Pieper’s Unexpected Turn to Fashion

Kraig Pieper is among an eclectic group of fashion design students from Columbia College Chicago who are making names for themselves as they go on to compete in shows like Lifetime’s Project Runway and make countless impressions on the industry with their thought provoking designs.

Pieper is also taking strides of his own. He recently won $5,000 during the Autohaus on Eden’s Driving Fashion Forward student competition.
Kraig Pieper’s fashion design journey began unexpectedly at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It all started when he made his first wearable garment in response to a work of art created by Nick Cave. Pieper thrived during the experience and decided to turn his new-found talent into a career. He transferred to Columbia to finish his fashion degree. Now the recent graduate is dreaming of creating his own line of clothing, while working alongside some of Chicago’s most talented.

Between Pieper’s new internship at the Department of Curiosities and studying Chicago’s fashion scene, I got the chance to talk with the 22-year-old designer about the inspiration behind some of his greatest pieces and his master plan for 2015.

Learning the Craft

Natalie Craig: As a designer, are most of the creative aspects behind creating garments self taught or did you learn them at Columbia?

Kraig Pieper: School has taught me so much. First of all, I have learned that if you don’t put all of yourself into your work, no one is going to give a crap about your work or you for that matter. Going into art school, I had no idea how much work it took, and how demanding it was. Sure, there are some that coasted on through, but no one remembers them or their work. In regards to Columbia, I learned how to pattern draft, construct garments and develop design concepts; but most importantly I learned how to develop my own design aesthetic.

Finding my own identity has been the most rewarding experience from school. I’ve taught myself skills on the side like knitting, crocheting and weaving. Most importantly, I have taught myself that the most important skills are in the relationships that we form with our peers and instructors, because they possess skills and knowledge that not to use them is foolhardy.

Inspiration of Epiphanies and Pride

N: What would you say your inspiration is behind your design and work ethic?

Kraig Pieper: The inspiration from my design definitely has roots in all things dark, macabre and strange. I love finding beauty in things that people find terrifying or too bizarre to delve deeper into. I am a huge lover of horror films, so I guess that explains part of it.

Actually, I have these moments that I call my ‘epiphanies. I could be doing the most random of activities like walking down the street, cooking, brushing my teeth, and an idea will come to me. I then develop that idea through research, imagery, fabric sourcing/manipulation and sketching.

N: What garments are you most proud of to date?

Kraig Pieper: As a whole, I would have to say my senior thesis collection in general. Each look came together as such an amazing collection, but also as stand alone looks. If I had to pick an individual garment, it would have been my tailored jacket with exaggerated shaped shoulders. It was truly my first tailored piece, but the silhouette turned out beautifully.

Recent Achievements and  the Future

N: You recently won a student designer competition, what was that like?

Kraig Pieper: Winning Autohaus on Eden’s Driving Fashion Forward was an amazing experience. There were so many amazing fellow designers from Columbia, that we all had a great chance at winning. The show was a lot of fun, and all of us student designers were treated well at the event. The prize money is going to allow me to continue what I do. I have been able to buy equipment such as a dressform, and an industrial sewing machine which will allow me to create collections on my own.

N: What does this year look like for you in terms of projects and major moves in the industry?

Kraig Pieper: I have started an internship at Department of Curiosities, which is a collaborative workroom/showroom space in Logan Square. The founders, Jamie Hayes and Gerry Quinton, are both Columbia alumni and specialize in fine leather goods and couture corsets, respectively. It is an awesome one-on-one experience with them.  And, I have been learning a lot about independent business and the industry in general. After this internship, I would love to either work on my own collection or line, or find opportunities in New York and beyond.

The Chicago Fashion Challenge

N: What are some of the obstacles that you have faced as a fashion designer in Chicago?

Kraig Pieper: The obstacle of starting in Chicago, is there are few opportunities. Many designers in Chicago are smaller operations, so they may not be looking for entry level employees. Also, I have not had industry experience prior to my internship this summer. While in school, I had to work and take classes full time, so I just did not have the time to find an internship.

N: What do you think about Chicago’s fashion scene?

Kraig Pieper: I feel like there are several designers here in Chicago that are doing interesting things at a small scale, such as Agnes Hamerlik. However, if one wants to become a part of a bigger operation or start a brand that has the potential of becoming something quite large, Chicago is a difficult city to do so, simply because of the limited access or materials, and workforce.

N: Will we see your work any fashion events or shows this year?

Kraig Pieper: Myself, and two other Columbia designers, Becca Blanton and Yesenia Villarreal, will be showing our collections at the Strut Fashion Show on November 22 at the Alhambra Palace. It is awesome to be included in an event that helps raise money for HIV/AIDS research.