Interview: Getting to Know Creatures of the Wind

Creatures of the Wind
Photo courtesy of Creatures of the Wind
Shane Gabier and Chris Peters.

Haven't heard of Creatures of the Wind? Pay attention.

The Chicago-based design duo of Shane Gabier and Chris Peters has managed to fly under the radar for the last few years, but when Vogue singles you out—Creatures of the Wind was a runner-up for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in 2011—you'll hardly stay small for long. Their creations occupy prime retail real estate at Ikram (Gabier used to be an assistant to owner and former First Lady-stylist Ikram Goldman), Dover Street Market, and Net-a-Porter, and their Fall 2012 collection is gearing up to be bigger and better than ever.

FashionEtc dialed up the duo to find out how they met, how the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund has changed things, and what Creatures of the Wind really means.

How did you two meet, and how did the line come about?

Chris: I was a student at the Art Institute. He was a professor—but not my professor! We became friends, and started dating. Once we started dating we started making stuff—it was really natural, done in an organic kind of way. We didn’t start out with any plans to be a big business.

Shane: We both went to school here [in Chicago], so we have that background. We started working together in 2007, but it was more projects-based. We hesitate to call it a proper collection! Spring 2011 was really our first full season. The first collection landed on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily, which was a big surprise for us. It got the ball rolling a little bit!

Chris: The WWD cover started us on the path of doing this in a real, serious way.

Shane: We were really surprised. It was really exciting!

Chris: I couldn’t sleep after I saw it!

What’s your working relationship like?

Shane: We do everything together, from the initial concept development to sketches, fabrics, and we do some of the patterns ourselves. It’s a dialogue between Chris and I. Before, people who knew us quite well could see where Chris was working and where I was, but that line gets blurred the longer we work together. We design with each other in mind. There are only two of us in the company, so we literally do everything!

Do you ever argue over things?

Chris: We argue all the time!

Shane: It’s really important, actually.

Chris: It really helps us. If we feel so strongly about something—and it’s really only the collection that we’re ever fighting over—we find a middle ground between the two of us. We try and be sensitive to each other and be really careful—because we’re not just business partners, we’re in a relationship!

Do you have any boundaries between your personal relationship and working relationship?

Chris: I wish!

Shane: We fall asleep talking about the collection.

What does the name Creatures of the Wind mean?

Shane: The original song is by Johnny Mathis, Wild Is The Wind, from 1957—but before I knew that, I knew the Nina Simone cover. Cat Power and David Bowie have also covered it, and [Creatures of the Wind] is a lyric from that. We knew we didn’t want our names in the label, and what we liked about Creatures of the Wind is that everyone has different associations with it. It paints a different picture for everyone.

Chris: The song is so incredibly emotional, and every version is so different. There’s a really strong sensation, and we’re going for an emotional response. It’s about communicable emotion.

What do you have planned for your Fall 2012 collection?

Chris: It’s really colorful—really colorful! It’s intense. We’ve never done anything on this scale before, in terms of size. It’s really real, and … not overwhelming, but very strong.

Shane: Dense is a really good word for it, as far as the physical components, the materials, and the way they’re treated. There’s a richness. For me, this is the most satisfied I’ve ever been with the collection.

Creatures of the Wind

Photos courtesy of Creatures of the Wind

Creatures in Color: looks from Creatures of the Wind's Spring 2012 collection

What was it like for you guys to be named a runner-up for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund?

Chris: It was completely unreal. It was above and beyond anything else I’ve experienced.

Shane: I was eating lunch and the phone rang. It was a New York number, so I thought it was one of our factories. It was Steven Kolb. I was totally surprised—I tried to call Chris, but he was in New York and had just gotten into the subway, so for 40 minutes I was trying to reach him!

Was that something of a “we made it” moment? Have you had that?

Shane: There are moments when we feel like we’re making progress, but it’s all kind of one giant moment and we’re babystepping.

Chris: We’re trying to maintain a healthy growth—trying to gauge how we’re progressing in a way that doesn’t overextend ourselves to be able to continue on. There are moments when I’ve been so proud and so happy, incredible moments. But to “make it”? I don’t know what that actually means. There are people who you think are making it, and then you talk to them…

Shane: …And they’re sharing a bed and have a $100 budget. There are so many levels. From an outside perspective, it’s easy to think people are making it, but the reality is a totally different thing.

What are some of your proudest moments so far?

Shane: Winning the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund was pretty great. The whole Vogue process was really fun; that trip to L.A. all together was like going to summer camp! And there are a few key stores that we’ve been really excited to work with.

Chris: When Ikram first bought us, that was a big one.

Shane: She doesn’t really buy Chicago collections at all.

Chris: That was a really special moment. And Dover Street Market, when they first bought us. Rei Kawakubo’s husband Adrien Joffe came in and bought the collection. I’m not really daunted by people, but we had just started and that was intense. I had a little panic attack!

How do you think being based in Chicago rather than New York has affected you as a business?

Chris: When we first started, there was a lot of prejudice. People would disregard us for where we were from. We’ve actually had people walk out of appointments before they even looked at the clothes!

Shane: There was definitely prejudice at the beginning, but we’ve gotten over that and it’s almost a selling point now. It’s a challenge for us. We started to overcompensate, in a way—the production quality is very high. We’re just trying to make sure it’s what we want it to be, and show that you don’t have to be in New York to be relevant.

Chris: When someone tells you you can’t do that, it gets you riled, in a way! Instead of putting us down—and it was really difficult for a while—it really pushed us to be as strong and as intense as we could be. It’s a weird, positive kind of aggression.

So, the obvious question: if you do your production in New York, why not just move to New York?

Chris: Shane is still a professor at the school. It’s difficult because I often have to go to New York by myself—there’s no manufacturing in Chicago—nothing. Not even anywhere to buy buttons! It’s hard, but we’re figuring things out.

Shane: We’d be doing what we’re doing no matter where we are. The collection is more about how we relate to each other than outside factors.

Chris: I’m really a dramatic shut-in. [Laughs.] We have a tendency to be in our own personal world, and the collection is an extension of that, so that wherever we are we maintain that.

What inspires your work?

Chris: It varies, but it comes from our emotional states at the time. It’s an exploration of emotion.

Shane: Fall 2012 is based on something that I’ve been obsessed with since I was in eighth grade—but it’s about us and other things, and it’s very hard to put into cohesive words.

Who is the woman you design for?

Shane: We like to keep it really open. We know young, crazy girls who love it, but we sell to Ikram in Chicago and she sells to older, mature businesswomen. We have clients who are patrons of the arts. It’s an extension of the name, in a way—you can pull things out and place them into their own context.

Shane, I read that you were Ikram Goldman’s assistant years ago. What did you learn working there?

Shane: I was one of her buying assistants. I spent a long time just looking at clothes, looking at the way things were made. It’s also really valuable to have experience in that side of [the business], a retail background. You have to understand what considerations are made in a buying office, and what priorities are for the store.

How do you see your company growing?

Chris: It would be really great for Shane not to be teaching! I think in terms of the company, we want it to be fuller—to have a full range of things. We want to have more freedom and options so we don’t have to be selective with the size of the collection. Right now we’re limited in terms of our resources, what we can and can’t produce—but this season is the closest we’ve come to doing everything we want to do. We’re doing 24 looks, and we could have easily expanded into 35.

Shane: Or 40!

Any other categories you’d like to get into?

Shane: Right now we’re actually doing shoes with Tabitha Simmons, which is great. We’re doing three styles this time, in nine or 10 colorways. But I would love to get into other accessories, or bags.

Who do you admire in the industry?

Shane: We love Comme des Garçons, we have a lot of respect for Undercover, Meadham Kirchhoff is fantastic…

Chris: We love Suno—Max [Osterweis] and Erin [Beatty] are great. Peter Pilotto, Jonathan Saunders, Richard Nicoll—there are so many talented young British designers right now. That’s another fun thing: we’re at a moment where there are a lot of great people doing great things. It’s really fun.