The Detroit Fashion Scene

Two Detroit women leave their creative mark on the city’s fashion landscape.

Cynthia LaMaide and Julie Lindsay have taken two very different journeys as designers. LaMaide creates one-of-a-kind, handmade dresses, the latest stop on a creative path that included 20 years as a stylist in Miami and touring with Lenny Kravitz. And one of Lindsay’s bags had a supporting role as Kristin Chenoweth’s power purse in Family Weekend. Both designers say that their love of sewing and crafting by hand is the legacy of their grandmothers.

Cynthia LaMaide

Cynthia LaMaide still vibes like the Wisconsin kid that didn’t (for real) see a copy of Vogue magazine until she was in college. She grew up sewing with her grandmother in a rural area outside Green Bay. The moment her fire lit was the day she went to someone’s house and watched her grandmother construct an entire dress right there, on the spot.

“That’s what I want to do,” she says about the watershed moment.

She put her mad sewing skills to work and did just that, sewing a dress each day, all through high school — dresses for herself, her friends and family; including her grandmother. Next stop was Arizona State for clothing design, marriage, a daughter, a divorce and a long stint in Miami.

She was doing mostly custom work in 1985 when her boyfriend, a photographer, asked her to do some styling.

At that time, Miami was the hot place for magazine and catalogue shoots, and music videos.

“Everybody came,” said LaMaide. “You made a fortune.” It turned into a great way to support herself and her daughter for the next 20 years. Because of her intense self-training, she could sew, fix and pin quickly on models at a shoot, and she became known for her ability as well as her mild and meticulous Midwest work ethic.

The shoots were also a great place for her to market her own designs and she had Miami factories making the styles ordered by buyers.

After moving to Michigan with husband Bill Mallin, LaMaide wanted to pursue more artistic endeavors.

“I think people are kind of tired of that mass produced stuff,” she says.

LaMaide says she wants people to feel good in her designs and that handmade clothes give off a feel-good vibration. “I try to put that vibration into my work.”

LaMaide has been doing the art show circuit with her handmade creations, “the good ones,” she said, meaning the really good ones, such as the Smithsonian Craft Fair, The American Craft Council’s Palm Beach show and One of a Kind in Chicago.

Once you’ve designed for motion pictures, toured with Lenny Kravitz and dressed Jennifer Aniston (in Wanderlust), it seems like you might get jaded, but LaMaide, despite being an absolute master at her art, is like a kid with her first bike — showing off the bag she got from participating in last summer’s extremely prestigious Prête-à-Porter in Paris.

In a studio that would make Project Runway contestants salivate, LaMaide experiments with fabrics, processes and fabric treatments, hand painting silk, felting fabrics together, and marbling fabrics, by setting paint on top of liquid cellulose in a repurposed photographic tray.

“I kind of love the techniques.” The next technique she’s working into her pieces is weaving. “Oh that’s really fun,” said LaMaide, who still tries to make a dress every day.

Click here for more information on Cynthia LaMaide.

Julie Lindsay

Julie Lindsay’s grandmother designed custom menswear for the who’s who of Detroit elite as well as doing alterations for the venerated but now-defunct J.L. Hudson’s department store, downtown. Lindsay’s mother used to have the sharpest clothes in school; and Lindsay started young following in her grandmother’s footsteps.

“My whole life growing up, I always would sew,” she says. “In high school, I made my prom dress.”

In 2003, Lindsay started making fabric handbags to give as gifts and sell at art shows.

She always put a business card in every bag and one day she was thrilled to get a call from InStyle magazine, wanting to feature her leopard print and suede “cat tote” in a “What’s Hot Now” feature.

“I knew I needed to get a manufacturer, that there was no possible way for me to keep up,” recalls Lindsay.

She found a military manufacturer in Traverse City to do the work and immediately sold out the first run of 175 bags. The orders came in so fast that they crashed her website.

“It was exciting,” she remembers. “That was the press that really moved things forward.”

At her first trade show in California, in 2005, she had a line wrapped that snaked around her booth waiting to place orders. Her sister and her best friend both flew in from Florida and Washington state, respectively, to help.

“That California gift show, I have to say was awesome,” she says.

Lindsay says she’s driven by hard-hitting inspirations, which she finds in colors, in a pair of shoes, in the skins she works with. “Colors and different leathers inspire me,” she says. “Or, just a plain big piece of leather.”

Lindsay’s husband Scott, a former machinist, machined her signature nameplate on his lunch hour. “People like that chunky, square, heavy,” she says of her hardware, which is now manufactured in Italy.

Lindsay was drawn to creating bags because she likes to carry a bag that makes a statement. The Julie Lindsay girl, she says, “likes to carry a really sharp functional bag that people notice. Yeah, she likes to be noticed. If they’re trying to remain anonymous, they’re not going to carry one.”

Lindsay carries a black version of the fringed Rolston hobo — pictured above.

“It’s such a personal piece. It says a lot,” she explains. “I’ve just always liked to carry something that was really hip and cool. I’m not a very fancy girl — my wedding ring cost like $10. Everybody has [his or her] thing. For me, it’s handbags.”

Lindsay’s next challenge: Shoes. She has created one pair that recently appeared in StyleLine magazine.

“One day I’d like to get into shoes and handbags and do those two things together. That would be my ultimate dream,” she says. “I’ve still got goals. I’m certainly not finished at all.” Upcoming stops on Lindsay’s journey include a Nov. 21 trunk show at Pilling Gallery in Detroit, a sale date on NBC’s Today show and a Kickstarter campaign to raise money, which will allow her to expand her line by six new purses.

“The whole thing is a journey,” she offers, adding, “if you’re doing something you love, then it’s a good journey.”

Click here for more information on Julie Lindsay.

Beth Robinson is a contributor to the Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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