Maria TenHave-Chapman, A Fashion Designer In The Making

WHEN YOU LOOK AT FASHION MODELS—say, in magazines, on posters at airports, at bus-stops, or even on the television—what stands out the most? is it their smile, is it the way that they’ve positioned their bodies, or is it what they’re wearing? If you need some time to think that through, no problem, take as long as you like. In the meantime, I will share with you the one thing that has stood out to me the most. And that one thing is; the lacking of clothes. Before I continue any further, let me just say that I am quite aware that some of you might interpret the latter in a dirty way—in fact, I can imagine some of you right now, with tongue in cheek, asking yourselves: ‘what type of magazines is the author looking at?’

Because I have a sense of humor, I will not fault you for laughing at my questionable observations. This is a judgement-free zone. But for those of you, whose minds did not automatically go to some dirty place, congratulations you are not human. Being human is knowing when to catch ironies, and allowing yourself to laugh when such discoveries are made. If you aren’t able to do that, then what Henry Beecher, a congregationalist and avid abolitionist, once wrote—-may suit you well; i.e., “A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs. It’s jolted by every pebble on the road.”

Now then, and if I may continue, here is what I meant about “the lacking of clothes;” currently, in our American culture, there seems to be a proliferation of more nudity and fewer fabrics. And my concern with this is, that there is nothing special about our naked human bodies—-namely because we all have the same parts. However, what does make us different from the rest of our human counterparts, is the clothing that we wear. It gives us a sense of identity; a kind of expressive utility, and a distinctive style—-that exists nowhere else but on our persons’

In view of this, and what I would like to see more of, is a push towards less nudity and more fabrics. And I’m not just talking about any kind of fabric, but fabrics that can push our restrictive understanding of expressions into a woven cosmopolitanism of electicity. It is paramount that we, the American public, advocate for such a push, so that we can stop living in a society where “We undress men and women,” wrote Pierre Cardin, an Italian-born French designer, ’cause we don’t want to “….Dress them anymore.”

Although that sounds like an impossible task for someone to advocate for, still, I think that it can be done. When the right person comes along—someone with passion, an air of electicty, and unfettered reveries—-the change and reversing of an undressed culture will be swift and revolutionary. Now then, the question becomes; not when, but where will that next advocate and visionary come from? In my opinion, I believe that person will come, not from abroad—like Italy or France—but here, at home, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

19-year-old, Maria TenHave-Chapman, from Grand Rapids, Michigan is on the trajectory of becoming a fashion designer. Her unique and visually-tasteful fashion sense is truly something special. The young 19-year-old has been modeling for over a year now; is currently enrolled at an Art and Fashion school at Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University, and not too long ago, just had her first-ever successful Top-and-Skirt design showcased at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market. The theme for the event was centered around nature and personal growth. And, although students were usually held back by some of the strict fashion-course requirements throughout the semester, this time, however, each student were given the freedom to freely showcase their creativities.

Maria’s dress, if I may quickly describe to you, was uniquely-simple, but yet, aesthetically-refreshing; it’s length, draped eloquently from the top to just inches above the knees. The color of the dress itself had a rich deep blue color, like an ocean on a brisk, windless afternoon. And all over the dress—-predominantly on the bottom and then fewer on the top—-were, what appeared to be tiny scrunched-up clouds. If you’re having a tough time imagining that, no worries, I will provide you with a visual at the end of this piece.

My passion has been and always will be fashion. For the longest time, I had a sense of shame about pursuing fashion because it’s seen as a shallow and unintelligent industry to be a part of. [But] within the last year, I’ve learned to take pride in what I’m pursuing because I know it’s what I’m meant to do, ” wrote Maria, via email. “I’m confident that I’ll be successful, it might take quite a while to be successful but I’ll get there.

Since I was little,” she added, “how I dress myself has always been about self-expression. I’m a quiet and introverted person when first meeting new people, so I’ve liked being able to show a part of myself through clothing and make an impression that way. I’ve never really cared about what other people thought, I dress for myself and myself only. I’ll wear whatever makes me laugh, or makes me feel confident or cool.

I find it interesting that Maria initially thought that the pursuit of fashion was a kind of exercise in futility—-Because I’ve always viewed it to be the total opposite. In my view, I think it’s a selfless, intelligent, and noble pursuit. What other industries, if but only a few, can you find talented, passionate, and gifted individuals pressed with a task to not only express their creativities but to also clothe the world in the same process?

With that said, I really don’t think that she meant what she said in a literal way—-I think she was just trying to be modest. It is a tendency for artists that are introverted to be humble and unflashy. And there is nothing wrong with that. What I find interesting, though, is that, those exact same artists are the ones who end up revolutionizing the world. Take, Pierre Cardin, for example; throughout his career people always described him as a meek, kind, and deferential person. But that didn’t mean that he wasn’t sociable—no, and in fact, his upbeat and inspiring personality often attracted many people to him. Moreover, and the point that I am trying to make, is that this same deferential individual was also the first person to put his brand on his clothing. Today, and because of Pirre Cardin, you will not find any pair of shoes, dresses, T-shirts, watches, etc, without the brand of the designer on it.

“…I don’t accept failure. I will do what it takes to be successful and I know I have it in me to be successful (that’s mostly regarding being a designer, not modeling),” she said, via email. “I won’t cut corners and I won’t step on others to get to where I want to be. The best part of modeling is being able to meet everyone that I have. Every photographer I meet is so unique and genuine. Being around creative people encourages me to be creative and encourages me to push myself to create. The more I create the more I will learn. I don’t see myself being a model in the future because it’s not what I feel passionate about, although I love doing it.

Maria pointed out that being around creative people “encourages” her to be creative, and that the more she creates the more that she will learn, but I wonder, where does she draw her inspirations from? “I find a lot of inspiration in old movies, fine art, and the ’60s,” she tells me. “[Basically,] I’m inspired by anyone with a strong sense of individuality.”

It’s obvious that Maria has what it takes to succeed, and knows how to draw inspiration from the things around her, but, and aside from her relentless drive and creativity, she contends that she’s just a typical girl from the West Side of Michigan—-who loves being photographed around Grand Rapids, or at her families lake. When I asked her to tell me—and her fans—something interesting about herself that most people wouldn’t know, she replied; “Hahaha my fans, because I have so many. I feel like I’m not too interesting of a person, I have a pet bunny who’s four years old. I named her Ingrid after the singer Ingrid Michaelson, mostly because I couldn’t think of a name for her that I didn’t associate with someone I disliked lol. 

For Maria, Detroit, Michigan may be a good place to live—-“I love having all four seasons in Michigan, the change of season allows for a change of mind and a change of wardrobe,” she said—–but it is not where Maria wants to end up. Maria has bigger goals for herself. “I’d like to live in New York for a bit because that’s where everything, fashion-wise, seems to happen.” she writes. “The type of success I want for myself and my life won’t be found by just staying in West Michigan all my life. I’m content to be here for now, though. I’ll try to intern for some companies and bust my ass to do creative and original things. Those will help me figure out my place in the huge fashion industry. I know once I find my niche I’ll be able to thrive.”

Most people do not know this, but Detroit, Michigan is well-known for its fashion extravaganza. Every year they put together a sell-out, annual “Fash Bash” event that has consistently raised more than $4 million dollars for the Detroit Institute of Art. Also, “The Renaissance City,” one of the many nicknames of Detroit, Michigan, has another annual event that draws a massive crowd of people and sponsors each year; The Michigan Fashion Week. “Michigan Fashion Week is a company designed to showcase and highlights Michigan’s prestigious talent in the fields of fashion design, photography, art and modeling, looking to present their businesses and talents in a professional manner,” they wrote, on their website. “We create opportunities of invaluable exposure, networking and aligning them with experience professionals and advocates in the industry and in business. We are now in our fifth year and have had 4 very successful, highly attended inaugural Fashion Weeks and have reached and touched over 1200 people each year.”

And in addition to that, “The Renaissance City” has produced a lot of local and famous fashion designers—like, Anna Sui, Adriana Pavon, and Bonnie Foley. One of the amazing highlights in Anna Sui’s career was that she somehow got singer and songwriter, Mick Jagger to wear her men’s designer suit on Saturday Night Live. Adriana Pavon and her heavily-influenced Mexican garments and fashion line won, the Fashion in Detroit Local Designer Award back in 2010. And then for Bonnie Foley, with her “Christian Larue” fashion line, has caught the attention of international designers in the fashion industry. And according to a statement on her website, “Bonnie is poised and ready to expand her label to an international level.”

Given this little well-known fact about “The Renaissance City, I think that before Maria sets sail for the Big Apple, perhaps she should consider presenting her unique fashion style to the many different fashion events around Michigan. Those venues could use her strong sense of determinism, passion, and creativity. And I must stress, that although Maria is young and still has a lot to learn, it is my belief, that she has the potential to someday become someone as original, prodigious, and divergent as Pierre Cardin, Anna Sui, or Adriana Pavon. Her funny and engaging personality, coupled with her unique fashion perspectives, and drive for success are solid precursors for someday achieving the latter.

Here is the photo of Maria’s dress that I previously described:

To find out more about Maria and to see some of her amazing photoshoots, look for her on Instagram, @maeriea

Main photo was taken by Madison Heetderks. Check out her work, here @m4di_s0n

Don’t forget to click the following link to read about our last Weekly Inspiring Person; Brittany Herbert, a young aspiring law student at the University At Buffalo

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