Chicago designers find inspiration on and off the mat
By Linda Mura O’Toole
THERESE KUEMPEL JEWELRY
Designed with clean lines, strong materials and unexpected shapes, Therese Kuempel’s necklaces and earrings provide a distinct contrast to traditional yoga-based imagery. Kuempel is a metalsmith and sculptor based in Chicago whose inspiration comes from nature.
“My work is inspired by the investigation of natural processes: how things grow, bud off and reproduce,” said Kuempel. She works primarily in metal, creating one-of-a-kind pieces and “aims to suspend the viewer in an ethereal place: a place between the impermanent, delicate organic and the impenetrable, industrial qualities of metal and polymer.”
In September, Kuempel’s collection was featured in Wicker Park at the Renegade Craft Fair, a curated indie-craft marketplace showcasing the brightest talents in contemporary craft and design.
Slip into one of Good Karma’s cotton tees, and you’ll instantly feel luxurious and inspired. From Brahma (the Hindu god of creation and the universe) to Happy Buddha (enlightened one), Chicago-based designer Judy Lichtenstein combines silkscreen yoga-based designs with soft, “distressed” cotton shirts.
Lichtenstein has been creating wearable art for 30 years. Her handcrafted creations are sold in boutiques, spas, museum shops and department stores nationwide, including, for 10 years, at Barneys and Takashimaya in New York.
“Although I use well-known deities,” said Lichtenstein, “I make everything unique by adding my own artistic twist.” Currently she’s designing a line for Chicago’s East Bank Club.
A portion of the proceeds from Good Karma Tees goes to the Global Orphan Project, an international orphan care ministry headquartered in Kansas City, Mo.
When you see AprilStar’s jewelry collection, you can’t resist immediately picking up and trying on the pieces. There’s something uniquely inviting about the beads, malas, stones and precious gems — maybe it’s the way the cool stones feel against your skin. Designer April Cohen Urdan creates “spiritual jewelry out of a desire to dream.”
The charms and amulets are selected from regional artists in India, China and Tibet. The bracelets and necklaces make for bold statements to be worn alone or in combination with other pieces from the collection. Using leather, black diamond Oms, and Buddhas made from Tibetan ox bone and pearl horns, AprilStar’s line is distinctive and affordable.
On any given day, you’ll find Laura Merlo in a studio of one sort — either teaching vinyasa flow yoga or designing handmade, one-of-a- kind tees. Merlo’s entry into the design world isn’t surprising; she studied fine arts and oil painting at the University of Illinois. Her entry into the clothing business is more serendipitous.
Two years ago, Merlo discovered her husband’s well worn and slightly faded Pink Floyd T-shirt. She recalls that she cut and hand-stitched it, creating a contemporary, one-of-a-kind top. Friends and family encouraged her to make more designs. Today Merlo’s company, Second Cut, sells tees and hoodies at Reach Yoga in Glencoe and yogaview in Wilmette. If you stop by either studio, you might be lucky enough to pick up a Second Cut “Namaste” tee while practicing your Downward Dog in a class with Merlo.
PHOTOS BY ASHLEY WU ON LOCATION AT REACH YOGA STUDIO IN GLENCOE, ILL., AND COURTESY OF THERESE KUEMPEL.