The Art of Shopping

Our writer explores the age-old question of quantity versus quality. 

Why spend upward of $200 on a single craft garment when I can come home from H&M or Target with half a dozen trendy dresses for the same amount? It wasn’t a question I was inclined to ask — until I happened upon an array of tempting garments at the Palm Beach Fine Craft Show.

Experts observe that the artisans often inspire mainstream designers who pick up ideas and copy them at higher prices. “Look at Oscar de la 

Renta’s patchworks and Dennis Basso’s recent ethnic collection,” observes Museum of Art and Design Chairman Emeritus Barbara Tober.

Unlike an off-the-rack frock, wearing one of the originals makes you “feel different,” Tober says.

The first irresistible that caught my eye was a floor-length ruffley “Tworling (sic) Fou Fou” created by award-winning Starr Hagenbring, who cuts, pieces, stitches and paints textiles into wonderfully movable embellishments. A cross between a scarf and a floor-length vest, a colorful Fou Fou can transform a simple black camisole and tights into a very respectable evening outfit. $295.

Starr Hagenbring. 54 West 85th Street, 2B, New York, NY 10024. 415-902-9302. starrhagenbring@nyc.rr.com.

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Another “dresser up” for plain black is the metal mesh vests and shrugs fashioned by California artist Elaine Unzicker, who came up with the idea of making jewelry out of the “chain mail” used in shark-resistant SCUBA diving suits. One day when a client asked, “Could you do a vest?” Elaine devised a method of interlocking the chains link by link. This painstaking “meditative process,” she says, results in one-of-a-kind slinky tops. $950-$2400.

Unzicker Design. 1107 South Rice Road, Ojai, CA 93023.  805-646-4877. www.unzickerdesign.com.

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Shu Lu’s “Magic Circle” coat is more than eight garments in one. Starting with literally a circle of wool felt or interlock knit, the former Parsons and FIT student cuts out additional circles, creating cape-like geometric shawls that can be worn loose, draped around the body, slung over the shoulder, wrapped tight — transforming into blouses, capes, skirts, coats and backless dresses. $700-$1500.

Shu Lu. 4 Keph Drive, #7, Amherst, NY 14228. 716-471-4638. www.sju@tx.rr.com.

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Jeffrey Weiss’s take on conventional outerwear includes comfortable rain slickers made from soft fabric that is rubberized and then jauntily decorated in colorful reverse face appliqué patters such as the “Splash” with rain drops falling down to a perforated puddle. $800-$1450.

Jeffrey Weiss Designs. 2938 Fairfield Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06605. 203-333-7733. www.jeffreyweissdesigns.com

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Working on a “merrow” machine in her Minneapolis studio, Karen Bernthal reconstructs tee shirts that transform the hidden seams into “squiggly embroidery,” creating items of texture and visual tension without superfluous embellishment. $85-$100.

Kirke Design Studio. 1509 Marshall Street NE, Minneapolis, MN 55413. 612-379-256. www.kirkedesignstudio.com.

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Elyse Allen has devised a process that uses several steps to fasten rhinestones, nailheads and Swarovski crystals onto fabrics that she transforms into scarves, gloves, hats and sweaters, which “sparkle plenty” yet survive washing by hand. $475-$890.

Elyse Allen Textiles. 195 Chrystie Street, Suite 603C, New York, NY 10002.  917 626 5617.  www.elyseallentextiles.com.

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Working out of a one-person “messy” studio and using antique chain-stitch machines from the hat industry to sew the braid together, Diane Harty comes up with fine-braid hats ranging from straw cloches and visor caps to elaborate flowered chapeaux. $118-$438.

Diane Harty Millinery. 7th and Main, Frisco, CO 90443. 970-390-7592. www.dianeharty.com.

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Innovative techniques, time-consuming handiwork and creative ingenuity factor into the prices on these garments. Jeffrey Weiss patented his rubberizing process, it takes Elaine Unzicker 24-30 hours to interlock a vest. Some artisans, like hat braider Diane Harty, are preserving laborious old-fashioned techniques that might otherwise be lost.

Gravitating to one of these timeless, unique artworks is a way of expressing that you too are special, one of a kind.

Editor’s Note: Sharon King Hoge specializes in consumer and travel journalism both in print and on radio and television. The former Consumer Reporter at WBZ-TV and producer/host of “The Sharon King Show” in Boston, she reported on ABC network news, hosted “The Cookbook Kitchen” on the Food Channel and participated in the launch of CNBC.  A Contributing Editor at Condé Nast Traveler and Global Traveler magazines, her writing has appeared in Forbes FYI and Forbes Executive Woman, SELF, Ladies Home Journal,  National Review.  A former columnist for both AOL and the New York Daily News, she was Calendar Editor for the Martha Stewart Living website and is Editor at Large of the three regional Cottages and Gardens shelter magazines.

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