10478538_10152988549828047_7895026647650309895_nOne of our newest additions to the Styleshack platform is the classic & professional chic (think perfect blazers and basics) brand, called, Alchemy Detroit. Business woman turned Fashion Designer, Shelley L. Van Riper, shares her story with us!  Read the interview below. {SS}: Can you give us a brief background on your career… and of course, how the company was established?{Shelley}: In 1990, I enrolled at a local University in Michigan as a fashion design major. I had never left Michigan so when my college guidance counselor (who was all of about 24 years old) asked if I was going to New York or Chicago and I said hadn’t planned on it, she suggested I switch majors, because according to her, there was no fashion in Detroit. As sad as it is that I listened to her, in hindsight, it led me on a fantastic journey. I went on to earn an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a Masters Degree in Public Administration.

It was the many lessons I learned in corporate America that prepared me to launch a fashion label over twenty years later.

I’ve had the honor of working at some of Michigan’s oldest nonprofit and public organizations. After graduation, I worked as a legislative aide for a Wayne County Commissioner that represented the Grosse Pointes and part of Detroit. I transitioned to Henry Ford Health System and held roles in Government Affairs and the Office of Philanthropy before heading to The Michigan Humane Society as its Director of Major and Planned gifts. After a short transition, I returned to HFHS supporting major gifts, and corporate and foundation relations. My next five years were spent at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan beginning with a stint as part of the incoming CEO’s transition team. It was a natural transition, then, to moved into the healthcare division of Thomson Reuters supporting strategy and operations. All of these roles taught me very important personal and professional lessons, which I continue to draw on today.Nevertheless, throughout my career, it was always a struggle to find classic wardrobe essentials for work. We dress pretty conservatively here in the Midwest and I was always searching for the perfect black suit, a timeless blazer, and the unattainable white shirt. In the early 1990’s, I started wearing Kasper suits. I would buy several of the same suits in black and navy, maybe a grey and if by some miracle, I found the right red, I’d make the investment. It was at a very early stage in my career that I recognized how many amazing and beautiful options men had when dressing for the office. This was well before corporate casual became the company norm. The ties, the shirts, the cuffs, the sport coats, even the trouser socks were so intriguing to me – my immediate thought was, why do I have to go to the menswear department to find such impeccable pieces that work together, are timeless, and of great quality?! The perfect blazer and shirt would elude me for decades.unnamed-1The idea behind Alchemy Detroit was rather organic. I was at a point in my career where there wasn’t a lot of passion; the thought of sitting in an office behind a computer for one more day, was suffocating and my attempts to balance a career and young twin daughters didn’t seem to add up to a fulfilling life personally or professionally. Subsequently, in late December of 2012, I was shopping at The Somerset Collection and a bit dismayed at the lack of options available for a basic black blazer that was well cut, nicely draped, and would last more than one season. It was that night that I promised myself to finally do it…to listen to that voice inside telling me to start my own label. It was only through the support of my husband, Craig, both emotionally and financially, that I was able to follow my passion and in December of 2013, Alchemy Detroit was created.{SS}: Inspiration behind the name Alchemy Detroit?{Shelley}: Alchemy Detroit was born in the spirit of ancient Alchemy, which is defined as a multidisciplinary study of chemistry, philosophy, and psychology. In its most simple and well-known terms, alchemy was a tradition whose practitioners focused on discovering methods for turning base metals into notable metals like silver and gold.Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 12.34.00 PMFor me, Alchemy Detroit’s philosophical tradition transcends foundational wardrobe basics…creating investment pieces that have lasting appeal (with a healthy dose of attitude). The Detroit part of Alchemy, well, that’s just from where I come…the east side, Chandler Park Drive and Cadieux, to be exact. Detroit is where I was born and raised, and will always be my home. And true to the energy and spirit of transformation from which alchemy is created, I want to support today’s woman whose only norm is constant evolution. Alchemy Detroit represents a true revolution in attitude and approach of supporting real women who lead busy, crazy, hectic, and amazing lives.{SS}: Inspiration behind the premiere collection? (Blazers, Scarves and Basics){Shelley}: My inspiration for the inaugural collection is classic menswear. I can always find inspiration from the boys; Savile Row, American or European, the men just seem to know how to pull it all together and make it look uncomplicated. When it was time to create the capsule collection, I was focused solely on constructing the perfect blazer. I am a diehard lover of blazers but also very maniacal about the fit, cut, and quality of the materials. Specifically, I have always been amazed by the fact that so many blazers lack the proper drape that is complimentary to a woman’s body. My personal favorites have always been tailored pieces that provide a feminine silhouette, while hitting below the hips, e.g., The Sophia Blazer. And while this look isn’t right for all women, I feel for most, it elongates the body while allowing the wearer to create a personalized look. For those women who prefer a slimmer and slightly shrunken fit, we created The Madelon Blazer, which offers a schoolboy profile, hits at the hip and is a tad roomier. Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 12.35.49 PM                 Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 12.38.07 PMI’m a firm believer that women want blazers that are effortless, that don’t make them look like they tried really hard to pull the outfit together – it was important to me that the entire brand inspire authenticity. To that end, this collection is rooted in the classics, black, gray, navy and plaid, which are timeless but versatile. Based on the attitude of the lady wearing it, the blazer can be dressed up or down, from the office to the soccer field, from brunch to the airport.Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 12.40.56 PMThe Alchemy tees, like the blazers, were born out of a desire to have luxury utilitarian pieces that provide endless options. It was important that our tees first and foremost be comfortable. Second, they needed to be long enough for those of us who like to cover our bums but constructed with unmatched flexibility for the wearer. I think we have achieved that with both our fitted (The Logan) and loose (The Morgan) tees, which can be worn long, ruched up or tucked in. I felt that if we started with black, white, and gray, we pretty much have every base layer covered.Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 12.43.55 PMI’m always looking for a good scarf so it was essential that the collection offer unique, artisan pieces. Made with superfine cashmere from what is formerly known as Tibet, the Emily and Madison scarves are just that – the perfect accessory for elegant comfort and warmth.  Whether draped over the shoulders, worn in place of a light jacket or stuffed into a carryon during long flights, these pieces are transitional and can be worn from early autumn to the chilliest of days.Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 12.43.42 PMThe scarves are made on an antique wooden weaving loom in a mill in Florence, Italy that specializes in only fine scarf production.  The Quinn modal scarf is made in the same mill as the Emily and Madison scarves but uses a modern weaving loom.This shawl is microfiber spun superfine to provide a soft and warm touch and gets softer with each wear. Extreme in length, it provides endless lightweight draping options with a silky warm touch. Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 12.43.21 PM         Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 12.43.33 PM{SS}: Who is the lady wearing your collection?10509693_10152988569783047_6296072238640982071_n{Shelley}: Alchemy Detroit prides itself on intentional design that integrates seamlessly and effortlessly into a woman’s modern lifestyle, be it board meeting or weekend brunch. With an ode to bespoke tailors, we strive to deliver discerning attention to detail; re imagined for hardworking career women, stay at home moms, young professionals and mature matriarchs. Our pieces are meant to be worn and lived in, decade after decade.  Our clients are confident women, typically ranging in age from 30 to 60, who are aware of fashion trends yet prefer investment pieces that build upon classic apparel staples.The Alchemy woman seeks a timeless and sophisticated aesthetic, on the whole, she is willing to spend money on quality, but doesn’t necessarily want to broadcast it with loud labels. She’s obsessed with designs that are clean and refined with particular attention to superior fabrics and construction. And while she absolutely wears the collection because it is forward thinking and savvy, it is rooted in the classics; styles that compliment her complexity, offering her sleek silhouettes, and unpolluted lines.{SS}: Which pieces from your collection, are YOUR (personal) favorite?{Shelley}: I absolutely love The Sophia Blazer. I prefer a longer cut blazer that provides more coverage than a schoolboy fit and because I’m pretty tough on my wardrobe, I think the leather elbow patches provide practical beauty that is quite complimentary without being over the top.

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WLOOK_01_048edit_cleaningflatsgv2fixless_1024x1024The Morgan Tee: I live my life in various forms of t-shirts and the Morgan tee’s flowing design is that perfect blend of being long in the body with a more relaxed drape. It also doesn’t hurt that it is cut from insanely soft, feather-light Italian stretch-jersey and lies beautifully against the skin.Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 1.36.54 PMScreen Shot 2014-11-24 at 1.38.20 PMThe Emily Scarf: On a daily basis, I have a scarf with me – even in warmer months. The soft cashmere of the Emily scarf is warm but light enoughto wear in the spring and fall.{SS}: Which pieces do you wear most often?{Shelley}: I wear all of my tees on a daily basis, under blazers, sweaters and even sweatshirts. My blazers are worn with my favorite jeans, khaki’s and even shorts. And as stated earlier, depending on the forecast, I always have one of my scarves with me.{SS}: Anything else we should know about your brand? {Shelley}: While we are committed to the Alchemy woman, we have already had men asking when we will start a l’homme line. My first priority is successfully supporting busy women in their quest for luxury basics.   Alchemy Detroit is committed to manufacturing in Detroit and we are excited to see an overall resurgence in Detroit. As the daughter of a General Motors assemblyman, I’m hopeful that within the next few years, I can move some or all of my production to Michigan. For now, our collection is being produced in Chicago.Now onto your personal style….{SS}: In regards to your personal style, do you have a signature look or accessory?{Shelley}: Honestly, this entire inaugural collection is my signature style…black blazer, layered tee, my favorite scarf alternated with pumps, boots, or my beloved Chuck Taylors, depending on the agenda. It’s kind of my uniform, it’s comfortable, and it works.


 {SS}: A few items in your “Styleshack” A.K.A closet that you can’t live without?longchamp_tote_bag_le_pliage_1899089015_0{Shelley}: I can’t live without my Longchamp handbags. I have a few of them, one for every occasion (all black). Again, I see them as investment pieces that have lasted me decades. They never go out of style and truly stand the test of time. Also, my Chuck Taylors – I rotate through about six or seven pair and are another example of a staple that’s been around forever.  I have also been known to hoard Lululemon Studio Pants. {SS}: Who or What inspires your style?  Favorite Style Icon?{Shelley}: I am absolutely obsessed with menswear. The Parisian Gentleman, The Gentleman’s Gazette, Brioni, as well as fashion photography, the more dramatic, the better. I’ve never really thought of one particular woman as my favorite style icon but if I had to choose, I would say it would be Diane Keaton. I mean the hats, the glasses, the blazers, the trousers, the oxfords, my god; even her turtlenecks are inspirational; she’s just an all around classic lady with a wicked wit. Over the last 40 years, she has epitomized menswear style. And while I think she kind of flies under the radar as a style maven, her choices are fierce whether in Marni, Paul Smith, Thom Browne or Prada.diane-keaton{SS}: What is your Style Archetype{Shelley}: I alternate between Classic and Professional Chic.Screen-Shot-2013-11-03-at-2.34.54-PMScreen Shot 2014-11-25 at 8.12.15 PM{SS}: Favorite fashion or lifestyle blog? {Shelley}: WWD401975_10150593577384255_1235349406_n             {SS}: Pinterest or Instagram (or both?) {Shelley}: Instagram first for staying connected but I could spend hours on Pinterest!

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{SS}: Favorite “local” boutiques in your area or anywhere in the world? {Shelley}: I have mad love for Lola Ryan because Rachel was the first boutique owner to carry Alchemy Detroit and she’s been super supportive!darkchocolate{SS}: What is your secret to work/life balance?  {Shelley}: Um…dark chocolate? Seriously, dark chocolate combined with my twin daughters and my husband. My girls keep me grounded and on my toes and my husband provides the support I need to take care of myself whether it’s exercising, getting out of the house for me time, or even encouraging me to take a mini-vacation by myself.{SS}: What would you tell your 23 year old self?

{Shelley}: This too shall pass!! LOL!

 {SS}: Words to live by? Or Favorite Quote?{Shelley}: Okay, this is a really long one, but, because the first suit I ever owned in the 90’s was a navy Kasper skirt suit, I have to go with this quote from Herbert Kasper – his philosophy is spot on and aligned with everything that Alchemy Detroit aspires to be:herbert-kasper_669-profileOver a lifetime of designing I've evolved a philosophy that comes from creating clothes for a particular kind of American woman. (Who, by the way, I very much admire.) This woman is adventurous and vital with a lifestyle that demands she play many different roles throughout the day. It's the confident spirit of this kind of woman that inspires me most.  Whatever she's doing, running a home, a career, entertaining, mothering, traveling, I deeply believe this woman remains an individual. No one is going to tell her exactly what she has to wear, no matter what's currently in style. She wants and needs high style, high quality, fashion-conscious clothes that can last for more than one season…And because I think I have an exceptional ability to anticipate trends, my clothes always have a "today" spirit. I'm constantly refining, improving, interpreting…trying to capture the essence of the times without being trendy. But from whatever source my ideas come from, I always keep in mind that lively, energetic, smart looking woman who is my customer. She's my motivation and my ultimate inspiration.  —Herbert Kasper