Photography courtesy Ben Nelson and Giuliano Correia
It’s a love fest at Borris Powell’s studio.
The evening I visited him, his friend and colleague Erin Creaney of 808 Studios has dropped by to coo over the gorgeously draped dresses that will be his Spring/Summer 2010 line insisting, “I want to wear them now!” while clients keep calling his phone and begging for his attention. He greets me with a hug and a huge laugh as he juggles everyone clamoring after him. In the midst of all the flurry, Borris acts as the ever-glittering center of this universe. I get the feeling that tonight is not an anomaly. Every day is a love fest here.
In a world of disposable, one-time wear clothing, Borris Powell stands out by churning out meticulously made, overwhelmingly romantic dresses season after season. His pieces are vibrant, sharply tailored and his name has become synonymous with luxury as the Second City’s socialites flock to him for custom made pieces.
Borris wasn’t always an opulent designer for Chicago’s elite. He grew up in a small town in Alabama with a very glamorous mother. He used to watch her, wide-eyed, get ready for church, swathing herself in colors and accessories. She was a seamstress, though Borris wasn’t allowed near the sewing machine. “As a guy coming up in a very small town in Alabama, I was not allowed to even look at the sewing machine. It took me awhile to figure out how to sneak into that (cabinet) without getting a whooping!”
The siren song of the sewing machine never faded from Borris’ ears and, after high school, he left his small town for the bright lights of Chicago to get an education in fashion. “I had no idea what I was getting into when I moved to Chicago. Literally, it was that story of coming up here ‘in his mother’s car with a suitcase of clothes in the back.’ I lived on a recliner for two months with no money.” Though he couldn’t afford a more formal education, his friends eventually convinced him to take a two week sewing class at JoAnn’s Fabrics where he finally learned the basics. “It just started from there and kept building.” From that first sewing class, Borris’ success has grown exponentially. He’s shown his lines in London’s Fashion Week and, up next, he’ll show at New York’s prestigious Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.
Even though his popularity has gone global, Borris Powell wouldn’t be who he was without Chicago. While other designers flee to New York or LA to further their brands, Borris purposefully stays in the city that has embraced him. “Why I stay in Chicago is really because I love this city. It really is, to me, the best city in the U.S. I love the energy, I love the potential, I love the people- I love everything about it and Chicago has been extremely warm and inviting and resourceful to me.” He found several willing mentors in Chicago’s small stylish community, something practically unheard of the ultra competitive fashion industry. “It’s the Mid West mentality. . . You’re not going to get attitude with me. I just love dresses, I love people, and I love making women feel beautiful.”
With such an all-embracing, joyful philosophy, it’s no wonder that Borris has attracted the loyal, eager crowd of clients that worship him. His conversations are peppered with applause and laughter. It’s easy to be pulled into the black hole of his enthusiasm. Friend and fan Erin Creaney explains, “It’s like he has a team and the customers are joining the team. Honestly, he has a group of followers. He attracts lifetime customers.”
Each new client means a new best friend for Borris. He describes seeing someone wearing one of his pieces as, “ridiculous! It’s like drinking 300 cans of Red Bull!” His passion is endless and contagious.
In spite of his recent notoriety and continued success, Borris is happiest behind his sewing machine. “I just want to make dresses!” He insists. “At the end of the day, that is my job as a designer to make women feel very beautiful, soft, and special. . . . I design for you, I design for me, I design for us. That’s what Borris Powell is all about.”
Is your closet aching for a Borris Powell original? The designer is always looking for new muses and can be contacted at his website. His romantic collections are also available for purchase on Studio 808’s website.