Last week, the artist’s studio in the Pfister lobby was a flurry of activity. Green walls became charcoal, gilded mirrors and hand-tinted Victorian fashion plates were hung, sewing notions and textiles were shelved and new furniture, including an antique Singer sewing table, was moved in for Stephanie Shultz, the Pfister’s tenth and newest Artist in Residence.
Stephanie is a self-taught fashion designer who specializes in “historically-inspired couture”. She’s best known for her brand Silversark, an avant-garde label that she began in 2005. The earliest seeds for her love of fashion design came from two movies many kids weren’t allowed to watch: The Garbage Pail Kids and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead. She remembers being sparked by the alternative fashion in those films. At age 12, she received a toy called Crayola Fashion Plates. While the rest of us who owned that toy dutifully made rubbings that created outfits by simply mix-and-matching the plastic plates provided, Stephanie was quickly bored with that repetitive conformity and began to draw her own designs freehand. In her later teens, she became obsessed with Japanese street fashion, loving the loud and abrasive Neo-punk movement, and since those styles were extremely scarce in the States and those that were available didn’t tend to fit her body, she started making them herself.
Stephanie’s personal motto is “Be in a state of chronic discomfort, in order to grow and learn.” This residency will be the first time she’ll be able to devote herself to full-time design, and she plans to pour the extra hours into crafting every detail and challenging herself to learn and utilize more gorgeous but time-consuming techniques like hand detailing, partridge pleating, draping, finger pleating and hand beading. She wants to slow her whole process down, treating her fashion as high-art instead of a commodity and recognizing herself as an artisan. She looks forward to opening guests’ eyes to the painstaking diligence that goes into couture pieces—many of her designs take around 50 hours to create—and to help them explore how we consume clothes in a world where fashion is the second highest contributor to pollution. She hopes that being able to watch her garments come together, from conception of the patterns’ geometry to the execution of sewing, will lead guests to rethink what fashion can and should be.
Because the studio in the Pfister is spacious, Stephanie plans to divide it into a boutique space, a changing room and a work area. In the boutique portion, she will sell pieces at a lower price point than most of her work, items like scarves and neckties that feature paintings in the hotel’s collection so guests can take a beautiful piece of the Pfister with them. She’ll also have wearable, Victorian-inspired styles and even a few couture pieces available for sale.
An aspect of the Artist in Residence position that guests may not know about is personal tours of the Pfister’s vast collection of original Victorian art. The art collection at the Pfister is integral to the proposal Stephanie submitted for her residency: not only will she put her own spin on the tour, but she also plans to photograph, composit and print replicas of some of her favorite paintings onto fabric and create a collection of 16-20 pieces to be shown at a “living paintings” fashion show in the Imperial Ballroom. She will also plan and host a Victorian Masquerade Ball.
Stephanie believes that everyone should own at least one piece of clothing that “unequivocally defines them”. She is adamant that fashion, though a tremendous amount of work, should be fun, and that frivolity is important. She herself often dons what she calls “full regalia”, dramatic clothing she’s designed replete with towering boots, bold makeup and a wig, and she’ll wear this finery on the bus or to the grocery store. She ardently believes that you don’t need a “fancy place” to wear her clothing, and that if you can’t find an occasion to wear something you love, “you should make your own occasion.”
After exhibiting her designs, Stephanie is often asked why she chooses to live and work in Milwaukee and not a larger, more fashion-forward city. Her response is, “Can’t Milwaukee have nice things?”
Because she is ever- aware of the toll today’s fashion industry takes on the environment, she tries to minimize waste in her daily life in as many small decisions as she can, and one of them is commuting by bicycle. She’s enthralled by the incredible architecture in our city, and biking allows her to take it all in. As an artist, she appreciates the sweeping scale of buildings like the Tripoli Shrine and The Grain Exchange and also the subtle details, the curve and form the rest of us fail to marvel at as we rush to our next stop. This year, she plans to help us remember the workmanship inherent in every beautiful thing.