Samantha Sleeper’s line is known for its ladylike— yet edgy— elegance.
The list of Chicago-bred designers may be small, but it includes some of the best-known American talent in the industry: Halston, Cynthia Rowley, and fashion’s most-talked-about duo, Creatures of the Wind. Now, with the launch of her line at Sarca boutique, Highland Park native Samantha Sleeper is poised to add her name to the exclusive list.
Sleeper’s eponymous, self-funded-and-managed label is known for its luxe, eco-friendly, and repurposed ready-to-wear and couture-detailed creations—think ladylike elegance with a bit of edge. “[Picture] a grungy fairy,” laughs Sleeper. Her line officially debuted during New York Fashion Week last September, and after a successful showing at the October installation of Dose Market in Chicago, friend and Dose cofounder April Francis introduced her to Alexis Cozzini, owner of Sarca boutique. The River North shop is now the first local outpost to carry Sleeper’s line, which will kick off with a trunk show on March 24.
An alumna of Parsons School of Fashion, the young powerhouse has racked up quite a résumé since graduating in 2009. She continued to hone her sense of handicraft through post-grad internships for fine manufacturing firms like the Lyon, France-based Solstiss/Bucol, known for its lace. She fed her interest in the process of building a brand while serving as the creative director of N Prpa, a line developed with Nicolette Prpa of the now-defunct SHE boutiques. Currently she splits her time between San Francisco and New York, where she has her production headquarters, and teaches a senior design concepts thesis class at Parsons.
Sleeper’s fascination with the process of production makes her somewhat of an industry throwback. But she fears that when her generation stops learning, these specialties will die. “I always considered working for a bigger firm,” says Sleeper, “but when I explored all of the steps of the production process, I was hooked on keeping it small, handcrafted, and hands-on. I used to want a billion-dollar lifestyle brand, now I want to do important beautiful work that can impact someone’s life.” Her studies in weaving, knitting, and handicraft take center stage in her work.
A fashion forerunner in keeping the old-fashioned spirit of manufacturing alive, she is presently working on a documentary featuring production techniques from around the world. The project will include “guerilla” factory footage, meant to educate designers and consumers about options regarding apparel manufacturing. “I want to build my business holistically and know my industry from the inside out,” she shares. “I aspire to communicate, engineer, and construct from a place of knowledge.”