When A.J. Machete and Lianna K. were thinking of moving their custom tailor and dressmaking ventures out of New York City, Denver called. In 2009, Denver Dressmakers and Denver Bespoke -- Lianna and AJ's own handmade brands of intricately sewn women's apparel and custom-tailored suits -- took up residence in Globeville, leaving behind a cramped 300 square-foot studio on the East Coast in favor of the sunshine, a supportive arts scene and much more affordable real estate Colorado had to offer.
Machete is a Denver native and Lianna K. hails from Pittsburgh, and the two crossed paths at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. After finishing school and working in the fashion industry in New York for more than a decade, the couture-creating duo decided it was time to find a better place to do business. Lianna was working for Liz Claiborne and a corporate restructuring left her unhappy with business. Machete was feeling the same way, so they began searching for a place that could offer the nurturing environment and support the two small independent fashion houses needed.
"I think we moved to Denver for the same reason a lot of businesses move to Denver -- the outdoors, the weather and the accessibility of everything. It is easy to get around," says Machete. "Living in New York, we hardly were ever outside of the city. It's like that joke about how people never leave their borough for their whole lives -- which is totally true. Being able to see the mountains and big spaces really changes your outlook on life, and I feel like Denver is really a positive place to live."
Visiting Denver many times over the course of Machete's tenure in New York helped finalize the decision. "In a way, I had all of these friends who were artists in New York who were struggling to pay their rent and struggling to compete in the art world," he explains. "I thought that the struggle to make art and compete with other artists was really stifling people's creativity -- everyone was so focused on getting ahead that there wasn't the same level of focus on the art. What I saw in Denver was different -- because the rent was lower and because the competition wasn't all focused on a centralized art world, people were just being creative."
Machete is the person behind the Denver Bespoke brand, which creates custom, one-of-a-kind suits -- a relatively lost art in the world of contemporary fast fashion. Lianna K. works from a similar angle, creating unique gowns and other pieces of women's apparel. In their studio in Globeville, Denver Bespoke and Denver Dressmakers employ eight full-time seamstresses, all working on mid-twentieth century sewing machines combined with a modern-day computer system that stores thousands of patterns and custom details.
Clothes are made on-demand, created via in-person consultations with clients, as well as e-mail connections with customers across the globe. Prototypes for garments can be sent through through the mail, and then clients photograph themselves in the model. From there, the tailors can make adjustments to the final piece, one that is exclusive to the customer's taste, size and style.
The process is tedious and requires a great amount of skill, but Machete says that is part of what makes Denver Bespoke and Denver Dressmakers so special.
"Suits are amazingly hard to make -- an average suit may have 150 pattern pieces in it, and all of these can be different layers of interfacing and canvas," says Machete. "It makes sense for us to choose something that other people can't do -- there are other places that make suits, but not too many of them can do the range of details that we can do. Being able to combine our ability to make completely custom patterns with making pieces that are so complicated and so tailored allows us to do something that other people can't do. So we have a lot of the market more to ourselves."
Machete and Lianna and their team see custom-apparel creation as an art form, and embracing the past while working in the current world is all part of the Denver Bespoke and Denver Dressmakers philosophy.
"I think it is amazing to make things that have a lot of meaning to individual people. A traditional way of thinking about art is looking inside of your soul and finding something amazing and then trying to express that through your art. Maybe individual artists souls really aren't that interesting -- maybe life is more interesting," says Machete. "So it is great for us to be able to work with someone who has a very specific place that they are going to wear a piece, maybe to give a specific lecture. We ask ourselves, can we make a suit and design a piece of art that fits a very specific place in the world? I find that there is so much more meaning in creating works that exist and function in people's lives, rather than something that is just a self-expression."
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Denver Bespoke and Denver Dressmakers will mark their fifth year in Globeville in 2014. To see more work from these designers or to order a unique piece, visit the custom tailor's site or stop by the gown and women's apparel site.