Fashion has always been its own kind of art. And although Denver hasn’t been a premier fashion destination historically, the recently budding cultural scene in the city has increasingly supported both emerging and established designers. Dior: From Paris to the World’s first appearance in the US at the Denver Art Museum and the launch of Denver’s official fashion week is a perfect example of this. But a newer concept in the Cherry Creek Mall where local street artists are customizing pieces of clothing is another one.
Called EXP-DIY, this new pop-up is only happening in Denver at the moment. The main idea behind it is that you purchase a piece from the store and you can have it customized by a local street artist. When Express decided to launch a new store in the Cherry Creek Mall, its vision included the street art aesthetic, and they looked to local experts to help bring that vision into reality. The store itself is adorned with 14 pieces of art from eight artists. Denver-native and rising star in the street art scene Chris Haven created his iconic cityscape on lockers where customers pick up online orders — a design you can see on the front of Joe’s Liquor in RiNo and other locales in Denver. It is quintessentially Haven. He also painted a cityscape with one of his “pyramid people” on canvas. To complement those, Express created a stylish video showcasing Haven’s technique. Other artists include Kirileigh Jones, Jay Garcia, Chris Voeller, Tiffany Nickel, Erika Delzell, Clay Hawkley and Kenzie Sitterud.
Express found these artists because a freelance art director for the store, Katie Orzeck, already had a love for the street art scene. She commented, “no matter where I’ve lived, I’ve always engaged in the local art scene to find inspiration. So naturally, I was thrilled about the vision of the new Express store at Cherry Creek and the chance to leverage my passion for local art and share the work of these amazing artists with the brand and their customers. Since moving Denver, I’ve fallen in love with the RiNo Art District and all the street art in that neighborhood. During my first visit to Denver, I experienced a First Friday Art Walk and still try to go every month. One of my favorite pieces is in the Santa Fe Arts District by Anna Charney, on Colorado Ballet’s Armstrong Center.”
But the fusion of art and fashion doesn’t stop at decor in the new Express store. Local muralists So-Gnar Creative Division — made up of Pat Milbery and Pat McKinney — have been spending time at the store and customizing clothing on the spot and by demand.
Shoes, jeans, jackets, hats — anything that is sold at the Express store — can be transformed at the skilled hands of the two artists, who use a combination of spray paint, markers and decals to make the clothing one-of-a-kind. All of the materials used to customize the apparel are meant to be worn and used and can be washed in the machine with cold water, making these novel pieces more approachable than items that are too unique or impractical to enjoy wearing.
“We took inspiration from elements of our past work and shapes we love and often use—and also considered what would look best customized on Express product,” commented SoGnar. “We focused on designs that would work well on clothes and allow for customizations that were unique to each person but also quick and easy to implement as we’ve had a lot of interest from Express customers and a relatively limited amount of time with each piece. We also like to spend some time with the customer and get a feel of their style to help guide the creative process. Altogether, it’s a new creative challenge for us and we’re loving it—and the customers seem to too. We use vinyl stencils and sticker-back applique designs that can be heat-pressed onto clothes, and we also do hand-done designs using water-based aerosol paint and paint markers.”
Jim Hilt, the chief customer experience officer at Express, noted “throughout the store, you will find a locally curated collection of art and decorative objects more evocative of a well-appointed residence than a traditional retail store. The integration of the customization station and artwork leverages the incredible talent of local artists in Denver and creates a truly unique shopping experience for our customer.” According to Hilt, the concept behind the Cherry Creek store started two years ago. He added, “we hope to energize our existing customers, attract new customers and provide a platform that cuts through at the mall. We are still in an exploratory phase at Cherry Creek, but if the customer responds positively, we will look to expand the ideas to other store locations.”
So-Gnar will be at the new Cherry Creek Mall location for customizations on several more dates before the holiday season is over. Expect to see them on selected weekends, listed below. Just buy an item at Express and take it to their counter in the front for free customization.
Weekends to find So-Gnar customizing clothes: Friday, December 7 to Sunday, December 9, Friday, December 14 to Sunday, December 16 and Friday, December 21 to Sunday, December 23. Times during those days are as follows: Fridays from 1 to 7 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The new Express retail store is located at 3000 East 1st Avenue, inside the Cherry Creek Mall. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday 12 to 6 p.m.