A visit to designer Donald Hayes' spot at West 33rd Street's Torpedo Factory brings with it an air of exclusivity and secrecy. Shoppers must first buzz into the indie fashion boutique (hit No. 8 on the keypad labeled Design Lab Inc.) before stepping through to the creative world of its owner and principal fashion designer.
High ceilings and oversized windows allow natural light to illuminate the freshly sewn creations at Hayes' co-op, which is home to several independent fashion labels and businesses, including his Cloud 9 Boutique.
"I think in Cleveland, we are mall shoppers," says Hayes. "We don't necessarily want to go explore the little boutiques that you would find in New York or Chicago. I was really trying to get Clevelanders into the mindset of buying local, independent labels versus what they know."
Hayes' space radiates a New York City vibe. The showroom's artsy atmosphere — red carpet catwalk and all — reflects the glamorous yet playful feel of the designer's avant-garde couture and ready-to-wear collections. Offering custom design consultations and special creations, Hayes is all about embracing a client's individuality.
"My ideal client is a chameleon," he says. "She has a very eclectic style and wears clothes to fit her moods. She doesn't care about following the trends. She has her own sense of style and knows who she is."
Hayes' body-hugging emerald green maxi caters to women who want to feel sexy, while his futuristic, armadillo-inspired jacket — with dimensional leather details meant to replicate scales — embraces a desire to be bold and playful.
Hayes, who debuted in 2007 as a T-shirt designer, points to film as a primary muse behind his design concepts. His latest couture line, inspired by the whimsy of Alice in Wonderland, plays with volume and shape. Texture is a key element, while heavy upholstery fabrics are hallmarks of his couture skirts.
"The girl I can envision wearing pieces from the Alice line loves to be glamorous but not necessarily over-the-top," he says.
Such raw talent has Hayes auditioning for an upcoming season of NBC's Fashion Star, but he's serious about his legacy in Cleveland.
"We're bringing together 10 different brands in one store," he says. "I want this to be a home base for anyone who has a creative interest, including stylists, photographers and designers."
Yellow Peplum Dress
Purple Galaxy Dress
Black Mermaid Skirt