The Design in the City competition through Design Core Detroit will give new artists the opportunity to publicly display their work and make connections with others in the community during the Detroit Month of Design this September.
Elevating specifically female and BIPOC artists, Design in the City — funded through the Gucci Changemakers grant — will allow emerging fashion and accessory designers to gain exposure and boost their career through public installations at Detroit businesses.
“It’s meant to raise awareness about their work and also connect them to people in the industry, expand their network and offer mentorship and technical assistance for business development,” Design Core Detroit Director of Culture and Community Kiana Wenzell says.
The call for submissions went out in February, and six winners were selected to use a portion of the Gucci grant to create their installations. Each artist was paired with a specific location from Playground Detroit in Eastern Market to WeWork near Midtown and New Center and will be open to the public through ticketed entry to comply with occupancy limits from Sept. 1-30.
While plans for Design in the City — and Detroit Month of Design as a whole — have been affected by COVID-19, the submissions Design Core received reflected current events, such as Katherine Johnson’s apparel and textile design installation Internal Inferno, which symbolizes the effects of systemic racism and Black resilience.
“The submissions post-COVID were speaking directly to the challenges that our community and our industry were facing,” Wenzell says. “Designers as problem solvers were using the Month of Design to work through that and let their ideas be heard.”
Nabeela Najjar, one of the featured designers whose work Softly Away can be found at Detroit Center for Design + Technology at 4219 Woodward Ave., was inspired to create her installation to reflect the needs of the community as well. Using mostly flowy, sheer fabric and plants as her medium, the costume and fashion designer hopes to create a dreamy, nature-filled safe haven for her audience.
“I really want for people to go into the installation and go into the space and feel … safe and to just be surrounded by something that’s really pretty and beautiful,” Najjar said. “If I can achieve that, then I’ll be pretty happy.”
In addition to the six featured designers, Design in the City will also host a fashion show for the recent graduates of the College of Creative Studies’ (CCS) fashion department. When universities made the switch to remote learning in March, the CCS students missed their opportunity to have their annual spring fashion show.
The trunk show and pop-up events will take place Sept. 12-30 at three locations including Simply Casual, Art in Motion, and Jo’s Gallery along the Avenue of Fashion. Up to 10 additional designers will sell their merchandise and will receive business support and education from Design Core Detroit.
While all the artists involved with Design in the City are Detroit-based, Wenzell hopes this opportunity will help these designers expand their network.
“I don’t want Detroit designers to just work and get jobs locally,” Wenzell says. “I want Detroit designers to get jobs locally, nationally, internationally. I don’t want us to limit ourselves.”
The grant award from Gucci has set up these designers for opportunities to get more exposure and attention from other big companies around the world.
“When I found out they chose my flyer for the overall show, I was super excited,” Najjar says. “I was like, wow, this big company went through all the designers and wound up choosing and seeing my work. Just getting my name out there is how it has impacted me the most.”
According to Wenzell, there is something different about Detroit designers that make them stand out on the global stage.
“Detroit can be an example for inclusive design practices,” Wenzell says. “Detroit is a UNESCO city of design, and we need to say OK why would you source your creative talent from Detroit and not New York or LA? We have proven the case that Detroit designers think differently, they practice design differently, thus you get a better product.”