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Culture Wed May 23 2012

A Mini MALL

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Cher Horowitz walks down a hallway wearing a yellow plaid skirt and matching cropped jacket. The outfit -- part schoolgirl innocence, part precise tailoring and professional realness -- is a perfect summary of a film (and a decade) that can be best defined by its lack of classification. Clueless, a film more often recognized for its banter and "Before They Were Famous" celebrities, was radical because it refused to play by the rules. Director and writer Amy Heckerling's film based on Jane Austen's Emma was less a contemporary update and more of an independent, one-of-a-kind "world creation" of youth, debauchery, language and style.

In their first collection as THE MALL, Ready-to-Stare jewelry designer Alysse Dalessandro and vintage seller Matt Kasin (aka the Gaudy God) created and curated a an Etsy-based concept store of highly aesthetic and idea-driven handmade accessories and vintage clothing inspired by the film as well as other '90s teen cult classics such as Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion and Spice World. This is not nostalgia, for nostalgia elicits a desire to return to the emotions born in a past era. Rather, THE MALL understands and utilizes the films as important cultural references that are as valuable and inspirational now as they were more than a decade ago. The two will debut their collection this Friday at a launch event at ZaZaZoo Nail Salon.

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Matt Kasin and Alysse Dalessandro

Kasin and Dalessandro met more than two years ago at Berlin Bonanza, a now-defunct vintage market that took place at the Berlin nightclub. Kasin attended the event on a recommendation from friend Sasha Hodges, a founder of Kokorokoko, while Dalessandro, a founder and owner of The Sometimes Store, participated as a seller. Since their first meeting, the two have collaborated with their respective businesses on projects such as the Maximalism fashion show and the Drunk Mall pop-up shop.

From those initial events, Kasin and Dalessandro developed what are now some of their strongest-held beliefs concerning the use and power of vintage in contemporary settings. "When you say vintage, people think '50s housewife Mad Men, and that's so not our aesthetic," began Dalessandro. "It's really important for us to work with this conceptual idea of vintage instead because we see it more as high fashion and I think a lot of people see it as kitschy." For the pair, vintage makes high fashion accessible. A skirt or blouse or bag first seen on contemporary runways can be recreated through the use of vintage. If nothing is original, than vintage allows the "everyman" or "everywoman" the ability to recreate looks they love now by incorporating reasonably-priced items from the past.

Once a week earlier this year, the two would watch Party Girl or Clueless or Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion and find inspiration in the sartorial choices of the films' characters. "There were always these iconic fashion moments that we could relate to," said Kasin. Besides recognizing and ultimately identifying with these iconic fashion moments, the two realized that they could recreate the looks, either by making them by hand or sourcing them from resellers.

"It started with little things. We noticed that Romy was wearing a dice ring when they were filling out those surveys and I thought, 'I could make a dice ring,'" Dalessandro said.

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The original collection began with 10 handmade items, recreations of iconic accessories from the films such as the aforementioned dice ring or a water bottle chain as carried in Clueless. While creating these items, Kasin found a holographic dress similar to the designs worn in Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion. The creation of the water bottle chain and the sourcing of the holographic dress were the impetus to branch out, to create a fully-formed collection of around 80 pieces with an even stronger, clearer aesthetic.

"The more we styled, the more we realized we could do the whole thing," Dalessandro began. "We just kept on finding these things and we thought, 'We could do this. We could actually make this happen.' It wasn't really as hard as we thought it would be."

Select pieces from the collection include an orange and white floral skirt similar in cut and shape to a plaid skirt worn by Rose McGowan in Scream; fuzzy black pens that channel the charm of Cher Horowitz' writing utensils in Clueless; fitted black dresses like seen on blonde coquette Baby Spice; and a golden chain water bottle holder, perfect for the dehydrated, stylish, yet environmentally-conscious this summer.

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Although the collection includes the individual tastes of Kasin and Dalessandro, the two noted that this is more a collaborative project between two like-minded style enthusiasts. "Gaudy God isn't just about holographic dresses and Ready-to-Stare isn't just about dice rings, but when put together, it felt like we were doing something special," Kasin said. Dalessandro agreed. "It's literally us. It's not just me and him. It's us together," she said.

The event stands as a collaborative venture not just between Kasin and Dalessandro, but also for a number of additional local purveyors. Complimentary nail services from ZaZaZoo will be available in addition to treats from emerging baker Dan Chrusinski of Delectables and free drinks from wine shop Noble Grape and bar Local Option. The event takes on the spirit of its namesake, bringing together different stores, mixing aesthetics, and brewing random fashion and culture moments in one exact space. Said Kasin, "It's everything and it's something for everybody."

~*~

THE MALL launch event takes place on Friday, May 25 from 7-9pm at ZaZaZoo Nail Salon, 1842 N. Damen. Guests may RSVP online in advance. An afterparty at Local Option, 1102 W. Webster, starts at 10pm.

 
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