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The Full Look : Samantha Rei

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Following is the full interview we did with fashion designer Samantha Rei. Part of it ran in our monthly email, redshoes news, which is sent to subscribers on the 26th of each month. To join the mailing list, enter your email address in the field near the bottom of each page of our website.

Christy met Samantha a few years ago while working for MNfashion, and since then has been a fan of her designs. Her work is impeccable, and her story is incredibly interesting.

Hey Samantha! Tell us about you.
I grew up in Hastings, Minnesota, a fairly small, conservative town. My brother and I were a couple of only a handful of black kids. My parents were really supportive of my weird artiness. A few really amazing teachers helped me to thrive in an otherwise hostile landscape of bullies and teachers who seemed irritated by the fact that I dressed weird. All of my art teachers and a couple of English teachers, plus one history teacher, encouraged me to go to Arts High (now Perpich Center for Arts Education). That was the experience that really shaped my adult life. I'm still in touch with almost all of my friends from there as well, and a few teachers. That school saved me.

My first "real" job was as a Target cashier, but I've always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I learned how to make jewelry with real findings and materials when I was about 8, and ran a jewelry stand (like a lemonade stand) on the side of the road. My dad lived in St. Paul at the time, so he set up a little table for me at Grand Old Day. In middle school I took drawing and painting commissions; in high school I made clothing for people. I realized a couple of years ago that my first job job was making prom dresses!

On a personal note, I’m 35 and live in North Minneapolis with my husband. We've been together for almost 12 years and are looking to start a family next year. I love hiking, reading, and collecting Monster High/Ever After High Dolls (I have more than 250). I love comics, and have been an avid reader and collector since 1992. I’m planning on finally getting my dream Batman tattoo this winter.

Tell me about your brand(s), and what you do.
I got my start in alt fashion, specifically Lolita fashion, with my old label Blasphemina's Closet. I rebranded about four years ago to reach a wider audience. I still make feminine, high quality, and quirky clothes, but now more people will feel comfortable wearing it to the office.

What are you working on right now?
I'm working on my new core collection, a line of dresses that will be available each season, ready to ship. I'm also working on my S/S 2016 collection "Harmonic Convergence,” and the relaunch of my men's line.

Tell us more about the men’s line.
My men's label is called Marching Achilles, and it’s named after my brother and dad. I stopped designing under it around 2010, and decided to resurrect it since so many men have been getting custom stuff from me lately. We're launching on November 10 at the Spectacle Shoppe in Uptown. Check out my website for updates.

Will you be taking part in any events for Fashion Week?
I direct Full Fashion Panic at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) every year, and that's a fun show. That will be September 25. It's our 13th show, and the designers are amazing. It's generally alternative fashion and indie/up-and-coming designers. I may do a release party for the video for my current collection "id.ego.,” but there's nothing on the calendar. I'm not planning on showing my new collection runway-style; probably something small and intimate for buyers and press only.

What has been a highlight of your career so far, and why?
I can't decide because some of them are cool for different reasons. There have been a few. Designing for Brian Viglione for The Dresden Dolls reunion tour. I love designing for musicians. Showing at Vancouver Fashion Week was cool. I'd never been out of the country, and I got to travel with a few of my favorite people. Publishing my book, Steampunk & Cosplay Fashion Design & Illustration, was cool, too. I wanted to be a comic artist growing up, so it was neat to be hired to write and illustrate something.

Who and/or what inspires your designs?
Stories inspire me. Whether it's mythology, folk tales, books, movies, or the stories of real people, I try to tell a story with each collection. My inspiration changes from collection to collection.

Do you have a “goal” with each collection?
I really just try to tell a story and keep the light on! In the end it's about making art that then pays the bills. Sometimes I make a collection that is critically successful, but no one buys, and sometimes I confuse the critics and make a good amount [of money]. My goal is finding the balance, especially because I don't like pandering or making something safe because I want it to sell.

What is your favorite part about what you do?
Creating something every day and making clients happy. I love when they put on a dress and twirl. Then I know they are happy. I love helping people feel comfortable in stuff that fits them well and shows their personality.

What is the most challenging?
Currently, seeking wholesale accounts. I've never done wholesale, so it's an exciting venture.

How can my readers help you with this challenge?
Tell me which stores you'd love to see carry my label!

If you could dress anyone, past or present, who would it be?
Ksenia Solo, Robin Lord Taylor, Janelle Monae, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Tatiana Maslany, Theo Rossi, Rosario Dawson, and Emily Haines. I like their styles and I think they'd wear my stuff well.

If you could work with any designer, who would it be?
I'd love to work with Anna Sui. She's a weirdo who DGAF like me and she did a line of Paradise Kiss and Sailor Moon accessories. Those are my interests!

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a kids-book illustrator (my hero was Tomie DePaola) when I was little, and when I was in middle and high school I wanted to illustrate comics. When I was at Arts High we learned how to write grants, and I wrote mine to ask for money to print five copies of my comic book. Then when I was 20 I was published by a local comic company (Dead Dog). I've been an artist my whole life, my medium has just changed often.

What might we be surprised to learn about you?
1. I love metal [music]. My favorite band is Dir en Grey.
2. I ran one of the first three Lolita labels in the U.S., and when I shut it down, it was the oldest.
3. I've been an expert source on fashion in a few academic journals.
4. I didn't go to MCAD, but I've been working the conference there for 15 years, so everyone thinks I went there.
5. My finale gown from Party Monster, the last collection I did under my old label, was in a recent McKittrick Hotel production of Alice in Wonderland in New York. It was worn by the Cheshire Cat.

What is a favorite pair of shoes that you’ve owned?
My first pair a Fluevogs, a pair of Zachary boots, back in 1996. My dad got them for me. It started a lifetime love affair with the brand, and I'm happy I connected with them because of it. I even recently started working there ultra-part-time for fun! I just counted and I have 33 pairs of shoes. That was unexpected.

What else would you like to add?
[It was so great] to recently work with the Elixery on my line of lipsticks. It was a fun experience, and I love the range of colors. Plus, [Karoline and Michael Wells of the Elixery] are just fun, rad people.

I'm also proud to have been awarded as Readers' Choice Best Designer in City Pages Best of the Twin Cities 2016.

Find Samantha Rei and her collections here:
website // Etsy // Instagram // Facebook // Twitter // Atelier Samantha Rei; 707 N. 3rd St., Suite 202a; Minneapolis 55401

Photos of Ruby Opal Pearl Collection by Alex Butterfield.


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