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Fashioning the Future

Since debuting his line of custom gowns six years ago, Borris Powell’s name has been synonymous with Chicago fashion. Now the go-to designer for numerous socialites and media personalities is expanding his label to include ready-to-wear, handbags and even menswear. We caught up with Powell in his new West Loop showroom (400 N. May St., Suite 201, 773.857.5585, borrispowell.com) to discuss his burgeoning empire and the importance of learning not to say “no.”

Designer Borris Powell in his new West Loop studio and showroom

What sparked this growth into ready-to-wear and accessories? In the beginning, I had a bit of tunnel vision. I only wanted to be known as a dressmaker, like a Christian Dior or a Valentino. As I’ve grown as a business person, I realized I could only go so far with that. In my heart, I’m still a gown guy. But as a businessman, I know it can’t be based just on that. You need to do more.

How did the leap to menswear come about? I was driven by my womenswear, by the dresses I would dream of. Then one day about two years ago I sewed my first men’s piece and I thought, ‘Well, why don’t I listen to this?’ I called up a friend who’d been after me for five years to make him something and said, ‘I’m ready.’ It’s just snowballed from there. Next year I’ll launch my first men’s ready-to-wear collection.

How do you feel you have evolved as a designer? I now know that inspiration can come from anywhere. I’ve learned not to say no. Before, I was more concerned that I didn’t copy anyone, but if you’re a true artist, you’re going to have your own aesthetic.