Lisa Malanij


The time has come again for Fashion Week Cleveland. I had the pleasure of asking local designer and Kent State University alum Lisa Malanij a few questions. Malanij's designs will be featured at Fashion Week Cleveland's Cleveland Fashion Show on Saturday, June 19.

Malanij is innovative, unique, and passionate. Pulling inspiration from a multitude of sources - for example, the gray skies of Cleveland or her favorite iconic designers and rockers - Malanij’s creations are polished, sophisticated, and while sometimes daring, completely wearable. 

Read on to hear about Malanij's experiences, see a few of her favorite things, and listen to her vision for Cleveland to become a destination for all things creative.

What made you decide that you wanted to be a fashion designer?
The need to have different clothes from everyone else. In high school I would get mad if anyone had the same outfit or shirt as me. I would usually modify things so my garment was a tad different. Often I would see clothes I liked in magazines and not be able to find anything like it in stores. Instead of depending and waiting for those things to come to stores, I wanted to make those things myself.

Which current designer is your greatest influence today? Which designers from the past do find yourself going back to for inspiration?
Alexander McQueen was always my favorite. His collections from the late 90s were what made me want to be a designer – that fashion could be art too. I was very sad when I found out he passed away. No doubt his fashion legacy will live on.

Nicolas Ghesquière, creative director of Balenciaga, [is someone] I really admire. 

Romain Kremer’s menswear is just so weird it’s awesome, and how could I forget Rick Owens!

As for classics, Thierry Mugler, Pierre Cardin, Elsa Schiaparelli – collaborated with surrealist Salvador Dali, how cool is that. I am sure if Dali and Schiaparelli were alive today they would be collaborating with Gaga.

My new favorite designers are Katie Eary, Katie Gallagher, Fanny & Jessy, Asher Levine, and Reed & Rader.

Are you more of a fan of deconstructed looks or clean, cut and polished?
My design aesthetics are clean, polished, minimal and modern, with a dash of futurism. However I can do deconstructed too. My opinion is you must learn first how to construct to deconstruct.

What is the one accessory you cannot live without?
Lately it’s this silver and black rosary I got from one of the Topshops in London.

What is your favorite beauty product?
I love my matte grey nail polish from American Apparel. I also I am a huge Urban Decay fan, and lately I am loving their Lip Envy lip stain. Since I have lip rings, wearing regular lipstick is a pain, but the lip stain stays on for the whole night!

What is your least favorite trend of the moment, and what is your favorite?
Least favorite: Leggings as pants. I love leggings, but not when they are worn as pants. My rule is only wear leggings if the shirt or dress I wear hits past the crotch and butt. I even have a rhyme for it, “NO-NO-NO-NO No one wants to see camel toe.”

On the Fence: Floral print denim. We all remember having a pair of floral print denims via Barbie’s sister Skipper and Saved by the Bell. I made a bet it was only a matter of time they’d bring those back. I was right!

Favorite: I like the dark monochrome backlash countering the neon splurge of the last years. I’m feeling the whole goth/post punk vibe coming around again.

Undercuts! A haircut where the back or the side of the head is buzzed and the rest is left long. I’m currently sporting one to show my love of the style.

Matte grey nail polish and eye shadow. Grey looks edgy and smashing, and rare to find in stores. I also am a fan of this salmon color popping up.

Who are your top five style icons and why?

1. David Bowie (is god) – He has been able to create trends and morph as the trends change, always staying on top of the game, never behind musically and fashionably. 

2. Shirley Manson – alt rock front girl of the band, Garbage. The only natural redhead I think is totally gorgeous. She was and is my #1 girl role model.

3. Lady Gaga – she’s doing what Bowie did in the 70s, the performance shock and awe. Except she is wearing McQueen, Jeremy Scott, Thierry Mugler and so on, pushing the fashion and pop culture boundaries while setting the bar for other visual artists.

4. Paige Haley – In the late 90s there was a synthrock band called Orgy. They were ever so fashionable, futuristic and beautiful. I wanted to look like them; I wanted my boyfriends to look like them, I wanted to party with them. Little did I know all three things would come true.

5. Chris Corner – singer of the Sneaker Pimps and IAMX. Chris was always 2 years ahead of the trends. Londoners just are.

I love my rock stars as fashion icons. I am a strong believer that fashion influences music, which influences film and literature, which influences art – it's all relative and one big influential cycle. Musicians influence my fashion way more than designers do. Also, now that I think of it, most of my style icons are men. 

Cleveland is not known to be a fashion mecca, even though there is a ton of art, culture, style and fashion here. What do you think needs to be done in order for the fashion scene to receive more recognition? Does living in/being from Cleveland ever influence your work?
Cleveland has the talent in abundance. There needs to be a unified movement to associate with the city. Ohio also has some really great design schools in the Cleveland area such as Virginia Marti and Kent State University, as well as Cleveland Institute of Art. It would be great if business owners, press, grads, students, artists and designers alike collaborated together to showcase their talent. Blogs like Fashionably Cleveland and ‘Tis Cleveland are doing an excellent job showcasing fashion talent and opportunities in Cleveland.

As for influence, I grew up in a house in Ohio City with an excellent view of the lake and downtown skyline. These grey skies, the cityscape and lakefront view to watch clouds and storms come in gives me the gritty yet sleek aesthetic I would not have developed if I would have lived anywhere else.

When you are uninspired, how do you pull yourself out of it?
Usually I have too much inspiration, which is a good thing! I have stacks of magazine tears and folders on my computer of reference material saved up for that moment I may need them for inspiration. Mostly I am influenced by books, art/artists, films, etc. - things that are not fashion, which the challenge is to translate those inspirations into a collection with your own twist. 

If I am uninspired, I go on the internet and submerge myself in fashion blogs or online websites, or go through my stacks of magazine tears or files on my computer. I go to events and concerts to see what people are wearing, [go to] the library and browse books, look around in nature, or window shop to research the trends. Inspiration is all around!

Tell me about CIRCLE.SQUARE and Girl Factor.
CIRCLE.SQUARE is the name of my S/S 2010 collection, based on the shapes of circles and squares. I love cut-outs, layering, color blocking. It may turn into a line rather than a seasonal collection title. My desire was to make not-so-basic basics which could be worn unisex, and arranged and layered multiple ways, inspired by street style and look books. 

I got the idea from listening to the band, Circlesquare. I thought what if I did a streetwear collection based on just the circle and square shapes? The rest is history. 

Girl Factor is the brainchild of Alana Mileras, who owns and manages the record label Refugee Entertainment, LLC. Girl Factor is edgy yet feminine clothes for girls with style and ambition. Girl Factor will debut its first collection Spring 2011.

Where can your pieces be purchased? 
Hopefully after Fashion Week Cleveland I will be selling some pieces on my Etsy store. If there is interest and things go well, larger production will ensue. It would be awesome to eventually have my stuff sold at local Cleveland area boutiques such as Room Service or Brigade. 

What is your favorite medium to work with?
Knits and knitwear. Leather, neoprene, matte vinyl and my imagination. 

Tell me a story from backstage at New York Fashion Week.
Working backstage as a dresser for R. Scott French during Fall 2008, we not only were assigned to change the menswear models into their outfits, but Bravo was also taping backstage, since R. Scott French’s show was one of the Make Me a Super Model challenges. We got to meet the men models from the show. I got to meet Ben DiChiara, whom I had a huge crush on. 

The model I was in charge of dressing was his first runway show, and my first backstage. During the second outfit change his zipper got stuck and it was an awkward couple of seconds yanking the zipper of this guy’s crotch, knowing we only had seconds for him to back on the runway. I didn’t want the show to be ruined because I couldn’t zip a zipper in time. Embarrassing, awkward, fun times. 

Where are your favorite places to shop?
In Ohio: H&M, Forever 21, Metropark, Room Service, Brigade. 

In New York: Topshop, Uniqlo, Buffalo Exchange, Beacon’s Closet…everywhere

Sometimes I think people get hung up on expensive labels. However, if you are stylish, you can make a good outfit from shopping anywhere, adding your own personal flair.

What do you love about Cleveland, and what do you hope to see happen here?
Cleveland is bursting with creative and artistic talent, especially in the last few years. I would love to see it become a hot spot notorious for the creative scene, much like Portland. We need other famous people from here besides LeBron.

Tell me some of your favorite fashion sites/blogs. – Best inspiration for street fashion; an exclusive network of user submitted outfits for everyone to view. This site shows you how people are wearing the clothes, rather than editorials fancy styling. - If I could marry a magazine, I would marry Dazed and Confused. Their digital site will feature cool stuff way before it hits the masses, including awesome monthly playlists. – Dark fashion in elegant ways. – Combination of pop culture and fashion. – Posts articles on trends way before trends become trendy.

What are you most excited about for being a featured designer for Fashion Week Cleveland?
The experience and opportunity to support and show my debut collection in my own hometown, and hopefully to meet like-minded designers in the Cleveland area.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010