It was her perseverance and creative vision that got her to L.A from her small town of Perley, Minnesota. She had already established a successful fashion career at Lip Service, with a portfolio full of strong and edgy designs before she auditioned for Project Runway for a chance to be mentored by past Project Runway designers Mondo Guerra, Anya Ayoung-Chee and Nick Verreos. Nothing goes unseen for the entrepreneurial and Los Angeles based designer Michelle Überreste.
Her designs show a perfect symbiosis between construction and design. Driven by the philosophy of possibilities and the vast unknown of the future, she’s challenging the status quo with her forward-thinking, futuristic designs. Her label has caught the eye of many Hollywood stylists and musicians. Michelle’s designs have been spotted on several performers like Alissa White-Gluz (lead singer of Arch Enemy), on America’s Got Talent and on Chris Colfer’s character, Kurt Hummel, in Glee. There is something else about Michelle that we love. She is an outspoken woman, a geek with a wide interest in politics, religion and science. She’s here to talk about fashion, her label and what it takes to succeed as a young designer.
You’ve been quoted once saying that ‘there’s a right way of doing things and a wrong way of doing things.’ Could you tell me a little bit about that?
It’s the road less travelled. People think they can cut corners, but if you take the time to do things right, with the right frame of mind- in the end it usually pays off. I have spent years learning my craft, learning how fabrics work, learning every aspect of the design process, not only the creative, but the technical as well. Spending all of that time learning and experimenting has given me my unique point of view and skill set.
I would say that you are a perfectionist- am I right?
I would definitely describe myself that way. I hold myself to a high standard. But I have also learned over the years, that perfection is unattainable. As a designer, I strive to continually learn and grow and improve upon myself. It’s a goal none of us can ever meet, but nonetheless it needs to remain the goal and aim.
Holding yourself to a high standard has paid off. You have your own label today and you already had an established career in fashion, designing for subculture brand Lip Service. What did you take from your time working there?
I can’t even begin to cover this! I learned so much and that is where I really developed my own aesthetic. It gave me a lot of creative freedom to do things I couldn’t do on my own – budgets for doing crazy things, the outlet to create and learn when to dial it back. I learned a lot about all aspects of the business, not just designing, but the technical side of it, too, patternmaking, sales, production, everything. The owner, Drew Bernstein, challenged me and encouraged me. It wasn’t always easy but I think that conflict can drive things forward.
After Lip service you entered the competition at Project Runway where you truly stunned us on the runway. What happened after Project Runway- did it change you as a designer?
No I don’t think it changed me at all but rather confirmed who I am. It was am awesome experience and I would do it all over again in a second. It really challenges you and your skills and your mind. It’s working 17- hour days for 2 months straight, keeping your sense of self among so many other designers and learning when to take things seriously. I love a good challenge, and it’s an opportunity most designers will never experience. I especially love the unconventional challenges, it’s just something that happens rarely in real life!
What was the most difficult challenge you faced in starting your own label?
I think getting started and realizing that success isn’t just an upward climb. There are ups and downs. I think it’s a huge learning experience. At first, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to run my company so I just hit the ground running and started making things. I quickly learned what works and what doesn’t. I am super opinionated and I have learned to trust that and only take risks unless I think it’s worth it. If I get a bad feeling about something, now I usually just say no, and I do what is best for me and my brand no matter what anyone tries to talk me into.
As an American designer; is there a distinction between American & European designers (fashion) in your opinion?
Definitely. I think Europe has always been the leader in fashion, I feel it is more of a craft there. Here in America, it’s fast fashion. Even our high fashion is fast fashion. I think American fashion is a lot more funky and European fashion is much more sophisticated in general. Maybe that’s a product of the culture. I don’t know, but I think it’s becoming more up to the individual designer. I mean, I grew up on a farm and now I am known for modern, industrial and futuristic clothing. Everyone has different dispositions.
Remaining on the subject of fashion, it is a very overwhelming and tough industry; do you think that confidence is a necessary trait to be successful in this industry?
Definitely!! I see so many small designers that let themselves be taken advantage of because they are desperate to make it. I fought my way to the top at Lip Service by speaking my mind on issues. I do think it’s important to be respectful yet firm. Because I made my opinions known, I was noticed. And now with my own label, I do the same. I say no when I want to say no. There are so many people that will want to take advantage of you and you have to value yourself and stand up in order to protect your integrity.
What other traits are important in this industry?
I think it also takes passion. If you do not love what you do, you will not do well. The hours are long and there are lots of tedious things you have to go through as well as uncomfortable situations. If you don’t love it, if you don’t have the drive to keep pushing when things seem grim, there is no place for you in fashion- or any other industry in my opinion.
So what goes through your head on a daily basis- what is typically Michelle?
Design-wise – it’s a mix of things. I love things to look dark, exotic, and imaginative. I guess that describes me, as well. I love science, and religion and politics – all the things you’re not supposed to talk about. I find beauty in truth. I just get so sick of hearing lies upon lies in the media, in our government. I would like people to think with their own brain and not just regurgitate what someone else has told them to think. I base a lot of my concepts on this – what is happening in society and what our future might hold for us. It fascinates me.
Fashion today is very trend-driven. It’s hard to get a grip[ on the term sometimes. What is Fashion to you?
To me, fashion is self-expression and creativity. It’s an art form. Fashion in America really bores me at the moment. When I go out, I normally just see people in t-shirts and jeans that don’t fit correctly- and I live in L.A. I wish that people were confident enough to explore their own style. It would make the world such a more interesting place. I don’t like trends- It’s basically just the higher ups telling the masses what they need to be wearing and they follow. Marketing tells them they NEED this product or this silhouette. Then everyone goes out and buys it regardless of if it suits them. Then they throw it away, and the next season it’s on to something else. If you like something, wear it. Don’t be afraid.