Department of Curiosities
“Department of Curiosities is rooted in an old world sensibility which needed to be expressed through the photography. We often think of the brand as a person: one who is slightly eccentric, well-traveled, a bit affected.” – Gerry Quinton
Department of Curiosities, known as a slow fashion atelier and home to Morúa and Production Mode, launches its first collection: a line of luxury lingerie and nightwear, made of Italian silks.
All items are made in-house to ensure the highest quality and ethical manufacture. The collection was inspired by the luminous women of the 1920s-1940s.
“We were intrigued by the evolution of women’s sexuality during this period of great cultural change. The roaring 20s, the Dada and Surrealist movements, women entering the workforce in large numbers… Women were owning their sensuality in a mature, sophisticated way.
The beauty ideals of this time period were strong, complicated women like Marlene Dietrich, Arletty, Kiki de Montparnasse, Josephine Baker. In contrast, so much of today’s fashion and pop culture idealizes adolescent sexuality. Not only do we find that exploitative, we also find it boring. The interior lives of adult women are much more interesting,” says co-designer Jamie Hayes.
Building on these influences, the designers commissioned renowned tattoo artist Esther Garcia to design an exclusive print for the line. The designers found a mill in the Lake Como region of Italy, which offered the perfect range of off-colors–pale, desaturated hues and faded metallics so evocative of the early 20th century.
The result is a dreamy, tropical print influenced by the rain forest flora of Costa Rica, where Garcia was slated to travel in order to study botanical illustration and floral arrangement, and where Quinton was born and raised.
“We choose to shoot the collection in London because Department of Curiosities is rooted in an old world sensibility which needed to be expressed through the photography. We often think of the brand as a person: one who is slightly eccentric, well-traveled, a bit affected. They certainly carry a calling card and speak with a mid-Atlantic accent—think Katherine Hepburn or Gloria Swanson. So a dilapidated,18th century Huguenot merchant’s house, nestled in the streets behind Christ Church Spitalfields made perfect sense as a location,” says Quinton.
Hayes and Quinton met while studying fashion at Columbia College. After graduation, Quinton worked in London and established her brand of corsetry, Morúa. Hayes designed for a handbag company in Chicago, and worked in Peru and China as a designer/activist in the ethical fashion movement before starting her brand, Production Mode.
The designers reconnected in 2014 when Quinton moved back to Chicago, and found shared studio space. The partnership has subsequently expanded to a concept store, which has hosted exhibitions by the League of Women Designers, a pop-up dinner, and a lecture on Sonia Delaunay given by fashion historian Caroline Bellios.
“Our goal is to raise the platform of design in Chicago. We’re not looking to New York for inspiration–instead we’re looking at smaller, more industrial cities like Antwerp, where there was less of an established infrastructure for fashion, but rents were lower and designers could take financial and creative risks. We’d like to see Chicago become a nurturing environment for emerging designers, a city that not only educates but also keeps top talent, especially at the higher end of the market,” says Quinton, who recently began teaching at the School of the Art Institute.