Elena Velez sews scraps by hand and makes today’s woman

The heart of Elena Velez’s brand is found in the family workshops and cool waters of Wisconsin. Her romantic dresses, in matte creams and sheer blacks, contrast with the sharp graininess of the metal bars she fashions into corsets and bra tops. It’s raw, industrial design at its most sensuous and a new expression of the Midwest on the American fashion scene centered in New York and Los Angeles. And yet the designer, who debuted at New York Fashion Week last fall, has ironically, but understandably, become a Hollywood darling.

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

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“In all honesty, chasing stardust can lead to a pretty cynical place, so I try to stay away from it,” Velez said. BAZAAR.com. That said, the creator admits that “Rosalía is a manifestation that has been in the making for years”.

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Rosalía’s stylist, Caitlyn Martinez, was in the depths of her Instagram Explore rabbit hole when she came across Velez. “It’s 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 in and contributes to the whole vision. Her designs match the direction of the video so 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 Velez’s steel bodice for a shoot with Numéro Berlin, Joan the Virgin actress Diane Guerrero wore a topless PVC harness from her Homecoming capsule collection “for no reason,” the designer said.

model dressed by joe van o in elena velez

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Making haute couture from off-cuts is Velez’s specialty. The designer is inspired by her childhood, which she spent aboard industrial ships, traveling across the Great Lakes with her captain mother. This is why she often uses materials such as ship sails, boat ropes and discarded metal in her pieces. That’s why she stains her ivory dresses with dirt and brown tea water, and why her designs, while still delicate and feminine, reference the construction sites and manufacturing factories that first shaped her idea of ​​femininity.

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

model dressed by joe van o in 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, Velez debuted one of his most technical projects to date: the Morph Epoch Boot, made in collaboration with Aion. Prosthetics, a Midwest-based company that specializes in machinery and robotics. The team, who met Velez at a collaborating studio they’ve been hosting seasonally for the past year, recounts BAZAAR that the shoe, which somewhat resembles an astronaut’s boot, was a “concept piece designed to completely enclose the wearer” and to introduce “heavy industrial manufacturing into the fashion industry“. Made from PETG, a plastic-like substance, each had to be bolted around the foot using custom bolts and Milwaukee Tool drills.

model at elena velez

Elena Velez

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

Indeed, for each of her collections and drops, she called on relatively unknown artists, often from her city, and highlighted partnerships as the fusion of two equal visions, rather than a star and her accessories. One of her longest collaborations was with Nelson Kies, a metalworker from Milwaukee who, after working with Velez, launched his own jewelry brand: Nels Studio. And most recently, she’s worked with genderless shoe designer Kira Goodey, whose sculptural, metallic version of a platform heel debuted on Velez’s Fall 2022 runway. The shoe was a true echo of Velez’s own version of feminism, guided both by history and fantasy, earth and divine.

model dressed by joe van o in elena velez

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Velez is more comfortable discussing these collaborations than his recent success. “As far as I can tell, the audience response has been overwhelmingly positive, which isn’t fun,” she said. BAZAAR. “I always appreciate some of these very insightful editors who overlook some of the (personally) obvious snafus that come with a fledgling brand. I think that means they see a future in helping me build the kind of operation that will be one day gives me the opportunity to create with the quality that we all demand.”

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Three crews

While her business has certainly grown since I met her nearly five years ago, when she was a one-man show, designing, sourcing materials, liaising with reps, and creating herself- even every look, she has now set her sights on a new way of making. Currently, she creates the complete concept looks for each collection herself, which are then assembled in the various small New York workshops she works with. “Growth is exciting, but always comes at a price when relying on others to bring a very tricky personal vision to fruition,” she says.

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Three crews

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

American fashion is screaming for attention, hoping the Midwest will finally have its say.


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

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