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From hardware store to runway

A city designer is giving a new meaning to the “industrial” look.

Chicago Designer Janis “JAJA” Sujin makes clothes from unusual materials found at your local hardware store. Down with silicone, latex and vinyl, she’s open to anything so long as it’s odd to the touch. Her dresses and gowns won’t last forever, but that’s the beauty of it.

“Garments are meant to be ephemeral,” JAJA says.

Remember the 1997 movie Flubber and how professor Philip Brainard (Robin Williams) discovers a lively, rubber-like substance to do whatever he wanted? Well, imagine JAJA as the “Philip Brainard” of high fashion, and her secret weapon is all of these crazy materials she spends her days finding at Ace Hardware.

“I wanted to replicate lace and tried drizzling silicone over a form,” JAJA says. “The silicone mimics fabric like qualities, which is why I’m drawn to it.”

It’s not always premeditated, no original sketch prior to the works; just the works. A hands-on, all play and create is JAJA’s style. Every dress, top, skirt varies just a little, much like how Picasso rarely used the same strokes twice. Because repetition is so boring for this fashion scientist, it’s the interaction with materials that keeps the fun alive.

“I play around with my fabrics and try to make unusual textures. That’s where everything begins for me.”

Some of her line may feel like rubber, but it is the most poised and elegant rubber to date. Aside from the material, her pieces are really quite simple. Her looks include a matching silicone black top and pencil skirt —good for any cocktail hour or night out; a fun white silicone crop with thick straps that hits high in the front and low on the back; a beautiful white silicone dress with a cut from the 20s; a black leather mini dress with long sleeves that hang like robes from a geisha; and a purple and black tie-dyed khaki jacket with a big pointy collar fashioned from the 70s.

“It’s really cool having her clothes in my store,” says Mckenzie Thompson, co-owner of Pilsen boutique Maybe Sunday. “JAJA is dope. What she makes is really art on the body, and having her a part really completes my whole gallery/boutique aesthetic.”

Janis “JAJA” Sujin creates clothing playing on industrialism using hardware store materials.

To JAJA, fashion is a tool, an art form. It’s why she’s here. In her understanding, innovation is authenticity and creativity waiting to be born. She presents fashion as wearable art and sculpture. While she does makes ready-to-wear pieces, she doesn’t like the idea of ready-to-wear or the idea of everything in the market being driven by fast fashion. If it’s all demand, demand, demand, then where is the creativity?

“Raf Simons left Dior for this reason, because it became more about the market and business than the integrity of the designer and his intentions,” JAJA says.

She is inspired by pop cult films, the Internet, books and art. And when Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it,” stuck with her. When you think about it, it ties in pretty well with how her silicone dress won’t last forever.

Her favorite character is Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. Why? Because he’s a walking contradiction. JAJA digests his character as trying to seem “perfect” and fit into his reality but can’t. His insanity unwinding all the glorified perfection he maintains on a daily basis becomes more uncontrollable and  less human.

“Appearances to me are powerful things,” JAJA says.

Her pieces made from silicone are definitely see-through. Being curious with the styling of a silicone top or any outfit made from breast implants, I wanted to see for myself. The looks put together by JAJA were way less complicated and more versatile than I thought.

One could easily not care or wear anything underneath or one could wear a mesh top or any light under layer. In this particular styling, JAJA had her model fashion the white pieces with nothing underneath but gold sheets glued to her chest. This touch gave the outfit a very extraterrestrial and dewy look while still suggesting gold flakes from Zeus’s crown or something.

It’s difficult to describe so many things going at once, but then again it’s difficult to imagine a silicone outfit that slays to no end.

“What I love about JAJA and her designs is that she’s not going for something that’s going to make her money quick,” Thompson says. “Obviously, Chicago is not very considerate of the fashionistas that walk the streets, but that doesn’t stop JAJA from spending all her time, effort and money into pieces that aren’t weather proof. She really just makes these things for the love and genuine interest she has for it. These resources aren’t cheap. But she still does it.”

I asked, “So when would I even wear this? What seasons do you imagine this in?” She laughed, replying that at least in Chicago one wouldn’t have to worry about it melting off their body.

“I think the silicone pieces are fall/winter pieces,” JAJA says. “These pieces are so special I don’t think they fit in any category of ready-to-wear or couture. I imagine girls like Amanda Lepore, Jennifer Lawrence and Zoë Kravitz wearing my designs, but all in different ways.”

The last thing JAJA wants anyone to do is be afraid of her line. As a tastemaker and designer she put something new on the plate and at the moment she thinks her audience is a little afraid to take a bite, but don’t be afraid of the mimic lace she’s created. It may look soft but feel sticky, and while nothing is perfect, it is art. So, wear it. Wear it out. Wear it until the silicone falls apart and off the back like the unraveling of one’s favorite sweater.

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