I walk into Heidi Herrman’s design studio and nostalgia crashes into me like a wave.
Her space, at 115 W. 18th St., sits in the old Arts Incubator, known as the Bauer before that. It’s just across the street from YJ’s Snackbar, Peggy Noland’s whimsical clothing shop and Birdies Panties. This is the block that made me love this town. Heidi creates her clothing right here, including her Kansas City-inspired dresses. And when I see her Western Auto Lofts dress, my heart beats double time.
It’s not the type of swoon you have at the shoe store when a pair of Puma Creepers catches your eye. This is a sentimental love. I have the feels for this design.
Because long before Power & Light, Middle of the Map Fest or streetcar desires, downtown was a desert. I was fresh out of college, new to the city, and I didn’t like it. But then I found First Fridays, the fashion scene and a fantasy of one day living in that Western Auto Lofts building. That sign used to light up the night, and me, with inspiration.
Back when the West 18th Street Fashion Show was a block party, Noland worked at Donna’s Dress Shop, and Baldwin Denim was yet to be a reality for Matt and Emily Baldwin, we were all young and passionate about the possibilities of our city.
Heidi’s dress, a knee-length, 1950s-inspired silhouette, with images of the Western Auto sign and cheeky pink and green filters, doesn’t just bring up the memories. It reminds me of where we are today.
Now that fashion show brings in thousands of people and designers from across the country. Noland runs another shop in Los Angeles and can count both Miley Cyrus and Rihanna as fans. Baldwin Denim was a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist. And Peregrine Honig has expanded Birdies into a movement.
Kansas City is no longer on the come-up. We aren’t in the middle of nowhere. We are at the center of everything.
And that is Heidi’s point. The Western Auto Lofts frock is among 10 of her designs to be displayed at the Historic Garment District Museum, a branch of the Kansas City Museum. The exhibit, “Fashioning Kansas City Icons: The Art & Inspiration of Heidi Herrman, Steve Gibson & Amina Marie Hood,” is a celebration of Kansas City.
“I want the looks to be personal to people,” says Heidi, 43, who is also merchandise manager at Omni Apparel in Grandview. “I want it to be something that brings up a memory. We all work hard, maybe too hard. And with this collection, it’s meant to be an escape to an inspiring place.”
She’s not exactly a hometown girl, though. Heidi’s more of a cool cousin. The Wichita native and Kansas State graduate spent over 20 years as a designer all over the world, eventually landing in New York, where she was a freelance sportswear designer. But about 10 years ago she decided to come back to the Midwest and join the Kansas City scene. Heidi is so inspired by our manufacturing roots that she is working with Rightfully Sewn, which provides seamstress training to at-risk women and works to bring more manufacturing back to Kansas City.
“What a perfect place to be,” she says. “The community embraces you. It’s an easier life, an easier place to exist. My creativity flows.”
So does the teamwork. Heidi’s dresses, seen last year at the West 18th Street Fashion Show and Kansas City Fashion Week, are a collaborative effort. Photographer Steve Gibson shot the images that would be turned into digitally printed fabric for Heidi to hand craft into cocktail dresses paying homage to Bartle Hall, Union Station, the Kauffman Center and more (most sell for $425-$750). Amina Hood of Amina Marie Millinery finished each look by designing and sewing intricate hats by hand.
This exhibit could be a defining moment in local fashion.
“The Kansas City Museum is delighted to collaborate with Heidi Herrman to celebrate Kansas City’s architectural and sculptural icons and to illuminate the history of the Garment District as well as the city’s current fashion industry,” says museum executive director Anna Marie Tutera.
Could we see more icons turned into fashion? Maybe. Heidi was inspired by the Kemper Museum spider and the Liberty Memorial. But they didn’t make the cut.
“It was hard to choose,” Heidi told me. “A lot of it is about my love for certain quirky things like the Moonliner” — the rocketship atop the old TWA headquarters (now Barkley advertising) in the Crossroads. “It’s one of my favorites and I really love it. I looked at hundreds of pictures of each icon, and when they are printed, the colors and angles change. A lot of work goes into the design.”
Her other fave: The Kansas City Star dress inspired by the press building. It took 80 hours to make.
“It will never be replicated because of the amount of engineering it took. It’s just jaw-dropping. It is my dream to have it on display there,” in our press building.
I’m going to go ahead and wish upon The Star that Heidi’s dream will come true.
“Fashioning Kansas City Icons: The Art & Inspiration of Heidi Herrman, Steve Gibson & Amina Marie Hood,” will be on view 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays from May 14 through July 16 at the Historic Garment District Museum, 801 Broadway. Admission is free. An opening reception will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, May 12; RSVP by emailing email@example.com.