What a Reject
Fashion designer Adrienne Cheng refuses the usual
Roll out of bed, begrudgingly throw some clothes on, head out the door. Whether you care or not, these clothes say something about you: Your fashion is at once subject and action, verb and noun, who you are and how you do it.
And those who wear local designer Adrienne Cheng’s Reject Clothing don’t mince words.
Consider: Cheng strolls into a local coffeehouse in black-and-white houndstooth wool pants and a red plaid blazer, silken ruffles spilling out at her neck. Her sultry bed-head updo, twisting locks and flaxen tendrils spilling down angularly suited shoulders, looks effortless. She speaks volumes before even unbuttoning her lips; to judge a book by its cover, she reads: I don’t need to fit in. She laughs hard, loud, and says she’s the kind of girl you’d spot gliding through Midtown on a rusty bike, instead of rolling with a chauffeur or fancy car.
Cheng rebuffs convention. Instead of hopping on the mainstream fashion-industry bandwagon, she rescues tired clothes from textile exile at local thrift shops and transforms them into fresh, original designs, hence her slogan, “Resurrection Vintage.” She’s always had a knack for giving clothes a so-called renaissance. Without formal training, she experimented with needle and thread at an early age, beginning with help from her “ma” and grandmother. Her first fashion endeavor was cutting socks and making dresses for Barbie dolls as a wee sprite.
But Reject wasn’t born until six years ago: Cheng cut tissue-soft T-shirts and designed lacy camisoles for friends. Her inspirations include ’60s British schoolgirl style, Native American beading and ’70s punk. Memories of her grandmother, who had lived in glamorous Hollywood in the 1940s, and her dress-up box filled with luxurious, stunning fur coats and evening gowns, are also muses.
Cheng’s styles are vintage, but the final designs are urban and youthful. The mother of an 11-year-old boy, Gabriel, her designs are modern and young, blending menswear themes with shocks of femininity, communicating contemporary woman’s dynamism (sorry boys, Cheng doesn’t boast a men’s line yet). But there are also subtle touches of romanticism—the fact that her wares are secondhand—that root Reject in vintage.
Specifically, Cheng notes outfits from a recent fashion show: a bold, multihued Afghan wraparound robe, painstakingly crocheted around the shoulders, sported by a raven-haired Mohawk-ed model, who looked like an Indian princess. She tore up the catwalk in striped knee-high stockings and fluorescent heels, peering out from behind a painted, vibrant yellow eye mask. Contemporary and innovative, but classic.
The subject and the object of the show, no doubt.
The patterned, metronome-esque hum of an old sewing machine is the house music at Atelier, a local vintage/DIY boutique in Midtown. Eye candy fills the racks, but there’s one outfit that grabs: a black elastic-waist miniskirt embellished with a red-and-pink crocheted-checkerboard garden of knit roses. It’s only $40, and there are only three of them in the whole world. It’s Reject. It’s limited. Personal. And when you decide to make the purchase, it’s Cheng who rings you up at the register.
“I can sew all day long [at Atelier] and it’s great, because I’m surrounded by stuff by all these local designers and it’s inspiring and cool,” she explains. Supported by nearly 20 designers, Atelier is a fashion co-op where each member’s “share” is working four hours in the shop each week, plus purchasing at least 2 feet of rack space a month. The upside is that designers shirk the usual commission that comes with selling designs at boutiques.
Cheng’s been taking her style on the road, too. Besides selling her line at Atelier and online (www.reject.etsy.com), she’s also kicked off a Reject on Tour campaign, taking a rack loaded with her skirts, pants, dresses and tops to shops on Saturdays and leaving it there for the day—an unconventional retail approach. She’s also hawked her goods at Ikon Boutique, Olipom, Sugar Shack and Sellout Buyout, too, and has done a few local runway shows. “You have to get out there,” she says and, accordingly, promotes like hell.
So how does her son Gabriel feel about all this “clothes” stuff?
“He digs it. He has to hit the thrifts with me in the summer, and he’s kind of accepted that now,” Cheng says. “Sometimes, when he’s in the mood, he’ll help me pick things out. He’s really cool.” Cheng remembers years ago at Olipom when she and her son collaborated on a project: She bought vintage leather jackets and Gabriel drew on them with silver markers. “They sold right away,” she recalls.
Cheng gave her son all the money.