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Elena Vélez sews scraps by hand and makes the woman of today

The core of the Elena Vélez brand is in the family workshops and the cold waters of Wisconsin. Her romantic gowns, in matte creams and sheer blacks, contrast with the roughness of the metal bars she molds into corsets and bras. It’s raw industrial design at its most sensual and a fresh expression of the Midwest in the New York and Los Angeles-centric American fashion scene. And yet the designer, who debuted at New York Fashion Week last fall, has ironically, if understandably, become a Hollywood favorite.

Last month, reggaeton singer Rosalía wore a sheer white woven PVC filament look from Vélez’s “Vessel” collection while filming a video for her album. motomommy, and was head-to-toe on Elena Vélez for her “Hentai” music video, which debuted on March 16. One look included a brown leather corset made in Velez’s hometown of Milwaukee with deconstructed parts of a welding apron.

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“In all honesty, the stardust chase can lead to a pretty cynical place, so I try to stay out of it,” says Velez. BAZAAR.COM. That said, the designer admits that “Rosalia has been a manifestation of years in the making.”

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Rosalía’s stylist, Caitlyn Martínez, was deep down her Instagram Explore rabbit hole when she ran into Vélez. “It’s an instinct,” Martinez says of finding the next designer to obsess over. “It’s like buying a painting for a specific room in your crib. You just know when it fits and contributes to the whole picture. Her designs fit the direction of the video very well.”

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Velez has also done looks for Kali Uchis, Grimes, Charli XCX, Arca, Kim Petras, Tinashe, Rico Nasty, and Caroline Polachek. Solange Knowles wore Vélez’s steel-boned bra for a shoot with Numéro Berlin, jane the virgin Actress Diane Guerrero wore a topless PVC harness from her Homecoming capsule collection “for no reason,” says the designer.

model styled by joe van o en elena velez

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Making haute couture from waste is Vélez’s specialty. The designer is inspired by her childhood, which she spent aboard industrial ships, traveling across the Great Lakes with her captain mother. That is why she often uses materials such as ship sails, ship ropes, and scrap metal in her pieces. That is why she dyes her dresses ivory with brown earth and tea water, and why her designs, while always delicate and feminine, reference the construction sites and manufacturing plants that first shaped to her idea of ​​femininity.

It’s a deconstructed, anti-beauty approach to lavish fashion, similar to what we saw at Rick Owens’ smoky fall 2022 show, or Yohji Yamamoto’s perfectly chaotic fall ready-to-wear collection.

model styled by joe van o en elena velez

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At his second show, which took place at the Freehand Hotel during New York’s Fall 2022 season in February, Vélez presented one of his most technical projects to date: the Morph Epoch boot, made in collaboration with Aion Prosthetics, a Midwest-based company specializing in machinery and robotics. The team, who met Vélez in a study of collaborators that she has been presenting seasonally during the last year, tells BAZAAR that the shoe, which somewhat resembles an astronaut boot, was a “conceptual piece made to completely enclose the wearer” and to introduce “heavy industrial manufacturing into the fashion industry”. Made of PETG, a plastic-like substance, each had to be screwed around the foot with custom-made bolts and Milwaukee Tool drills.

model in elena velez

Elena Velez

“The premise behind [the boot] is to offer a conduit to the industry for non-traditional creators outside of creative shores,” says Velez. “Undoing the geographic condescension that has inhibited my opportunities as an artist in the Midwest is a mission close to my heart.”

In fact, for each of her collections and releases, she has involved quite unknown artists, often from her hometown, highlighting partnerships as the fusion of two equal visions, rather than a star and her accessories. One of his longest collaborations has been with Nelson Kies, a metalworker from Milwaukee who, after working with Vélez, launched his own jewelry brand: Nels Studio. And, most recently, he worked with genderless shoe designer Kira Goodey, whose sculptural, metallic take on a platform heel made it to Velez’s fall 2022 show. The shoe was a true echo of Vélez’s own version of feminism, driven by both history and fantasy, the earth and the divine.

model styled by joe van o en elena velez

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Vélez feels more comfortable talking about these collaborations than her recent success. “The public response, to my knowledge, has been overwhelmingly positive, which is not fun,” she says. BAZAAR. “I always appreciate some of these highly demanding publishers who overlook some of the obvious (personal) mistakes that come with a fledgling brand. I think it means they see a future in helping me build the kind of operation that will one day allow me to the ability to create with the quality that we all demand”.

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While her business has certainly expanded since I met her nearly five years ago, when she was a one-man show, designing, sourcing materials, liaising with reps, and creating every look herself, she’s now set her sights on in a new way. Today, she creates the complete concept looks for each collection herself, which are then assembled in the various small New York City workshops she works with. “Growth is exciting, but it always comes at a price when you rely on others to realize a very sensitive personal vision,” she says.

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She dreams of opening a sample development factory in Milwaukee, where she can “really celebrate the experience of authentic craftsmanship in a way that I’ve never been able to find anywhere else.”

American fashion is crying out for attention, here’s hoping the Midwest finally has a say.


Elena Velez Year 1: photos of Tre Crews; styling by Joe Van O; makeup by Maite Moreira; Carolin Dieler accessories.

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