Photography: Katrina Wittkamp
A metalsmith, adjunct professor, lecturer, and transcontinental traveler, Gillion Carrara has observed a few things about personal style. As director of the Fashion Resource Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (37 S. Wabash Ave., room 1008; 312-899-5169), Carrara oversees a collection that includes some 1,400 fashion publications, scholarly texts, and videos, plus nearly 300 designer garments and accessories. This unique position informs her work as a metalsmith, which involves rendering organic materials like bone and wood into functional objects and jewelry (1, 2, 3 below). With her architect husband, Alfonso, Carrara often travels between workrooms in Chicago and Tuscany. “We go back and forth effortlessly,” she says of her suitcase lifestyle. “The same way most people go to and from work.”
“For years, I have worn very short hair and large black eyewear [a vintage pair by the designer Emmanuelle Khan], which have become my identifying trademarks. I think the basis for style is your presence, which begins with a healthy mind and body. When you go to the gym, when you study or practice what makes you feel good, you look good. What’s great style? A smile, a stride, a great profile.”
“Materials such as bone, horn, ivory, ebony, and briar root. In addition to being difficult to acquire, it’s fascinating to learn about their composition and history. I’m also always drawn to architecture, design, poetry, histories of dress, new music, and things Japanese or Italian, two cultures that hold immense reference for me.”
“It’s an Italian tradition to first select the best fabric and the most complimentary fit. I try to remember those basics, in addition to simplicity and good tailoring. Those are ideals. But sometimes passion takes over. Sometimes I go into a store-Robin Richman, June Blaker, Blake-and see a pair of shoes. If I love them, they fit.”
“Bittersweet on West Belmont is one of the few civilized public spaces in the city; my Pilates classes at the Lincoln Park Athletic Club; a facial or a haircut at Genacelli Salon on Sheffield; visits to the Arts Club of Chicago, the Block Museum of Art, or the Renaissance Society.” On traveling fashionably . . . “Always bring a minimal selection of dress. Let’s face it: if you forget something, you can always buy what you need. But always bring a foldup suitcase for objects you find along the way. Like twigs.”
On her reliance on Fed Ex . . .
“I buy a lot of raw materials-horn, bone, and skins-from butchers and hunters in Italy. They are considered debris, and difficult to transport through the airlines. I just FedEx everything back to myself.”
Night table reading
“Ezra Pound: Selected Cantos [New Directions Press] (4); two issues of the Belgian periodical A Magazine, one featuring Hussein Chalayan and the other guest edited by Martin Margiela; The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell, by Aldous Huxley; Diary of an Unknown: Jean Cocteau, by Jean Cocteau; Fashion and Surrealism, by Richard Martin.”
The last five things she bought
Handmade shoes by Erick Geer Wilcox; a deconstructed sweater (5) by the local designer Katrin Schnabl; a collection of nine red framed butterflies (6) from June Blaker, for her husband; real tree leaves stitched with red thread by the artist Judith Brotman, which Carrara displays on a white wall with a single straight pin; and a vintage Laurie Anderson DVD.