the Chicago Fashion Incubator, and founding member of we are MATERIAL, I have always felt like a conduit—a connector for designers to help move their careers into the future,” she says.

Anna Brown was one of those designers, when Brown was a designer-in-residence at the Chicago Fashion Incubator. “[That] residency helped organize and professionalize my design process,” Brown says. Her designs also have that modern aesthetic, where sophistication does not sacrifice comfort. In her clothing, the wearer has enough space to move freely, and look great while doing so.

All three designers have loyal clientele and sell by appointment in their studios, but this month they will be hosting a curated sale at the Epiphany Center for the Arts. Their collective will join forces for the two-day sale with some of the most talented local accessory and fashion labels including Alex Carter, Bird & Tale, Gallery 2052, Lola Elan, Misanthrope, Neon Fringey, Production Mode, and Sublime Remains by Av Grannan.

“Although the designers all have unique voices, collectively they represent an impressive dedication to independent, artisanal design,” says Brown. “I would be delighted to have a piece from every designer represented in my closet. In fact, I own pieces by most of them already, and hope to expand that list soon. They all do truly fantastic work.”


About Epiphany Center for the Arts

Conceived with the vision to return Epiphany to a place for people to congregate, the shuttered, historic Church of the Epiphany has been preserved and adapted into the Epiphany Center for the Arts, an iconic cultural hub “For the Good of Art, Entertainment and Events.” Thoughtfully designed, the exemplary 42,000-square-foot campus located on the artsy edge of Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood boasts three distinct venues (Epiphany Hall, The Sanctuary and The Chase House) and a stunning array of amenities. The campus also features eight galleries that serve as a platform for a diverse selection of artists from Chicago and beyond. Epiphany’s exhibitions showcase the work of women, the LGBTQIA community, artists of color, and the disability culture. Epiphany’s top priority is to curate programming that is inclusive, while providing a place established artists can collaborate with emerging ones. Epiphany’s programming serves to unite community and artists alike while “Bringing Chicago Together.” Visit to learn more.