Do What You Love: Catherine Fritsch

Today’s feature comes from Catherine Fritsch. With training in costume design and technology, Catherine has spent most of her career working in professional costume shops as a pattern maker and seamstress. On the side, she freelanced as a costume designer and made custom garments out of her home studio. In 2005 she received the Indianapolis Arts Council’s Creative Renewal Fellowship.  In August of 2007 she made the move to full time freelance work as a designer, pattern maker and sample maker for her business, Mercurious Designs. Catherine’s web business, Inside Leg Actor Measurement Database (http://insideleg.com), has been running since the fall of 2004; it provides easy access to actor measurements for theaters around the United States. Her newest project is a line of sleepwear and intimates called Sweet Revenge Lingerie, which is currently in production for retail sale, available for Spring 2010 (http://SweetRevengeLingerie.com).

How did you get into fashion? Tell me how and when everything started.

I have been designing clothes since I was little, and learned how to sew things by hand. I was already experimenting with my own pattern when I was given a sewing machine in Middle School. I also loved to draw and construct things, so thinking and designing in three dimensions is not new to me. However, I was also interested in literature and the sciences, and somehow never ended up studying much art in high school.
In college, I ended up combining my interests by studying costume for the stage. Costume design is a very collaborative process that includes a lot of research, literature, psychology, art, fashion history and believe it or not–sometimes a bit of science. I worked in professional theater from 1991 (while still in college) up until 2007. I ended up doing more of the technical side–pattern making and construction, dyeing, crafts–than design, though I did do some free lance design as well. However, I got burned out. Working in the theater can be really intense, there’s always a lot to get done in a very short time. It’s rare to be able to take a vacation during the season, and frankly, I got fried. I applied for a Creative Renewal Grant (awarded by the Arts Council of Indianapolis)–and did receive it. That’s actually what gave me the confidence to move out of theater and into fashion.

In 2007 I left the theater and ended up creating my business, Mercurious Designs. I do a bit of everything, including design and sample making for other companies.

When did you first know that you wanted to be in fashion?

I wanted to be a designer since I was little, but I felt guilty about it. My dad was a physics professor, my mom taught German literature and language, and my brother is a cognitive psychologist. I felt I should pursue a degree in the sciences, and actually probably would have enjoyed that just as much. It was sort of a fluke that I ended up in theater. I think it was the “gateway drug” to fashion, for me.

If you weren’t in the fashion industry, what would you like to be doing?

I love to research, and also love to write. I could see myself in the sciences, maybe in forensics. Who knows! There are many paths I could have gone down…or still could.

Tell us about your fabulous store and what products or serviced do you offered?

Sweet Revenge Lingerie is an online catalog offering sleep and loungewear for the young and young at heart. My first line is just six pieces, but they are good quality, interesting designs. I feel that it’s much more worthwhile to have just a few really great pieces than adding in more just for quantity’s sake.

The first round of sleep and loungewear are 100% cotton print and embroidered cotton lawns, very soft and lightweight. The line is designed for spring and summer, but we are releasing it in time for Valentine’s Day, because that does seem like the perfect time to let people know about Sweet Revenge. The pieces can be mixed and matched; there is a nightgown, print camisole, print capri pants, embroidered shorts and embroidered racerback. The logo tank is a rib knit camisole style with an embellished version of the logo–it’s kind of Harley girl meets pirate tattoo. Fun, bold.

Fall 2010 will be soft knits that are an elegant and feminine take on thermal underwear, plus likely another version of a logo tank top and a warm, cozy, practical (and durable) natural fiber robe. No fleece to be found here.

How would you describe your personal style?

My personal style is actually fairly clean and simple, but I like quirky details. I work with fabrics that feel good on the body, and try to use natural fibers when possible. Linen, cotton, rayon and silk feel really great against the body, so if I’m making clothing for lounging around the house–of course it should be comfortable. I’m also very practical, so while I love to make a woman look sexy, I also want her to feel like the clothes will stay in place, fit well and offer support when needed.

For dresses, I love color! I spent too many years around theater blacks, black dresses for opening nights. I crave a blast of color to celebrate an event, so my gowns tend toward color: chartreuse, red, fuchsia, yellow, cobalt, purple…it’s also a way for me to overcome shyness. It’s hard to be shy when you’re wearing a dress that attracts everyone’s attention. My separates tend to be a little more subdued (especially fall/winter), because I like to make everything in a line of separates mix and match, with interesting textures and prints.

Who is  your favorite designer?

I grew up reading Elle in the ’80s, so Gaultier and Issey Miyake have made an impact on my design work. I also love Alexander McQueen…I’m a fool for techno couture.

If you had a choice of all designers in the world, who would you prefer to work for? Why?

Honestly, I prefer to work for myself and develop my own line at this point. I have made garments for many other designers in the theater, mostly very talented designers. I’ve enjoyed that, but now it’s my turn! If I had to, I’d love to work for a designer who is very sculptural. Pretty dresses are fun, but if I’m creating someone else’s work–let it be wild and “out there”!

Are there any special projects you would like to work on?

Actually, yes, I am writing a grant proposal for a group of designs that transform the silhouette of the human body. They are intended to be very theatrical, not wearable. They will likely be made of unusual materials, more constructed than sewn. This kind of design is a great way to open your creativity and let go of the restrictions that the mass market places on designers.

Which magazines do you read? Which magazine is your favorite?

I read Elle, Vogue  and W only occasionally. I am not a big reader of fashion magazines…I don’t really want to be influenced so much by what other people are doing. It’s insidious, those images stick in your brain and sometimes you end up using someone else’s idea without even realizing it. I try to get ideas from architecture, nature, vintage pieces, jewelry, and so on…I know that I can’t help but be influenced by current fashions, but I try to keep it mine.  Other than that, I read Invention & Technology–it’s fun to see how other people’s great ideas came to be.

What do you see on stores that you think is really great?

We’re seeing a lot more fabric manipulation than we used to…even WalMart t-shirts have a bit of pleating or shirring at the neckline these days. It used to be that t-shirts were really plain, but now they’ve become fashion statements. Elegant, almost. We’re also seeing couture designers designing for discount stores, like Target. I think that’s great.

What motivates you?

I love to create, but let’s be honest: I need to earn a living as well. Having your own business is tough, and I am constantly trying to find new ways to market myself and to earn money. I started the Sweet Revenge line as a way to have product to retail, in the hopes that I might be able to make a little more money than I can make with custom design. We’ll see how that goes…

What’s next for you?

As soon as my manufactured items arrive, come late December, there will be a flurry of activity as we finalize the catalog pages. Then I’ll be meeting with my sales rep and she will go out to boutiques in the Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois area and work on getting my items into stores. I think it will be a relatively easy sell for her, the wholesale and retail pricing is very affordable.  Meanwhile, I will be promoting my web catalog like crazy. I’m also working on samples for the Fall 2010 line, as well as continuing the custom clothing for Mercurious Designs. I make a variety of things for individual clients and small businesses. At any given time, I could be working on wedding gowns, handbags, custom lingerie, and making patterns for seat covers…it’s always different.

What do you do in your down time?

As a business owner, there is sometimes not a  lot of that, especially in bridal season. However, winter is quite a bit slower, so I can take some time to read…cook…bake… In the summer, I have a vegetable garden that I putter around in. If my Sweet Revenge Lingerie can be anything like the beans I grow, I would be ecstatic. (Plant them once, they grow and fruit all summer with very little upkeep).

Big thanks to Catherine for taking the time to talk to Unik Apparel Style!

Author: Rose Wheeler

Hey, I’m Rose! I work with words on a daily basis as a content manager and writer. When I’m not working with my awesome clients, I enjoy cooking, yoga, styling, blogging and curling up with a good book.

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