A Local Designer Dishes about Her Work

Liz Bourgeois had a dream career. She did costume design in New York and Los Angeles before children. Then she and her husband relocated to Columbus in 2009. Once here, she launched Team Chipmunk, which includes a line of eco-friendly clothing for women and children often using recycled fabrics.

A native of Michigan’s upper peninsula, Boureois attended Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo and then New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts to earn an MFA degree. Locally she has worked with Denison University and this year is working with Wright State.

You recently designed uniforms for employees at the Mariott in the LeVeque building. Was this an unusual gig for you?

It was unusual in my Columbus experience, but actually fairly normal in my overall career. During my early career in New York, I worked in design studios where we created the uniforms for Mary Kay cosmetics saleswomen, United Airlines flight crews, and even the opening ceremony uniforms for the U.S. Open. 

What other interesting projects do you have underway right now?

I just finished designing the costumes for a Dolly Parton musical (about Parton’s life), called 9 to 5. We've just begun working on some new wardrobe looks for the Experience Columbus marketing team.

I'm in the conceptual design stage of the theatrical costumes for a very fun production of Edwin Drood, and a kind of dreamy version of the Grapes of Wrath. I’m working on the 2018 spring line as well (for Team Chipmunk). I'm heading to Guatemala in a few weeks, and super excited to check out Mayan textiles. 

You launched Team Chipmunk in 2010. Can you explain why you decided to launch in Columbus?

My husband and I were living in Los Angeles, working non-stop, and wanted  to find a quieter, more mindful, place to live, work and raise our children. We wanted to be a bit closer to our families back East, and I did not want to be anywhere with 100-degree temperatures anymore!  

I knew that I would need to take a break from theatre and film design, because of distance, and had a few clothing line concepts in my head. We weighed various "creative capitals" as places to re-root. We looked at crime rates, cost of living, quality of arts organizations, schools, etc. Columbus won out, over Raleigh, Austin, Chicago, etc.

Do you ever miss your costume-designing days in L.A. or New York?

Not really, because I still do it here and there. Now I can be very choosy about what projects I take on and who I work with, so it's better really. I miss the directness and pace of New York, and the multiculturalism of Los Angeles. Sometimes I miss walking out my door and strolling to Central Park. I definitely miss being able to walk into the Met on a day off, or just popping into a Broadway show. My kids miss Dylan's candy bar.

I do love gallery hop and the new Columbus Museum of Art though! 

What's your favorite era for design?

That's hard! I really do find beauty in every period. I love Italian Renaissance textiles and pattern. I like Edwardian pintucking, and Art Deco beading. I've always liked ‘30s and ‘40s dress shapes, too. They're really flattering, timeless and just smart.

Also, 1930s menswear was about as good as it ever got. I have a bit of wanderlust, and I love Moroccan print motifs, African wax resists, etc.  I was also raised by hippies, so I generally have a soft spot for ‘70s grooviness. I like '50s Claire McCardell and '70s Yves Saint Laurent. I like clean mid-century shapes for my home, but mix it up with more bohemian textiles and objects from places we travel. 

Were you one of those kids who liked to sew from scraps collected from remnant baskets in fabric stores? Did you make up your own designs even as a child?

No, I didn't sew at all as a kid. I was a complete disappointment to my middle school home economics teacher. I was the only girl who didn't know how to cook or sew. I actually had a pretty big chip on my shoulder about sewing, until college. I saw it as domestic, and didn't think it was something that independent women did. I had no idea, of course. 

I always drew people and clothes though, copied Dior ads, comic book drawings, etc. I recently found a sketch book from when I must have been 7 or 8 years old, where I was using colored pencils to design outfits for Betty and Veronica to wear. I had sketchbooks full of portraits and people.

When I went to college, I wanted to be a scenic or production designer. I thought that I wanted to design environments with paint, wood and steel. We were required to spend time working in all of the theatre shops, and I ended up being placed in costumes early on. I loved learning about the different types of fabrics, how they were made, how they drape and hang differently.

Once I saw clothing as a form of storytelling and expression, sewing as a form of engineering and construction, and garments as pieces of architecture, I understood how beautiful and complicated the whole garment trade was. 

What's your best advice for a wanna-be fashion designer?

Go to galleries and museums. Observe people on the street. Travel. Draw. Feel fabrics. Look at the insides of clothes. 

Sometimes you design for wedding parties or for mothers of the bride or groom. What's that like?

It's pretty cool to get to design someone's life event. When I come up with my own lines, I create a story and a girl, to design for. When I work with private clients, I'm helping them articulate their vision of themselves. I think a lot about who they are, what they like, how they move, what makes them confident, etc. I also focus on the event itself - what is the location, climate, social strata, who are the people, etc.

Weddings are definitely pieces of ritual, as is theatre, and weddings are sort of coming together of tribes. Everyone is worried about what the other family will be wearing. Everyone wants to put their best foot forward, establish themselves in this new family narrative, show off their assets, but not go too far. I help them navigate through that, as well as some of their general anxiety about the event. I was a bride once, so I get it. It's definitely more than just a dress. My clients are really lovely people.