Unispace designers partner with Hunter Douglas Architectural to create a surreal fashion ensemble made of window shade elements
By Zoë Zellers
A team of designers from Unispace collaborated with Hunter Douglas Architectural to transform window shade components into a stunning, award-winning fashion garment that wowed crowds at the International Interior Design Association’s Stitch runway show, hosted by the IIDA Illinois chapter. The design challenge, which is now in its 14th year, partners manufacturers and design and architecture firms, giving them the unique opportunity to work side-by-side to conceptualize and create a fashion statement.
Pull cords, aluminum bars, beaded chains, brackets, levelers, and other window shade parts were morphed into a surreal outfit for the Stitch event, hosted in March at Chicago’s House of Blues.
Unispace’s Kate Brown, Candace Mountain and Alex Dakas, led the design process, with coordination from Ruth Minnick, and guidance in material selection from Caron Christy, Hunter Douglas Architectural’s regional sales manager. This year Stitch took on the theme, “Dichotomies: Opposites Attract.” The Unispace and Hunter Douglas Architectural team interpreted this by developing the nature-inspired concept, “Filtered Refraction/Intrinsic Reflection” for its dramatic runway look. Duality was reflected in the rich mixture of textured materials, embellished with traces of metallic studs, beads and coils, atop Mermet’s E Screen shade fabric.
Ultimately, the design by Unispace and Hunter Douglas Architectural took home one of the night’s top prizes for “Best Concept to Creation.”
“As a manufacturer, events like Stitch offer an opportunity to get to know a client on a much more personal and organic level, versus always thinking about the next project or job or sale,” says Caron Christy. She says when Unispace first approached her about partnering, she knew it would be a creative way to collaborate, having been personally involved with Stitch in the past. But beyond that, Christy laughs, she had no idea what to expect an outfit made of over a dozen shades elements to look like.
“We really just began the design process with first deconstructing what a shade and aluminum blind is,” Christy explains, “and then the designers started putting it all together. They took a sample of aluminum and realized they could cut it into feather shapes, and that was the first prototype of what would eventually adorn the outfit.”
“The vision that they had for transforming industrial-looking objects was very cool.” –Caron Christy, Hunter Douglas Architectural, on Unispace’s design concept
Behind the scenes, the design team worked off sketches and mood boards to reimagine shade pull cords as crocheted fishnet tights, blinds as feathered wings, and silver pull chain beads as arm candy. The outfit, modeled by Alex Dakas, was topped off with a horned headpiece which was ornamented with fringe trim, in hues like chestnut, camel and antique white, that was originally used as cotton ladder tape for horizontal wood blinds. Along with 26 other models from design-manufacturer teams, Dakas strutted the runway at the House of Blues, which was packed with Chicago-based architects and designers. The event’s judges included TV host and producer Jackie Bender, Saks Fifth Avenue visual merchandiser Katie Porrey, and local socialite Wendy Sitti.
“This year Stitch had the most entries it’s ever had, and we knew we would have to make a huge impact to stand out,” says Unispace’s Alex Dakas, “and that’s what we did. It was so exciting to have our creativity and passion rewarded, and to show what Unispace is all about.”
“We are so grateful to have been able to partner with Hunter Douglas. Working with Caron was wonderful, and we knew we had their support through the entire process. The most fun part for us was when we told people what our materials were, they had no idea how we would make an outfit out of shades and blinds, which motivated us even more. We found the materials to be incredibly inspiring, and our initial meeting with Caron sparked so many ideas,” says Dakas.
“The wow factor really came from all of the different ways we were able to manipulate the materials, and that opportunity was possible because of a great partner in Hunter Douglas.” –Alex Dakas, designer at Unispace
Christy says winning the “Best Concept to Creation” award “definitely felt like a red carpet moment,” adding, “I was so incredibly proud to participate. The energy and adrenaline the team had after winning was so high. There was a lot of talent in that room, and I think there were a lot of really cool costumes, so it wasn’t an automatic win, so the surprise was all the sweeter.”
Likewise Dakas points out, “After devoting our nights and weekends, scraping up our hands from cutting wire and metal blinds, and filling Kate [Brown]’s house with 12’ rolls of shades, winning made all of the hard work worth it.”
Another Hunter Douglas company, 3form, earned the Judge’s and People’s Choice awards after teaming up with HDR and Bentley for their concept, “Bound/Free.” The outfit surprised the audience with the unexpected revealing of beautiful, ombré layers of orange fabric concealed by a gray outer layer. The design reflected a butterfly emerging from its cocoon.
Stitch offers designers the unique chance to interact with building products firsthand as they reconfigure the kit of parts – in this case, idle end plugs, roller shade bars, Mermet shade fabric, clutches, brackets, couplers, and more. With freedom to explore and learn more about building products, the design teams turned functional parts and pieces into wearable art, while manufacturers benefitted from the chance to join the early phases of the design process.
Events like IIDA’s widely attended Stitch 2019, also generate enthusiasm from the greater design community, as competing firms gather together to cheer on creativity. With an engaged audience, interactive online voting and social media livestreams, Stitch is an inspiring, after-hours playground that lets designers and manufacturers collaborate to rule the runway.