No one loves Chicago like Letesha Renee loves Chicago. The Chicago-born designer puts her emotional, mental, and physical ties to the city into each of her collections. The moments and memories she has made in her hometown translate into streetwear that is truly made for Chicago. During our Behind the Seams interview, the straight-forward and passionate founder of Eugene Taylor Brand and I discuss collaborating with friends, her admiration for Diana Ross, and why the world needs to start paying attention to the city of Chicago.
THS: How does being from Chicago relate to your work?
LTR: I grew up on the South Side and moved to the Suburbs. I have tried to live in other places like Pilsen, South Loop, and Wicker Park, but I feel like I have done most of my growing on the North West Side. I think it’s important where you’re from—when you are growing as a person, you are forming into the person you are going to be forever. As a person who lived on the South Side and in Calumet City—it’s not like it’s not where I am from, but it’s not my end all be all. It’s not where I formed myself. I just feel like I am from Chicago.
THS: So the neighborhood doesn’t really matter?
LTR: No. I think I just relate to the city in general. Just the city.
THS: How does that relationship with Chicago come out in your work?
LTR: My clothing is for the Chicago person. I do a lot of people watching and see what people are wearing, and it’s inspiring. It’s how I am feeling in Chicago too. My clothes—I say are ‘clothing designed with passion.’ It is what I am feeling. Evey collection I try to touch on something that I am feeling. What I feel is a reflection of what I am feeling in Chicago, which is also a reflection of Chicago because I am physically here. I am in the same mood as what Chicago is in and right now, we are in this glow-up mood. The city is changing a lot, and I feel like I am changing too as a person, a creative. I am learning what to do and what areas I need to improve and maneuver. And I feel like Chicago is in that same wave of change.
THS: How would you describe Chicago Style?
LTR: I think Chicago is a force. I think we are bold. I mean we really are a force.
THS: When did you start designing?
LTR: You know when you are a kid and you say you want to be a million things. The only thing that I said I ever wanted to be was a designer…or a superhero. But that’s everyone. I mean, I still want to be a superhero I don’t think that is ever going to change.
THS: So you must be excited about Black Panther?
LTR: Yes! My insides are like—but Spawn is my favorite though. It’s one of the first Black comic books. But yeah, I never wanted to be anything but a designer, besides a superhero. I always liked messing with clothes and I have always loved the art of construction.
I think that’s what I like about design more than anything. The actual art of construction and how the different shapes of clothing come together. When you think about the actual art of constructing a pattern and think about the fabric. The way a bell bottom is cut is so cool to me. It’s literally a fucking bell, and when you see that, you know that. When you look you are like, ‘oh it’s a bell bottom,’ but when you think about the actual art of constructing a pattern and have a piece of fabric cut out. It’s like its a fucking bell! It’s so cool to me.
THS: Did you go to school for it or was it a passion that became a full-time thing?
LTR: I went to school for a little while. I tried to go twice. I just don’t think school is for me. I don’t think it has ever been for me. I just learn differently. I don’t think the way I am going to learn as a person is with someone teaching me from a book. I have always been the type of person to challenge everything, that is just how I am. You reading something from a book and reciting it to me, I don’t believe them. I do everything like how I learned it. I can reference a book, or I will YouTube something, and I will look at it once and figure out the best way for me to do it. I feel like there is no real wrong way to do something.
THS: Yeah, you are learning from experience.
LTR: Doing things and fucking it up and realizing that I am fucking it up and learn how not to fuck it up. Or even getting it on the first try to realizing that it is something that I am good at. I am accepting of what my flaws are and what I am getting better at. I am definitely self-taught.
When I went back to school the second time. I had a really good teacher who understood how to teach me. It was more guidance than anything. Everyone is different and receives information differently, and I think it is important for everyone when they do something to learn what works for them.
THS: Who or what inspires you?
LTR: Chicago. Like I was saying before. Everyone inspires me, for the most part. My loved ones and my friends inspire me a lot. My best friend is like one of most inspiring people on this planet. Love. The idea of love inspires me. Talking about love. Passion. All those things inspire me. Like I said, all my designs are made with passion.
My first collection was an overhaul. I talked so long about coming out with a collection and come out with my brand. It began to make me feel like I was just talking. So then I stopped talking, and I did it. There were so many pieces in that collection because I waited. I didn’t have a name for that collection although I should have called it “It’s about time.” I was overwhelmed, and I was excited, and I did it.
THS: You are an artist, so you put everything into your work.
LTR: That’s true. My 2nd collection was about me evolving as a person. My third collection was about my breakup. It was about me getting over it and realizing that was for the better. I was going through all different emotions. When your heart is happy, it’s red and flowing. In this collection, I had pieces that had red undertones because I felt like I was healing, but my heart was not red because it was broken. The fourth collection was about my Saturn Return because I was turning twenty-seven at the time. Do you know what Saturn Return means?
THS: No, I just had my 27th birthday, so I am very interested?
LTR: It essentially means that everyone’s path is already set in stone. You are born with these issues, and everything starts to come to an understanding, you become at ease. You go through this whole realization for three-years and when you turn 30 it’s like a refresh and you are your best self all over again. My fifth collection was my first unisex collection, and I did a take on equality. I did a lot of textures and color blocking. My interpretation of that about equality is that there are issues between people who are the same race, which was the texture. Putting the color and the texture together and of us all coming together. I am telling you all of this because it is all a reflection of how I have felt in Chicago. And a reflection of how people can relate. I want every collection to be relatable. I feel like everyone has gone through heartbreak, wanted to grow, waited too long to do something, and in a sense, is struggling with equality. Except for white men, you all are just winning, and that’s not an issue to you. But it’s an issue.
I am telling you all of this because it is all a reflection of how I have felt in Chicago. And a reflection of how people can relate. I want every collection to be relatable. I feel like everyone has gone through heartbreak, wanted to grow, waited too long to do something, and in a sense, is struggling with equality. Except for white men, you all are just winning and that’s not an issue to you. But it’s an issue.
THS: So is that why you changed your clothing to be unisex because of the equality and inclusion?
LTR: Well, not exactly. My first love is streetwear and streetwear always. The brand was always supposed to be unisex, I just had to teach myself men’s patterns. I am a tomboy to the core. 110%, so that was always a thing, but I needed to get it together. I started making the patterns by fitting the stuff for me. Once I figured out how to make patterns for men, trying stuff on my best friend and making him an endless amount of stuff, I started learning from there.
THS: Just to backtrack a little bit on the collections. You recently made a collection called “Work With Your Friends.” Who are the friends that you work with project after project and why are they so important to your brand?
LTR: It’s important to work with my friends period because they are my family and the loves of my life. I love my friends so much, I can’t even express it! When I get to take our relationship to a professional level, it means more to me because you trust those people. I don’t have to go on Instagram and judge someone for 10 minutes to see if I want to work with them. I am a loyal person.
THS: That’s something I see in all of my friends from Chicago. That they are very loyal.
LTR: Yes, that’s important to me because I am a very loyal person and if I build a relationship with you, and will want to call on you again. That’s an opportunity to come together and work with your friends, build with your friends, make money with your friends. Who better to do that with that with people who you trust in your creative and professional space? Olivia(OG Brand) and I started that. Peter Cottontale who is my go-to person for everything, I am always asking him, ‘what do you think?’ And that’s the idea of working with your friends and being able to call on each other. And it not even being their field. We had Peter and Greg both model, Bianca Garcia shoot it, and Brian from Elevator and they are all people who are very close to us. It was great coming together for one common goal. That’s really what it it is all about. Growing and building with that. We are going to do a lot more.
THS: It sounds like it can go beyond collections.
LTR: Yeah we want to do workshops and events, and really create a fashion scene in the city. That’s another thing that will come from “Work with Your Friends,” and continue to be apart of the Eugene Taylor Brand.
THS: Where does the name originate from?
LTR: It’s my grandmother’s middle name and last name. I definitely wanted to include my grandmother because she taught me how to sew.
THS: Are there other important lessons that you have learned from her that you have been able to use in creating your passion and career?
LTR: I mean everything. She taught me to just really believe in what you are doing and just shut up and do it. That was one of her favorite things to say to me. “Just shut up and do it.”
THS: And then she taught you how to sew.
LTR: It was the greatest gift she ever gave me.
THS: Talk about what you are working on now.
LTR: I wanted to do something for black history month, a small capsule collection. Even though I love for street wear, I really also love the 70’s. My favorite person from the 70’s, that is a woman, is Diana Ross, and I wanted to pay her a tribute. A more modern collection of what I feel embodies her.
THS: Will you release another collection after this one?
LTR: Yes, but I don’t release collections according to industry standards. I just put stuff out when I feel like it.
THS: That makes sense. I think it’s reflective of who you are catering to in Chicago. It has its own style and won’t follow the norm of being apart of a fashion week. I think the fashion industry is trending away from that anyways because people really don’t buy like that anymore.
LTR: It’s not only that but why do I have to hold on to my idea for a whole year just to have someone else do it. No one is doing anything new. Ideas are just being repeated everything is a repetition of the past. There are a lot of different things that I have become inspired by. I am just putting it into clothing. If someone comes out without something similar, I don’t take offense to it.
THS: Your brand is turning three years old this year, how will you celebrate?
LTR: For her first birthday (Eugene Taylor) I threw an appreciation dinner. And invited each person who helped me in whatever way. Whether you were a model or someone I cried on or exchanged ideas with. Last year we went to Lost Lake and East Room and were by ourselves and had a total girls night. I don’t know what I will do this year. I think another dinner.
THS: In 2017 you had an amazing year, with artists like SZA wearing your pieces, what are some of the things you are looking forward to this year?
LTR: Continuing to work with my friends. Continue to work on relationships that I have established this year and the year before. I want to do whatever I want and continue to put out stuff that way that I have and continue to build. I am going to continue to do things outside of my brand like the workshops and a very cool idea for the summer. Really trying to bring people together and really create this fashion community and demand the world to look at us. The talent is here, and I feel like more attention needs to be paid.
Letesha Renee is determined to help create a fashion community in the city of Chicago by collaborating and creating events that highlight the city’s creative community. Be sure to check out the designer’s latest collection, “If I Were Diana” by heading over to Eugene Taylor Brand.com.
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