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July 29 2014

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Creatures of the Wind: Obtuse But Focused

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Without a doubt, Creatures of the Wind is one of the industry’s buzziest emerging labels. Known for their imaginative, slightly offbeat collections that fuse esoteric references with innovative fabrications, designers Shane Gabier and Chris Peters quickly became critical darlings following their official New York fashion week debut just over three years ago. In 2011, the duo were named runners-up for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and honored as Fashion Group International’s Rising Stars. Since then, they’ve been finalists for the International Woolmark Prize and nominated for multiple CFDA Awards—COTW is currently up for the Swarovski Award for Womenswear, to be announced in June. Furthermore, the brand recently received an investment from L.A.’s Dock Group, presented its premiere Pre-Fall lineup, and relocated its studio from Chicago to Manhattan a few months back. Clearly, Gabier and Peters are firing on all cylinders. To boot, COTW is releasing its first-ever fashion film to illustrate the Spring ’14 collection, titled “Hail, Hyperborea.” The new video—which corresponds with a print campaign that ran in Dazed & Confused—has a decidedly trippy vibe and stars veteran supermodel Kirsten Owen. Here, Style.com speaks with Gabier and Peters about their new short, balancing creativity with commerce, CFDA Award jitters, and more.

Congratulations on your first fashion video! Can you tell me about the concept and mood you were trying to achieve here?
Shane Gabier: The theme of the collection was Hail, Hyperborea, and to us, Hyperborea is this magical land where the sun is always shining and there is eternal light. We did want to have an element of something untraceable and not totally placeable. There is something familiar about it, but you can’t quite say what it is.

Chris Peters: One of the things we’re trying to build with the video is the idea of this internal paradise. So it’s a little hallucinatory and captures an otherworldly state.

Did the film medium help you to better express your message?
CP: I think one of our biggest issues is that a lot of our talking points are pretty nebulous and about trying to convey a sense of atmosphere. With this video, we really got the opportunity to create that atmosphere directly and show it in a much more straightforward way. So for us, doing a video clarified a lot of the more difficult aspects of discussing the collection.

How was working with Kirsten Owen?
SG: Hands down, she is the most magical person I have ever encountered in my life. She was somebody that we both had wanted to work with, I mean, forever.

CP: I actually cried watching her on set. It was like I was watching a butoh performance. She is the most transcendent sort of—I don’t even know that I’d say she’s a model because she’s really so much more than that. She just took on this whole other persona. It was epic and definitely a highlight of my life so far.

Creatures of the Wind isn’t your usual brand name. How do you feel it has defined your aesthetic, if at all?
CP: It’s funny, we were just talking about that. I think it made it really difficult for us for a really long time. Now it’s OK, but at the beginning, I think so many people were confused about what the name was. People kept thinking it had to do with birds or Chicago. We were like, “Oh, my God, it’s the lyrics of a really famous [Nina Simone] song.”

SG: That definitely speaks to how we often do these things that we think are quite clear, but then end up being really obtuse.

Speaking of having a somewhat obscure point of view, have you had to make a conscious effort to be a bit more commercial?
SG: When we started the company, it was just us making stuff in our basements, and we’re ultimately still a new label. As we grow, we’re learning about the client and who actually wears the clothes, and I think that’s kind of informing how we design now. The business side of it is really important, too. Now we kind of enjoy that side of it on some level.

CP: I think that’s really important because we’re not designing in a vacuum. We’re not making clothes for ourselves, although sometimes I feel like that might be easier.

What would you say it takes to really make it in this industry as a young brand?
CP: I would say that you need a ridiculous amount of luck and you have to work endlessly. It’s a really hard industry, and you can get burned. There were so many things that should have totally taken us down along the way, but somehow we made it through. I have never met anyone who did what we did in the way we did it.

You’re up for another CFDA Award, which you’ve been nominated for before but haven’t yet won. Do you feel like you need that kind of validation at this point, or does it feel like you’re stuck on a hamster wheel?
CP: It’s definitely taxing—emotionally, mentally, and sometimes physically—because you’re just doing so much more work with the extra projects and submissions on top of what’s already there, but that’s kind of what you have to do now.

SG: I don’t think we need the validation personally, but we recognize it as a part of the process and forward movement in general. We have to be involved in that stuff to participate on this level. We’d rather have that type of recognition than not have it.

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