MILWAUKEE — Celebrities like Solange Knowles have worn her creations. She's working with Halsey and Ariana Grande. Her work has been featured in some of the biggest fashion publications. Teen Vogue named her a young designer for the next generation. She is Elena Velez and she's not from New York or Los Angeles. She is from Milwaukee, and that's part of her appeal.
It's hard for 24-year-old Elena Velez to pick a favorite piece because each has its own unique story, but if she has to, it's a dress.
"This is actually a repurposed World War Two parachute,"said Velez.
Velez's designs run from parachutes to metals.
"A lot of this metal is repurposed from Milwaukee ships and boats, too. So that's really cool," she said.
And that's what sets Velez apart. She isn't seeing anyone else "welding" fashion, let alone metal from Milwaukee, and that's what makes her story in the world of fashion even more unique.
Other pieces are made out of sails from boats "right outside the front door" at the Milwaukee Sailing Center.
Boating is an important part of Velez's designs because her mom was, and still is, a ship captain on Lake Michigan.
Velez says that as a child, "hide and seek spaces were engine rooms or ship yards or welding garages. I think that really influenced my aesthetic as a designer today."
We actually first met Velez nine years ago when she was 15. At the time, she already had created a slew of designs and told us that she loved fashion because she could make whatever she imagined. Since then, Velez graduated from the world famous Parsons School of Design in New York. She lives in London now, studying for her masters degree. Her creations have graced runways in New York and London.
Velez returned to Milwaukee to present her new collection to hundreds in her hometown. She hopes her work helps change the perception that the future of high fashion is limited to cities like New York and Paris.
TODAY'S TMJ4 Susan Kim asked her what kind of reaction she gets when she tells her Milwaukee story to those in the Paris fashion world.
"It's a really welcome, unusual perspective that people are really curious about," said Velez. "I think small city kids and hometown narratives really deserve a place in the American fashion story."
Velez says nine years from now she's hoping to still be involved in the fashion world, and hopefully able to pay a couple more bills.
And even though she lives in London right now, she still works with many people and businesses in Milwaukee. She thinks that's an important part of her artistic process. And if that's not impressive enough, Velez speaks five languages.