Artistic currency 

Cat Chow may not be a ruff buff, but this Chicago talent is leading the pack of fashion designers fitting in the fine art world. Her pieces are scrupulously constructed from everyday items like zippers, dollar bills, bobbins, measuring tapes and baby bottle nipples. It’s wearable art that transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary in the tradition of exquisite hand-craftsmanship. Her “Zipper Dress” (1999), made from a single length of zipper, was selected by the Metropolitan Museum of Art for its permanent collection.

For Chow, art is literally a commodity, and her medium is the message. “Not for Sale” (2002), one of her most stunning pieces, is an impeccably tailored evening dress, constructed, chain-mail-style, from 1,000 shredded $1 bills (each of which was donated). She’s working on her second gown of the series — this time, using $2 bills.

“With my work, I could make it a more mass-produced commodity in the fashion world, but I’m not interested in that.” A teacher in the fashion design department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chow is perpetually working on new projects. “I try to find ways of maintaining my integrity as an artist.” Translation: She’s not for sale either.


Spend Saturday morning with Cat Chow for a lesson in creating your own unconventional clothing. “Art to Wear,” 9 a.m.-noon, Saturday, April 23; $36 for DIA non-members; $30 for members.

Meghan McEwen writes about fashion for Metro Times. Send comments to

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