Fashion designer Anna Hovet on being the weird kid, sleeping in her backyard and jockin’ on the art kids’ swag
By Jamie DeGraaf
“I used to think I was going to be a doctor when I grew up, but then I realized I would spend the whole time looking at people’s clothes,” explains 26-year-old fashion designer Anna Hovet as she examines the waistband of a coral linen skirt. She leans against a high-top table in her West Town warehouse studio, which has a remarkably tidy wooden floor despite the general explosion of fabric, patterns and sewing paraphernalia on every surface. “I sewed it on backwards,” she sighs, holding up the circle skirt and tromping to fetch her seam ripper. “I don’t have the patience for sewing. Or seam ripping.”
Hovet wears a tee from her signature line with the words Looking For Trouble screen printed in Haitian beneath an illustration of a leggy mademoiselle. Her razzmatazz-red cut-off shorts have a burst of white tie-dye on the back pocket, and her feet are wedged into clear jelly flats. Her unassuming conduct and appearance don’t demand the recognition her success deserves. At 26, she has carved out a career for herself that demands a double take. In 2009, she launched her own line, Anna Hovet Designs, only two years after graduating from School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Later that year, she spent six months in the Chicago Fashion Incubator and in 2011 was a contestant on the Kenmore reality series “So You Wanna Be a Designer?” Her designs have been featured on Jennifer Hudson, in Lucky magazine and in the Chicago Tribune. On June 28, she will jumpstart the ROOF Runway series atop the Wit hotel.
“My friends back home in North Dakota think I live this “Sex and the City” life…that I drive around in limos and am some kind of big star—not!” she snorts self-deprecatingly, tearing seams from the linen. “Well, maybe to them I am,” she continues. “But sometimes I miss the country life they live. Sometimes I just want to be able to sleep in my back yard.” Her hair is the hipster dichotomy of mid-length platinum swept across her forehead, with brunette shaved closely around her left ear. Her fresh face is animated and the diamonds in her double pierced ears glint in the sun through the studio windows that stud the exposed brick walls.
Hovet triumphantly holds up the detached waistband, explaining that the fabric was her grandma’s and she is glad to finally have a use for it. The circle skirt, which she deems a simple, fun showpiece, is one of a few new pieces she is designing for the upcoming ROOF fashion show. “Now, let me try and sew this waistband on the right,” she laughs, ambling back over to her sewing station.
Since the age of 10, Hovet knew she wanted to be a designer, enthralled by the stylized outfits of ‘90s hip-hop and R&B music videos as compared to the non-existent fashion scene in North Dakota. “I was the weird girl who wore pink pants; no one knew what to do with me,” she says.
Hunkered over her sewing machine, Hovet gushes about the ROOF show, describing the Wit as her dream venue. She tells a story from years earlier when she was tweeting on the hotel’s beauty and the owner of the Wit tweeted her back, inviting her to do a show sometime. “In my head I was like, ‘Really, you own the Wit? You have, like, four followers,’” Hovet laughs. “Then randomly a few months back I got a call from a manager at the Wit and they wanted me to have a show there! I guess he was legit.”
“I don’t think the Wit understands how many people I can get to come to a free fashion show—I don’t know if they know what they’re in for,” Hovet chuckles. “But watch me say that now and then I go and it’s just me and the models…” she trails off. For Hovet, the ROOF show will be marketed more toward customers than wholesale buyers because she is in-between seasons and will be putting only her current inventory on the runway. “It’s a little weird for me because I should be showing something more in the future,” Hovet says. “But eh, it’s Chicago— no one cares, they see it on the runway and say, ‘Oh that’s cute!’
ROOF will be showcasing Hovet’s Spring/Summer 2012 collection. The playful, ready-to-wear line was inspired by 1950s comic book characters and Lichtenstein and boasts a lot of color blocking, which Hovet says was her thing long before it become so popular a few years back. “I’ve always loved playing with lines and shapes on the body,” she says, now back at her worktable, trimming the edge of a purple chiffon circle skirt. As with all of Hovet’s collections, her biggest inspiration was streetwear. “I love what the kids wear on the street, the art kids, the things they come up with that aren’t mainstream until three years later.”
However, there is a paradox to her youthful aesthetic. “My style is very young but a lot of young kids can’t afford my prices; I manufacture in Chicago—my price point has to be higher,” she says, almost apologetically. She reaches for a jar of buttons flaunting the Anna Hovet logo, a stylized white heart with a black border on a robin’s egg blue background. “I’m trying to move my style up to an older crowd, and I think, as I get older, my style will mature with me.”
She examines a button, describing how she had ordered 500 before realizing the center-line on the heart was wrongfully extended, a mistake perhaps only noticeable to her. “These are the generic Anna Hovet buttons from China,” she jokes. “I’ll still hand them out. No one will notice,” she shrugs, ever the optimist, as she pushes aside sketches of swimwear designs. “I don’t do swimwear, but I said, ‘Why not throw some fun, sexy show pieces up there as crowd pleasers?’” She holds the chiffon skirt in the air and twirls it around, asking enthusiastically, “Won’t this look beautiful on the rooftop in the wind?’”
As she threads elastic through the skirt waistband, Hovet explains her viewpoint as a designer. “I’m more interested in the concept of art through clothing than ‘fashion.’ I don’t care what the celebrities are wearing; I don’t care about the trends.” She snips the tail of the elastic and brushes back a wayward lock of hair. “Growing up in the country, fashion wasn’t about brand names—we didn’t even know brands—it was more about the actual clothing than stigma fashion,” Hovet shrugs. “I’m interested in clothing as an art medium—everyone wears clothes! Clothing is an art that everyone is into.”
Hovet steps into the purple chiffon and shimmies it over her cut-offs and around her waist. Because she works mainly in stretch fabrics, she never does fittings; she figures as long as the models are between a size 0 and 6, the clothes will fit. “I use myself as a fit model, but then often accidentally make things too short,” she confesses. “Oops, I get to keep all the samples for myself!”
When she’s not designing, Hovet finds herself rollerblading, going dancing—anywhere, everywhere, all the time (special shout out to Oldies Night at the Cobra Lounge in West Town)—and slowly introducing her fair skin to the sun on trips to North Avenue beach. She’s also got a wild side: she’s into bikes, (as in big, beefy motorcycles), is scheduled to take trapeze lessons next week and plans to go sky-diving later in the month.
As a nearly ten-year resident, Hovet has a love affair with Chicago and can’t sing enough praises for the arts and entertainment scene and her relationships with fellow creatives. She is grateful for the abundant press she gets, saying, “Chicago is very supportive from a media standpoint.” Being located here has made her a more conservative designer. “Were I in N.Y.C or L.A., I’d definitely be making much crazier, funkier stuff. But Chicago is a great place for me right now because I can ship things in and visit L.A. and N.Y, but still live comfortably, have a great personal life and do fashion.”
As Hovet stretches the completed chiffon skirt over a dress form, she fingers a gap in the seam, muttering “Oh, come on, you just have to stay together for the show.” Flouncing the chiffon for volume, Hovet sums up her passion for designing in an expected laissez-faire manner, saying “I’ve learned to just do what I want. I pretty much design clothes that I want to wear and hope that other people want to wear them too.”