Meet the MasterMinds

Mona Lucero
2007: The Fabric Lab/Josh and Tran Wills
2006: Deb Henriksen
2005: Brandi Shigley

The second you walk into Mona Lucero's shop at 2544 15th Street, on the edge of Highland, you know that you're not in any ordinary boutique. Paintings by local artists cover the walls, with jewelry, handbags and clothing by Lucero and other Denver designers filling the rest of the beautifully designed space.

Since she first started her line in 1993, Lucero has watched the fashion scene in Denver ebb and flow, but the recent popularity of fantasy design shows on television has led to a lot of very real support for local designers. And while there have always been local designers, Lucero points out, there haven't always been local consumers to support them.

Catherine O'Neill Thorn uses poetry to bring Art From Ashes.
Mark Manger
Catherine O'Neill Thorn uses poetry to bring Art From Ashes.
The volunteers behind Creative Music Works (clockwise from center): Andrew Starr (with microphone), Paul Riola, Ray Wentz, Naima Riola, Rhia Wisniewski, Matthew Garrington.
Mark Manger
The volunteers behind Creative Music Works (clockwise from center): Andrew Starr (with microphone), Paul Riola, Ray Wentz, Naima Riola, Rhia Wisniewski, Matthew Garrington.

"People are buying more local work," she says. TV could be responsible for some of that, but also "globally, there are more and more chain stores," she notes. "Everything is starting to look alike, so when people come across something that's different, they get really, really excited."

While participating in last year's Tamarac Square Fashion Project, Lucero got the opportunity to push her limits as a designer, and she was pleasantly surprised to see that "some of those pieces that I thought were too forward or too wild were the pieces people really wanted. The more specialized my pieces are, the more people want them."

Newly emboldened by the progressive tastes of Denver fashion lovers, Lucero is now trying high-art pieces that take risks. At the same time, she's creating wearable art that's influenced by her surroundings. She says she always tries to remember "that I'm in Denver and I have to design for the lifestyle here."

Trained at the University of Colorado as a painter and sculptor, Lucero got interested in fashion design in her senior year, when she began making wearable art pieces that melded painting, sculpture and fashion. After graduating, she studied fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, then returned to Denver and polished her technique while working in the garment industry before branching out on her own.

She opened her shop five years ago, and from the start has featured other local designers and artists.

These days, Lucero continues to stretch in new directions. She designed costumes for North High School's production of The House on Mango Street, and earlier this month a kimono dress she designed was auctioned off at the Hearts of Children benefit for Children's Hospital.

What's next? Lucero started designing a menswear line and carrying it in her shop last fall, and she hopes to have her online store going by this summer. She also has a website — — in the works, and plans to use it as a way to encourage women to take fashion risks. "A lot of women don't love their bodies, or they think they can't wear certain things," she says. "I'm trying to explain to them that they can."

As Brandi Shigley, Westword's first fashion MasterMind, sums up Lucero's influence: "She continues to inspire up-and-coming designers. She basically just rocks the socks off of Denver fashion!" — Aubrey Shoe

Literary Arts
Art From Ashes
2007: Vox Feminista
2006: Cafe Nuba, Ashara Ekundayo
2005: Denver Zine Library/Kristy Fenton

Catherine O'Neill Thorn believes in the power of language. She discovered poetry at the age of five, and her love of words led to both a career and a cause.

In the early '90s, while working with twenty teenaged boys in a residential-treatment facility — all of whom had challenges preventing them from becoming functioning adults — Thorn discovered that poetry could be used to heal old wounds. "Most of them had horrible childhoods, so I was already reading them children's books," she explains. And after she introduced them to poetry, "Every single one of the boys was writing beautiful poems, and I started bringing in local poets to inspire them, and I published their poetry and watched them transform. And they were all talking about how they were now using words instead of their fists, and how it changed their lives."

So Thorn started going to treatment centers (both residential and day-program), probation departments, youth groups and day camps, hoping to spread the power of poetry. To help change even more lives, in 2003 she formed Art From Ashes — right after then-governor Bill Owens cut funding for the Colorado Council on the Arts. "I was incensed," Thorn remembers. "It wasn't the best environment to start a therapeutic arts organization, but I was like, 'Screw this, I'm going to do it, anyway.'"

Five years later, Art From Ashes continues offering therapeutic help for some of the people who most need it. Last year, the organization worked with 850 kids, helping them find healthy ways to overcome past trauma and express their feelings through words. "We're so proud of our kids," Thorn enthuses. "The final process of healing for us is getting these kids re-engaged in our communities, and we get the community to recognize the value of young people.

"Our population is the young people who have really fallen through the cracks," she continues. "They don't have dreams, they don't have ambition. They don't believe they're ever going to be successful. And we go in and say, 'You're a creative genius. You were born that way, and you're believing lies about yourself.' And then we prove it to them."

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