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Fashionistas Hope New Design Center Accelerates Industry

By Casey Cora | January 9, 2013 6:33am

BRIDGEPORT — The city’s aspiring fashionistas have a new place to practice their craft.

The new Fashion Design Center at the Bridgeport Art Center provides afforable studio space to be used exclusively for fashion design.

“It’s a tremendous challenge to work in Chicago as a designer. It’s not a fashion center and I hate to say it this way, but it never will be,” said Maria Pinto, the acclaimed local designer who’s outfitted the likes of Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey.

“But this is moving in the right direction to provide a facility where designers can work.”

Pinto will occasionally consult the up-and-coming designers at the space.

Bridgeport Art Center owner Paul Levy said the idea for the center was born from a study by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events highlighting the need to keep fashion industry workers in Chicago or risk losing them.

That push gave rise to the Chicago Fashion Incubator, a program that each year draws a selected handful of young, talented designers to work from the State Street Macy’s.

“The question then becomes, ‘What happens to all these people after that? Where do they work?’ They end up working at home because they don’t have to pay any rent," Levy said.

But working alone can be isolating, and that's where Levy saw opportunity.

The space, located on the fifth floor of Bridgeport's massive warehouse-turned-art incubator is designed for collaboration. It contains a number of offices and studios — ranging from 180 to 5,000 square feet — and is laid out so tenants can meet in the central "cutting" area.

“It works with the other artists in the building and they think it’s terrific. It should carry through,” Levy said.

Tenants have access to Wi-Fi, parking and the adjacent gallery space with a stunning skyline view — it’s where President Barack Obama made a fundraising campaign stop in August.

So far, only five spaces have been leased since the center's October debut. Tenants include J.R. Jackson, Delma Zia, Will Larkin, Patrick Rouller and Van Gray.

"It’s hard to tell whether it's working or not," Levy said. "We think collaborating with fashion people and other artists will be helpful. So we'll see."