Peachy clean

University students debut their label,Calpurnia Peach, at Voltage.

Voltage has so much potential to be as great as New York, London or even Paris fashion events, but it’s not the quality of the fashion that keeps it from being up there with the rest, it’s the location. Any local who has ever been abroad can relate a story like this one.

Foreigner: Where are you from?
Local: Minneapolis.
Foreigner: Where’s that?
Local: It’s in Minnesota.
Foreigner: With mountains?
Local: No, that’s Montana.
Foreigner: What’s the big city you are near?
Local: Chicago.
Foreigner: Oh! Chicago. Blues.

What does this mean for Voltage? Everything. This year has several young, talented clothing designers, including three who are still students at the University. Will they run with the exposure they get from Voltage and head off into a bigger market? Will they set up shop here and lay some roots? Or will they go ply their trade for Target?

University clothing design juniors and business partners Luci Kandler and Ashley Wokasch operate out of their St. Paul studio space, part of the University’s design studios found on St. Paul Campus. The pair of 21-year-olds met through classes in their design program and became friends. Last year they started working on a project called Calpurnia Peach, their own clothing label.

The idea behind the name is reflected in their clothing designs. Calpurnia Peach is a fictitious young girl, prone to running off on magical adventures. Like Calpurnia’s adventures, the designs are whimsical while maintaining a unique simplicity, a thrill of risk, a classic charm.

As expected, in the weeks ramping up to Voltage, the girls had been hard at work. Even though they were really busy, they let me visit their studio to see the process. Kandler had told me there was a lot that needed to be done and the girls had been working in unintentional shift rotations. Wokasch, who likes to work early in the morning, is often leaving St. Paul just as Kandler is entering the studio; Kandler prefers to start her day later and work through the night.

I learned a little bit about the screen-printing process, a time-consuming ordeal that, given the right equipment and studios, becomes a little easier. A light table is used to expose the design templates onto a screen, which I knew little about. Everything else was kind of expected – scissors, cloth, sewing machines, half-finished garments, other students working on their own projects and empty bottles of Gatorade littering the work stands. The studio reminded me a lot of Project Runway, with a vast amount of cloth bundles and design templates scattered around the long, ink-stained tables.

The finished outfits seem simple without knowing the effort that goes into making them. First the girls hand-draw their designs, then scan them into a computer; they edit and alter them as needed, before printing them onto large sheets of white paper.

The paper must be see-through in order for the light-table to create a projection. The industry standard paper called Vellum is surprisingly expensive, so the Girls, on a tight budget, swab the large sheets with canola oil. Like wax paper with chicken grease on it, the canola-oil paper is easy to see through, and the projections are just as good.

The see-through paper is put on the light-table to expose its designs on the screen. After exposure, the screen must be kept in the dark until processed with photo emulsion.

It has to be given time to dry and then it must be washed in order to clean out the exposed areas where the ink will be allowed to penetrate through and onto the fabric. It’s a very time consuming process, and from Kandler and Wokasch’s description, tedious as well.

That is just the printing aspect. Once the ink is on the cloth, the pieces must be left to dry before they can start stitching them together.

At the end, when all the pieces come together, it is easy to see why the girls were chosen for Voltage. Their dresses are fun, summertime pieces incorporating bright and dark colors, with stylish unique prints. Functional yet sexy, the dresses flirt with that fine line between casual and formal.

Wokasch and Kandler, along with their Voltage counterparts are the taste-makers from Minnesota. Like it or not, this state will always be hard for foreigner’s to find on a map. At the same time it will still be the home of Prince and that literary trio, Sinclair Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Garrison Keillor. Let’s make that list bigger by adding some famous Minnesota designers.