Milwaukee, WI Presents: Every Now and Fashion a 2006 Runway Show

Milwaukee, WI Presents: Every Now and Fashion a 2006 Runway Show

I remember going to my first fashion show in the fall of my sophomore year of college, 2002. There was a group of local designers who put on this show that was called Vanity Fair. I don’t really remember much about the outfits I saw, but I do remember the feeling of being completely inspired by the show, the music, the atmosphere, and seeing the look of complete bliss on the designer’s faces who showed their designs.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin was not by any means a fashion forward city in 2002, and it was not the city to be living in if you wanted to design clothing for a living. Still, I had a HUGE need to immerse myself in this new world because I knew how to sew, and it was the medium I wanted to use to design my work. Also keep in mind- this was PRE Project Runway which started airing in 2004.

The Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design had (and still has) a fantastic design program, but they did not offer anything in the area of fashion. I like to think that I rocked the boat and kickstarted a movement (with some of my classmates) to move MIAD in the direction of being open to concepts in fashion. It did help that I was an illustration major and that major lent itself well to toe this line. (Image below is a collage I did my junior year. This project was a definite pivoting point in my career in that I was developing a style with a medium I was growing to love, collage, and I was figuring out ways to explore fashion through my illustration.)

"Feminism", Collage, 2004 by me

My junior year I began taking classes with Areka Ikeler, AKA Fashion Ninja, who was one of the designers in the Vanity Fair Show. Fashion Ninja was a staple in Milwaukee. Anybody who was anybody that was interested in the immerging underground fashion scene in Milwaukee knew her. She had the skill set and business knowledge to successfully run a small boutique and sewing school in Bayview (a neighborhood in Milwaukee that was south of downtown). Fashion Ninja taught me so much! I really honed my sewing skills and learned about handbag construction, pant construction, draping, pattern making, and even using an industrial sewing machine. I learned that if I was having problems with my machine- there was a 90% chance I didn’t have it threaded right. I was completely inspired and motivated with every class I took with Areka! She even let me intern for a bit my senior year and even a little after graduation. I did a lot of garment construction and was able to learn other daily goings on of running a successful shop. This was DEFINITELY a highlight of my time in undergrad!

For my senior thesis show at MIAD I stayed true to who I was as an artist and designer and showcased 6 illustrations of 3 designs I made. I also did some packaging design and gave my space a boutique look. I received so much positive feedback from my exhibit and I remember talking to a lot of high school students who desperately wanted to go to school for fashion design.

After graduation I got a full time 8-5 job and I couldn’t help but need that rush of a fashion show and the excitement. I got a group of my closest friends and supporters together and I figured out how to put together a solo show that was all mine. It was many nights of designing, sewing, and fittings. It was also coordinating hair and make-up with my little sister and her friends at the Aveda Institute where she went to school. I was able to get a high-end shoe store in the Third Ward to let me use her shoes in my show. I lived just over the bridge from MOCT, a small bar, that let me use their venue as long as I packed the place with people- the owner also had a DJ planned for the same night. My husband built my runway for me when he got back from his deployment in Iraq. Ashley O'Dell, a super renowned photographer in the Boston, MA area, my friend and former classmate, took my insanely beautiful photos! My best friend, Jessica, designed my promo materials for the show and made some amazing tickets, programs, and posters. My sister Anne was studying Animation and Video at MIAD at the time, and she made an incredible video of the event. It was an absolute dream and so many wonderful people helped it to fruition! I can honestly say it was also one of the scariest things I have ever done because it was a big responsibility to make sure it would actually happen.

I am not really doing this kind of sewing anymore, or event planning, but I still at times feel the need for it in my life. It is something that is just in me, and if I could ever go back to school and money, time, commitments and life weren’t in the way- I would go to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and try to make it as a fashion designer!






The one I learned it all from, my #1 fan: My Mom!!


Mary Morningstar Johnson


Mary Morningstar Johnson

My heart. It means the world to me that I had the opportunity to teach you about sewing. “To the moon on a needle and a thread” !!! I love my students and cherish every single memory so much. It’s all in my heart forever. Love, Fashion Ninja

Mary Morningstar Johnson

Mary, your show was a great accomplishment. Love reading about all the other designers who helped make it come to life.

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