There’s an old Nordic Folk song titled “Varulven” which, translated to English is “The Werewolf.” It’s a Little Red Riding Hood type of story in which a werewolf terrorizes a young girl. When the wolf confronts her she offers him pieces of clothing, specifically a silver crown and silver gown. As the song goes:
O dear wolf do not bite me
To you I shall give my silver gown
A silver gown wouldn't suit me at all
Your youthful life and your blood must go
It’s a scary story; and, as it turns out, something fashion designer Stephanie Schultz finds incredibly inspiring. So inspiring in fact that she took the lyric “silver gown” and used the original Swedish lyric to name her fashion company “Silversärk,” which she launched in 2005. Her favorite version of the song, by Swedish Folk Rock band Garmarna, mashes up old and new instrumentation, turning it into something new altogether. The mash up, or the combination of something old and something new is the thread that weaves throughout Stephanie’s story and her path to accomplished fashion designer.
When asked to describe her style, she explains:
“It’s an amalgamation of anachronism, blending the appreciation and detail of historical fashion with the modern luxuries of today.”
“Every single collection I do is a series of different obsessions – everything is a different timeframe – what I learn about that period feeds into my designs.”
In other words, there is nothing one-dimensional about Stephanie. She’s a conceptual thinker, a history enthusiast and a fashion aficionada. Nearly everything she makes has a story. When tasked with creating a collection for a fashion show in the Venetian Carnival style she wrapped the collection in a narrative, creating clothing that depicted Venice’s storied history with salt. Stephanie explains “Salt gave the city it’s wealth, but it is also the very thing that is destroying it.”
I bet the pants you’re wearing right now don’t have a story like that.
I met Stephanie at her second floor flat where she creates her collections, still reeling from the recent announcement that she will be the new artist-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel. She pivots seamlessly during a discussion from the avant garde, to goth to steam punk and Byzantine era fashion. And she readily admits “I feel most like myself when I’m in the most uncomfortable outfit.”
For as varied as her style is, she feels incredibly distinct. But how did she get here?
Stephanie grew up in Racine, Wisconsin (“A very supportive environment,” she says) where this multi-layered narrative in her work started to take root. She vividly remembers her religious upbringing, along with her father’s affinity for the suspense and horror TV and movies of the day. “We went through at least three VHS copies of Beetlejuice,” she remembers.
Two films distinctively stick in her mind from her childhood where fashion, and her fascination with it, began. The first was The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, where a character named Tangerine created fashions and sold them out of her trunk. The second was the film Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead in which the character played by a young Christina Applegate lies her way into a job as a fashion designer.
At 15 she began sewing, which was an epiphany for her. “We are so far from the process of manufacturing, it blew my mind. You CAN make it from scratch!” Her earliest influence came from a Japanese rock movement from the 90s called Japanese visual kei, a style reminiscent of glam that was characterized by heavy makeup, flamboyant costumes and elaborate hairstyles. It’s still a part of Stephanie’s style. “Mohawks, eyeliner, nail polish -- if you can wear it do it.” She continues – “I love exaggerated pageantry – hair as high as you can get it – big hats, big shoes, a big dress – it’s superfluous, it’s fun, it’s frivolousness and it allows yourself a little bit of oblivion.”
Clients who seek Stephanie’s distinctive style have hired her to make specific pieces and, as you would expect firmly believes in the importance of fashion in our every day lives. “Fashion happens every day – it’s an artistic choice we make every day,” she says, adding “You should allow yourself a little bit of self care by dressing well.”
Stephanie hasn’t become a completely self-sustaining fashion designer – yet. She has a day job, but is looking forward to her residency at the Pfister, where she plans to spend 50 hours a week there, creating about 16 pieces over the course of a year. “I finally get to work as an artist,” she says. Which means – you guessed it – she has come up with another narrative for her collection at the Pfister.
“Each piece is going to be inspired by the people in the paintings from the Pfister collection – some don’t have clothing – and I will take artistic liberty. (For example) The piece “The Stars” above the concierge desk – I want to do something with lights and getting out of my normal design elements and stretching boundaries creatively because I will have the resources to do it.”
Given this newfound notoriety, she is still fiercely committed to her singular vision and of course, making the best product she can.
She laughs, “Project Runway e-mails me once a year, and I just ignore it.”
You can check-out Stephanie's work on her portfolio site here.
Featured photo by Ryan Blomquist.