Annie Novotny
The owner Annie Novotny: a jacket by her label, Frei Designs (below)

After four years of wholesaling her eco-friendly line Frei Designs, Annie Novotny hit a snag. The economic downturn meant that some boutiques had shuttered, while others were ordering more conservatively. “For the first time, I had a lot of overstock,” Novotny says.

She took the overstock from her spring collection, created a few more garments, and, in August, turned the front half of her Pilsen workshop into a store. Meanwhile, interest in her custom work—particularly wedding dresses—was growing. “I needed an atelier where people could come see me,” she says.

Jacket by Frei Designs

Novotny’s fall line, inspired by Victorian mourning photos, is not as downbeat as it may sound. The Gothic influence is in the palette, such as a brown wrap skirt ($220) with a tiered detail, a batik shell with a sheer gray overlay ($190), a cap-sleeve silver tunic ($230), and a wool melton coat with a silk lining ($695). For holiday events, she offers a black organic wool wrap ($525) and a silk chiffon metallic top ($230).

The entire collection adheres to Novotny’s eco-friendly philosophy. Her raw materials are sustainable and fair trade; she uses only natural dyes, and the end results are locally produced in Chicago. “The consumer is supporting an ecosystem of conscientious creation,” she says. But, she adds, “the line is fashion forward as well. It’s not just a big hemp sack. I like to say it’s ‘not your mother’s hemp.’”

A graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (where she now teaches design classes), Novotny, 28, moved to New York after graduation and worked for the designer Gary Graham. She came home a few years later to work for the Bucktown shop owner Robin Richman. “I started to design some pieces, and she let me sell on consignment,” Novotny says. At Richman’s insistence, she started her own line.

In addition to her own work, Novotny carries a selection of accessories from local artists and restored Danish modern furniture, which she sells on consignment. (An Eames rocking chair is $525.)

Besides being an avid participant in the 2nd Fridays Pilsen neighborhood walks, Novotny intends to fill the space with literary readings, music shows, and sewing workshops. “I plan to make the overhead work for me,” she says.

WHERE 818 W. 18th St.; 312-226-9000

PRICE RANGE Leather earrings for $12 up to a wool melton coat with a silk lining ($695)

EXCLUSIVES Everything is exclusive to the store except Chicago Honey Co-Op goods.

EXTRAS Novotny creates eco-friendly wedding gowns. Call first for a consultation.

PARKING Ample street parking

HOURS Friday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Thursday by appointment


Photography: Chris Lake