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Alpaca Couture to showcase fashion collection

  • Article by: BENJAMIN WIDEMAN
  • Associated Press
  • December 7, 2013 - 12:05 AM

MISHICOT, Wis. — Wade Von Giessen wasn't searching for a Welsh fashion designer.

And Antonella Commatteo wasn't searching for an American alpaca breeder.

But, as the fashion fates would have it, their paths crossed in spring 2012 at an alpaca conference in England. Now, their joint venture, Alpaca Couture, is preparing to step into the international fashion spotlight.

Their Freedom collection, featuring 15 handcrafted outfits incorporating alpaca, silk, chiffon and taffeta, will be showcased during Fashion Week Las Vegas on Feb. 17-21 at the Palms Casino Resort.

"When I first saw Antonella's work, I thought it was so captivating and advanced," said Von Giessen, of Mishicot, who founded Alpaca Couture. "And that's how I'd describe this Freedom collection too. It's definitely for people who are confident and want to stand out. It's a great collection, and we're so happy that we're getting a chance to show it on such a big stage in Las Vegas.

"All of this has just been a great match for Antonella and I, because we've been able to work together to create something grand. And part of the surprise is that everything is happening two to three years ahead of schedule. This really bumps us up in the fashion world and it brings heightened awareness to the alpaca industry. All of this is giving us a name in a relatively short amount of time," Von Giessen told HTR Media (http://htrne.ws/1hwhApL).

Commatteo has devoted 12 to 14 hours per day painstakingly creating the collection, which features her favorite color, orange, seamlessly incorporated throughout the nine women's and six men's pieces.

The Las Vegas show will be tremendous exposure for the 50-year-old Commatteo, who just five years ago was working as a personal assistant for a company executive in her native Wales.

That's when, at age 46, the mother of two adult children took a leap of faith and resigned to pursue her lifelong passion for fashion. Three years later, in 2012, she graduated from the University of Wales-Newport, and her first collection, called Shreds, proved so impressive that the London Evening Standard newspaper (with a daily readership of nearly 1.7 million people) named her one of the five designers to watch in the United Kingdom.

But Commatteo's rapport with Von Giessen was so strong that she passed on job opportunities closer to home and accepted a position as Alpaca Couture's creative director in rural Manitowoc County.

"It was a great decision," a smiling Commatteo said in her Welsh accent while taking a break from sewing in her Mishicot studio space. "I love Wisconsin and I love what Wade and I are doing with Alpaca Couture. And now with this Las Vegas show coming up, it's going to be amazing. I'm excited and nervous ... but nervous first!"

Commatteo and Von Giessen said they're not aware of any other fashion designer/alpaca breeder duos like them in the fashion world.

Much of the alpaca fabric she uses comes from just down the road in Two Rivers at LondonDairy Alpacas, which Von Giessen (who also goes by Gease, the shortened form of his family name) has co-owned with Kevin Stoer since the 1990s. Additional alpaca fabric comes from farms in New York and Peru.

Alpaca boasts a "beautiful natural shimmer," said Von Giessen, who also has designed things for Alpaca Couture. One of his inventions, the Wet Felting Wizard, has been instrumental in the creation of alpaca handbags and purses.

But although alpaca can be felted, knitted and sewn, among other things, working with the fabric in high-end fashion can be tricky.

"Usually, when you design something it's easier to go out and find the fabric to match the design," Commatteo said. "I'm finding that I have to do it backwards, because alpaca fabric is a lot thicker. It doesn't drape as easy. It doesn't want to do sometimes what my design wants, so I need to change things around and be flexible."

With three pieces yet to finish, Commatteo said she's thrilled with the Freedom collection.

"Part of my inspiration for it came from the trees here when they were blowing," Commatteo said. "That made me feel really good, so I wanted to give the fabric the same feeling — the blowing and freedom that the trees have. That's why I've incorporated the way the fabric is in some of the pieces. I wanted it to be a very unique collection, and I think we've done that.

"We can't wait to go show it to everyone."

An AP Member Exchange Feature shared by HTR Media

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