By Khaleel Herbert
Developing Her Fashion Instincts
Olivia McLean hails from Portland, Oregon, in a world where she couldn’t fully express herself or develop her own tastes in fashion due to her time in Catholic school in Portland and Denver.
Upon entering public high school, she developed her own tastes in fashion. In 2009, she enrolled in a fashion design program at Emily Griffith Technical College and developed a background in fabrication and pattern-making.
“I’ve always had an eye for color since I was pretty young,” McLean says. “Didn’t really pursue the arts and design until I kind of realized it was an option after high school.”
McLean’s creative influences include designers and musicians such as M.I.A., Princess Nokia, Rei Kawakubo, Alexander McQueen and Betsey Johnson.
Projects and Displays
While attending Emily Griffith, McLean modeled for Fashion Denver for two years.
“It was always a laid-back and fun environment,” McLean says. “Getting all dolled up and showcasing the work of local designers.”
She eventually rolled up her sleeves to make her own designs and curate her own shows at galleries including Buffalo Exchange, the nonprofit Biennial of the Americas, ABC Custom Framing and the now-deceased Rhinoceropolis.
McLean also collaborated with other artists. Esther Hernandez, an artist from Denver’s Redline Gallery, described the first project her and McLean did.
“She arranged models and outfits for a pop-up fashion show that was to be a surprise at the end of an absurdist march that happened on the streets of downtown. I had arranged a limo and she had the models and the red carpet,” Hernandez says. “We rolled it out in front of the capitol. A guy played music from a boombox and when the models turned around on the catwalk, they had these amazing foam butts on the outside of their dresses.”
McLean also created a fashion film with some friends. The film was shown at 6Collective in fall 2015 and recently at ABC Custom Framing’s Lifestyle III: Shrines.
“It was shot on 16 millimeter in collaboration with my partner, Daniel. He went to CU Boulder for experimental film,” McLean says. “It’s only about two minutes, but it’s my designs with my friend, Shannon, and a friend of mine who I went to fashion school with, Bex.
“It’s shot outdoors in the fall at night and it was more like, for lack of a better term, a lifestyle film,” McLean adds. “Like a mini commercial.”
Shannon Webber, lead singer of Denver’s Church Fire, recalls working with McLean and modeling in the film.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be part of such a unique artist’s vision. It felt fantastical to model her art and have it tailored to specifically fit my body,” Webber says. “She put so much care into every aspect of it, even down to the art of our nails, hair and make-up, making sure I was comfortable and the clothing was as functional as possible.”
In fact, the clothing was so functional that Webber wore it in a music video for Church Fire’s “Breast Bones.”
“She even made shoes that fit me perfectly, got me insoles to keep me comfortable for both filming and opening night,” Webber says. “I was able to keep everything she made, which feels like a huge honor. I still get compliments on her art whenever I wear it.”
Hernandez describes how she feels when she collaborates with McLean.
“Not only is she professional and trustworthy, she has a unique aesthetic and flair that is all her own,” Hernandez says. “She is resourceful and knows to get things done with very little without compromising the integrity or creative vision of the project.”
Trading Fashion for Industrial
McLean describes why she zoned out of the Buffalo Exchange and the fashion world.
“After working at Buffalo Exchange for a period of time, I really enjoyed it It was a great way for me to meet a lot of people,” McLean says. “Personally style people, personally style music videos and things like that. But that ran its course and I wanted to pursue something else design-related.
“The fashion industry is very vain and it’s one of the most toxic industries on the planet,” McLean adds. “So I got away from it for those reasons and the fact that I didn’t really see a long-term growth in projection for myself.”
In 2015, McLean enrolled in MSU Denver’s Individualized Degree Program and created her own major, Design and Fabrication for Responsible Innovation. Amy Kern, Nina Radojevich-Kelly, Scott Mourer are her favorite professors.
By knowing her designs are colorful and whimsical, McLean wants to design items for children. She also hopes to go to trade shows and learn what it takes to have her own brand.
“I do have a business perspective on design and art,” McLean says. “Which is what I wanted from my degree in the first place.”
For more information on Olivia McLean and her work, visit her Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/_vivi_mclean_/