“25 years experience,” is a tag line any business would love to have, especially when that business is tasked with earning a customer’s trust and making them look good. Literally. And at the ripe old age of 28, designer, tailor and Lincoln Square resident Nicki Barr has been sharpening her seamstress skills nearly her entire life.
“I remember sitting on my Grandma’s lap at the age of four sewing my first project. It was one of those Pillow Persons,” says the Tulsa Oklahoma-native. “In 8th grade I made a pair of pants from a pattern and I made all my prom dresses and a friend’s prom dress. I also wanted a quilt for college, so I made that too. Sewing has been part of my life forever.”
Barr took that first quilt and her passion for sewing and design to Oklahoma State where she majored in apparel design and production. “You get other expertise going through a university program,” she explains as to why she opted away from the art school route. “I took business classes and management classes that I think have really helped.”
Barr has been living in Chicago for six years now, initially in Lincoln Park, where she still has a few of her wedding dresses for sale at Weddings 826. But now she works from her home in Lincoln Square. She’s also part of a neighborhood women in business group, Square Circle Group, who meet once a month to share ideas. She’s met a lot of her clients in the neighborhood too. They come to her for tailoring and altering, and redesigning existing dresses as well as creating a custom dress from scratch.“I love making dresses from start to finish,” she says. “I love the challenge too of deconstructing and reconstructing.”
For the bride-to-be who would like a custom-made wedding dress, Barr recommends trying on a bunch of dresses in bridal stores to get an idea of what you like, then come to her with those ideas and pictures from magazines to get things started. She also works with brides who have already purchased their dress but want it tailored differently or personal touches added, like beading or sashes or belts. “But if there’s a lot of changes to be made, it’s good to just come to me first before you buy. Sometimes it’s easier and less expensive to just start new, especially if you have some ideas.”
And for those just attending a wedding, or have a special event and are in need of a special dress, Barr can help you too.
“People can start by bringing me a fabric they like or a design they like,” she says. “Some will see something on the red carpet and want something similar.”
As for where she gets her inspiration from and how she keeps up with the current trends, Barr looks at wedding magazines, fashion blogs and advertisements. “Those full page ads in magazines that may be selling something like shoes are also full of other details that hint at upcoming trends. Like gold buttons on a jacket or a touch of color. It’s important to pay attention to the small things.”
Those are comforting words from someone whose job it is to listen to a client’s wishes and make them look their best.
“When people come to have something tailored, the first thing they usually say when they try the clothes on and their standing in front of my mirror is, ‘I’m built odd,’” she says. “No you’re not. You’re built like you. Clothes are mass produced, they’re not made custom. By tailoring something and making it fit you better, you look better and you feel better.”
“It depends on how much I have going on,” says Barr by way of explaining how much time it can take to have something put together or tailored. “Deconstructing and reconstructing a dress takes double the time, which is why it can be easier to just start from scratch in the first place. It can take me three hours to just break down a dress but only two hours to design one, make the pattern and cut it out.” She says suits can usually be done within a week and occasional dresses (that is, dresses for a special occasion) can be 1-2 months. Wedding dresses can take a bit longer but depend on the bride’s schedule as well because of the different fittings.
When pricing, Barr says she considers what the dresses in similar styles would sell for at the store and accounts for the fact that those dresses aren’t tailored yet. “Fabric can also make a huge difference in the cost,” she says. But she says she usually has a good idea of what a dress will cost early on, after talking with a client and understanding what they are looking for.
Custom clothing may seem, to some, a level of vogue of which they are on the outside. But for anyone intimidated by the world of fashion or fear the harsh, judgmental screams of Joan Rivers or a judgmental wedding guest, Barr’s approach and philosophy will immediately ease. “I think I’m fashionable, but I’m by no means a ‘trendsetter,’ she says, choosing to peruse fashion magazines from the comfort of a local coffee shop than front row of a Paris runway. “I love breaking things down and seeing the details. I look for the small things like that in life and know that everything is part of a bigger picture.”
Barr also hems jeans, tailors men’s suits and dress shirts and makes Halloween costumes. You can find more samples of her work and contact her on her website: nickimeadows.blogspot.com