Designing Woman | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Designing Woman 

Inside Rebecca Fenton's haunted head for Utah Fashion Week.

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click to enlarge NAOMI LEU
  • Naomi Leu

On occasion, a designer will claim to be inspired by steampunk, sci-fi and fantasy, only to reveal that the work is more akin to yet another amateur cosplayer's online modeling portfolio. While there's nothing wrong with cosplay, it's not fashion in the true sense of the word—rather, it's what Tim Gunn would call "costumey" in a polite tone that conceals an ocean of derision. That being said, it's a rarity to find a fashion designer like Rebecca Fenton, who can successfully capture the essence of those oft-misappropriated inspirations and weave them into runway-ready high fashion.

When we spoke on the phone, Fenton had sequestered herself within the confines of her home studio in Farmington in preparation for Utah Fashion Week. Prepping a collection for Utah's most prestigious fashion event is hectic, but she was happy to carve out some time in her busy schedule to chat about this year's event. "I'm dong the avant-garde show [Saturday, March 18], and I'm hoping these pieces are going to be wearable art," she says. "Of course, they're going to have my mysterious, darker edge—it's going to get weird!"

Fenton's unique perspective comes from the fact that sewing, fashion and modeling have been a fixture in her life since she was very young. "I have been sewing since I was 7, and I've always had my own offbeat aesthetic. Nothing ever interested me as far as current fashions or what was already in stores, so I started sewing for myself," she says. She and her sisters were accustomed to wearing their mother's handmade dresses, and fashion design was simply a way of life in her family. "My grandmother was a fashion model, and my mom was a child model—fashion was in our blood. I grew up around it, and just learned to design from osmosis," she says.

Fenton channeled her creative passion into several different outlets—including, but not limited to, learning how to pilot a helicopter. "Life is just too freaking short," she says. "The world is an interesting place—I find passion in different things and just go for it." Since 1997, she's operated Haunted Head Clothing, an Etsy shop that has helped her work reach an international audience. Fenton eschews mass production on principle, and she'll usually only make one or two identical pieces before moving on to something new. "I love one-of-a-kind and custom designs—anything that's dramatic and mysterious," she says. "I also like a little bit of sexy, but nothing over the top."

It's her penchant for designing fashion for "mysterious, fantastic and strong women," as she puts it, that got her involved with Utah Fashion Week. Two years ago, when the event was known as Provo Fashion Week, event organizers asked Fenton to be a part of the show. "I think 'exposure' is sometimes a dirty word in this industry, but it's extremely beneficial," she says. "Utah Fashion Week does a great job at marketing their designers, and I've always enjoyed working with them."

While the avant-garde show takes place late in the week, several designers in addition to Fenton are ready to present work at other events focused on swimwear, urban and bridal. "You can expect to see a number of local designers presenting their collections in a bunch of different categories," Fenton says. "It's fun, exciting, energetic—if you like creative people, this is a great place to go and mingle."

As soon as Utah Fashion Week wraps up, Fenton will be busy preparing for SLUG Magazine's 28th anniversary fashion show on Saturday, March 25. "After that, it's pretty much business as usual," she says. "I'll be looking at putting a few designs into production—not massive production, but to the point where they're being sold in shops around the world again."

Despite the obligatory allure of fashion destinations like New York or Los Angeles, Fenton has chosen to help establish a beachhead of local fashion here in Utah. "L.A. and New York don't need any more artists and designers," she says. "I think Utah is actually a hub of creativity. Our fashion community runs the gamut of talent and interests—I don't think you can pin it down to just one thing. Utah hasn't molded just one type of designer."

For those up-and-coming fashion designers that are hesitant to jump into the game, Fenton is an excellent example of someone who has made her environment into a product of herself and not the other way around. "Keep going for it," she says. "It's definitely something that can be done and done well. Just be willing to adapt and grow, because it'll all come with time."

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