In her early days as a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Denise Allen Robinson thought she wanted to be a sculptor.
But a perceptive teacher encouraged her to shift her focus. “I was working in the foundry with metals and welding and torches, and I was always trying to pleat or gather the metal,” she says, laughing. “My teacher suggested that maybe I should try a softer medium.”
Robinson took that advice and today, “Neeshies”—her biggest fans—return season after season for the whisper-soft fabrics, the beautiful vintage details and yes, the pleated and gathered elements that grace her feminine designs for her label, Neesh by D.A.R.
“We make clothes for the grown-up girl,” Robinson says from her Chicago studio and warehouse. “You can skip and jump and dance in our clothes.”
That’s just as true for Neesh favorites like the sheer layering tees, gauzy skirts and flowing, empire-waisted, long camis as it is for Robinson’s newest Neesh line, the menswear-inspired Formidable (from the French for “wonderful”). Robinson calls Formidable “almost bespoke” and says that the line is, indeed, very special, thanks to its handmade construction and vintage touches. With a nod to couture, each Formidable garment is just as lovely inside as it is on the outside. The designs are also remarkably versatile: For example, a button-down shirt can be worn as is or gently gathered to one side with a hidden tab.
“I love to marry a lot of different textures and details,” Robinson explains. “But I make them modern and I try to relate them to how we dress today, so that we don’t look like we’re dressed in costume.”
Neesh’s most successful marriage (and perhaps its biggest power couple) is the fusion of style and comfort. The line delivers what many women seek: forgiving designs blended with visually interesting textiles. That means Neesh skirts are typically pull-on, with French terry waistbands sewn to woven, layered fabrics. “We don’t make a lot of tight clothes and we’re not cut for a junior body,” Robinson says. (Her clothes are sized XSmall to XLarge.) “And all of our fabrics are shipped washed, so they have to be soft. The fabric has to look just as good crumpled as it does ironed.”
Robinson continues to find inspiration for Neesh by looking east. “Japanese designers so often create their textiles themselves before they even design their clothing. So they create the shape and the fabric,” she says.
She also keeps a close watch on couture designers. “Money is no object for them, so they can create at $10,000 gown. I could never dream to do that for my customers, but I can take one small element [of that design] and make it my own,” Robinson says.
Even after more than 25 years in the industry, the 62-year-old Robinson keeps Neesh fresh and current, thanks to her keen eye and her commitment to staying true to what appeals to her—texture, interesting textiles and vintage flair. “You know, I’m a feminist from way back,” Robinson says. “But I still want to feel pretty in my clothes.”
— Interview by Jennifer Kuhel
Special to evielou.com
Photo borrowed with gratitude from Neesh’s blog,