To everything there is a season. But what happens after its season is over, and it gets flung into the $1 sale bin? Then sold at a garage sale for 15 cents? Then tossed into the to-be-donated box and shoved into the attic corner?
More and more designers have been taking pleasure by imagining a much brighter fate for the contents of that proverbial box in the corner, adding meaningful long-term value by investing some intentional craftsmanship and remixing old garments with modern style. One of them is Kingston’s own Michelle Elise.
Her shop, Ellipse, at 329 Wall St., is filled with edgy, stylish and one-of-a-kind clothing, accessories and home goods, made by Elise and other independent designers using organic, recycled or post-waste fibers and materials. Along the theme of multi-purposing, Elise is sharing in-store space with artist Michael Francis’ Creations reclaimed furniture.
Francis and Elise both felt their products complement each other and fit with ease into the same space. Elise had set up shop in the Kingston Opera House for four years, where people could only find her by her well-dressed sidewalk mannequin placed outside the building.
Most of Ellipse’s clothes range from casual and street wear to dressy formal, with a studied emphasis on fresh and refreshed prints, hem lines, cuts and textures. One of the shop’s racks is devoted to vintage Lilly Pulitzer — some untouched, some reworked and updated by Elise. Alterations are done on-site, so everything becomes customizable. Elise will still be operating her seamstress business and will keep on skillfully tackling the dreaded jeans-hem seamlessly (eye roll) as well as leather jacket zipper repairs, men’s suits and wedding dress alterations as well. Soon to come are restyled and quasi-custom wedding dresses.
Elise grew up in New Hampshire and has Canadian citizenship thanks to her mom, adding that since her Canadian family had a history in laundry and linen, she was always wrapped up in worn-in, soft old sheets and Hudson Bay blankets. In high school, she was torn between majoring in fashion design or environmental science, she said, so she sought out colleges that offered both and ended up at Keene State with environmental science. Later, she joined the Coast Guard. Elise said she didn’t really use her environmental science degree but “ski-bummed away” her 20s in between Coast Guard obligations. She then signed up at the Fashion Institute of Technology, managing to pull magna cum laude grades while dealing with morning sickness and the rest of that first-trimester pregnancy joy.
When asked how she got into restyling clothes, Elise said it was something she has always done. “I’ve been compared to Molly Ringwald’s character in Pretty in Pink, said Elise. “By no means did I grow up poor, but my parents were still disciples of austerity and home economics. Mix one bag of hand-me-downs with a sewing machine, a W Magazine — which I subscribed to in high school, by the way, when it was a monthly color newspaper — and a New England do-it-yourself mentality, and voila.” To that end, Elise always has an intern or two in her shop and mentors enthusiastic novices.
Ellipse’s accessories are just as unconventional and unexpected as the clothes. It carries a line of affordable, modern colorful jewelry by Starlight Woods, created from fallen tree branches. Other coolness includes: lunch totes revamped from burlap coffee bags; handmade pottery; herb-garden markers fashioned from flattened flatware and bracelets from guitar wires; reclaimed silver jewelry; scented soy candles; recycled wine bottles; drinking glasses made from cut bottles; and tablet sleeves. Much of which is so skillfully revamped that what it started out as might remain a mystery to the uninformed. Other independent clothing lines found in Ellipse include Whirlwind Jewelry, Love to Love You, Revival and ReZipit. Wintertime will appropriately see pre-loved Irish fisherman’s sweaters and oodles of cashmere.