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"Form" Takes Shape in Baltimore

Sketches of a clothing line exclusively at Form Boutique - Arianne Teeple
Sketches of a clothing line exclusively at Form Boutique - Arianne Teeple
For those in the business of clothing design, September is synonymous with fashion. Newsstands are flooded with bulky preview issues. Retailers unveil new merchandise. And New York Fashion Week casts its lengthy shadow over designers across the nation.

This year, September also means that two of Baltimore's own creative types are hard at work on a new line only available in the city. The clothing line "Form" bears the name of the Clipper Mill boutique that will house it, and is the handiwork of store owner Aimee Bracken and designer Julie Bent.

"I always felt that I was destined to do something in fashion. But I was driven by what was practical, so I ended up going to school for graphic design," says Bracken, of Roland Park.  

As an art director at Baltimore-based Siquis Ltd., Bracken worked with ready-to-wear retail clients, traveling around the world for trade shows and photo shoots and assisting in the creation of everything from print ads to clothing hang-tags. But the hours were taking a toll.

So she gave up agency life in favor of retail ownership, and opened Form Boutique after the birth of her second child.   

"I knew I would love to have my own clothing line at the shop at some point, but I also knew it would be a very daunting task on my own." 

Enter Julie Bent, of Waverly.

She shares a similar story. "I was always inspired by fashion. I was the girl in high school who dressed a little crazy. I did want to go to school for fashion design, but lacked the technical skills. So I wound up going to art school."

Julie attended Alfred University in New York, where she worked in multiple art forms, including mixed media and sculpture, but even her subjects everything from handbags to the feminine form called her back to fashion.

She went into graphic design and video production in D.C., but says that "after five years, I realized it wasn't the same kind of creativity I had wanted in undergrad." So in 2006, Bent moved to Baltimore. She enrolled in Baltimore City Community College's apparel design program and began work at Shine Collective. Both venues gave her a sense for the proportions, merchandising, and design of clothing.

Shine's owners knew Bracken and directed Julie, now an emerging designer and the founder of her own Lot 201 Designs, to Form boutique to make a connection.  

That connection materialized in January of 2010 when Bent paid Bracken a visit. Their common fashion interests and Aimee's desire to create a private collection for the store sparked the notion of a dedicated line.

From that, the Form line was born.  

When the two met, Form boutique was three years old, and Bracken had acquired a solid commercial base. "To take something like this on in the current economy was a pretty big risk, but I had a good list of clientele who really loved fashion and were very devoted. They were already coming here to find unique things."

What they'll find now is even more unique.

Bent adds, "What we're doing is pretty ground breaking. You don't see this kind of thing unless you're working with an indie designer who has their own boutique, or are at a major department store with a designer collaboration. This is very unique, particularly in Baltimore."

Price points will start in the high $200s and top out at the mid-$500s. Women will have the ability to come into the boutique, try on the clothing, and decide if they like it before proceeding further something they're unable to do with custom clothiers in the area.

Which isn't to say the work lacks customization.

While the designers chose styles that are flattering to most women, Bracken says that "Different women like to emphasize different things. If they don't like to show their knees, we can lengthen a skirt for them. If they only wear black, we can change the color. We will have a storyboard that we can show our clients with fabrics and options to see what works best. We can modify the garments to make sure the woman feels comfortable in what she's wearing."

That woman the woman both designers envision wearing Form is, according to Bracken, "intelligent, creative, and committed to fashion. She knows what she wants, but she'll also be able to realize a value on her investment."

"We wanted these pieces to transition from a woman's professional life to her personal life," says Bent.

"People are cautious about how they spend their money these days, but these will be pieces that women will keep for years. We want women to be able to wear the clothing as much as possible, so we designed everything with a cohesive, interchangeable feel," Bracken adds.

The two are working with a local seamstress but the bulk of the clothing is being produced by Bracken and Bent themselves, with Bracken tackling pattern making and Bent doing the sewing out of her studio in Station North.  

Five pieces are included in the collection: two blouses, a skirt, a jacket and a dress. It's evident from the feminine fluidity of the clothes that both women were influenced by the classic, elegant aesthetics of designers like Valentino, Karl Lagerfeld and Oscar de la Renta.

Bent notes, however, that Form exhibits something different: a kind of "soft structuring," a bit less tailoring than most giant design houses are known for.

It seems then, that Form is perfect for Baltimore, a city that anyone would be hard-pressed to describe as "buttoned-up."

The collection will debut at 2:00 pm on September 25th at the Clipper Mill Pool during a fashion show sponsored by Form Boutique and Urbanite Magazine. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the House of Ruth, a charity beneficiary that was a "no brainer" for Bent and Bracken as the organization is opening a resale boutique to help women and children of domestic violence. Fashion show attendees will bring an item of clothing to donate to "Ruth's Closet."  

But what happens to Form after the fashion show?

"We want it to be really special, and very exclusive. We're not even thinking mass production yet," says Bracken. "We could take it to a mass production, wholesale route, but we want to start with a smaller target audience."

Keeping it small might prove to be a challenge. Orders for Form are already rolling in.

Sarah Perry is an eleven-year native of the Baltimore area and has been writing for about that long. Her work has appeared in publications across the country. She's also a lawyer, but don't hold that against her.

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Photos by Arianne Teeple

1. A sketch of a clothing line exclusively at Form Boutique in Baltimore
2. Julie Bent, Designer, LOT 201 Designs/Co-Creator, "Form" line at Form Boutique
3. Thread at the LOT 201 Designs studio
4. Swatches at the LOT 201 Designs studio
5. A form for sewing needles at the LOT 201 Designs studio
6. Aimee Bracken, Owner, Form Boutique
7. Jewelry at Form Boutique in Baltimore
8. Purses and shoes at Form Boutique in Baltimore
9. Form Boutique in Baltimore
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