Tuesday, February 18, 2014

2014 Spring Collection Inspiration

The new Spring/Summer collection has been in the works since the end of July. I was laying on the grass at the Potawatomie Campground in Union City MI, and literally just absorbing everything around me. The AAS Jugendgruppe started going to the campground in 2002, and now all of us (25yr olds+) have stopped dancing with the jugend, but we haven't stopped taking off the 3rd weekend of July to spend it in Pure Michigan!

Anyway… as the boys were playing soccer, the girls were relaxing in the sun, the parents were playing scrabble and chit-chatting about nothing exciting, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of warmth. I started seeing dirndl designs with warm neutral colors, light printed knits, and denim, pop into head. After borrowing some paper from the scrabble players, I started sketching and jotting down my feelings.

Why this past year was so inspiring, I'm not sure… but what I do know is that I'm so excited about how this collection really embodies how I was feeling that warm day in rustic Potawatomie and how different it is from anything I've done so far!

The warm sunshine inspired me to use more warm gold tones, like browns and beiges. The sound of the gravel underneath the bicycles and little feet running around also made me think of mixing in some metal, like buttons, chain and hooks.

I also wanted to have an ease about the collection… like the ease of putting your chair around the campfire and enjoying everyone's company. Nothing too fussy, just calm and relaxing.

Sitting in the shade (my skin and the sun don't get along very well), next to the lake, got me thinking of cool colors (greens, blues, and purples) but in a slightly warm tone as well. Like the feeling of the water… cool when you jump in, but in the heat of the summer, soon the water seems warm!

Lastly, I knew there needed to be elements of denim in the collection. When your sitting around the campfire at night, it gets a bit chilly and very buggy… so what is everyone wearing? Jeans! Denim is an important element in this spring/summer collection, but it's certainly not overwhelming.

Just writing this is making me yearn to be back on our annual camping trip. I can't wait for July when I get to wake up in a tent, only to find all my friends doing the same thing and offering me a Bloody Mary to jump start our busy day of doing absolutely nothing! Well, maybe taking out the canoe or going for a hike.

Here is a sneak peek of the collection and a behind the scenes look at the photo shoot for the Rare Dirndl Spring/Summer 2014 Day at the Lake Collection. Enjoy!

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Restaurant Review: Laschet's Inn

As you know, I love my German heritage! And what better way to celebrate it than with a good German beer and good German food. With that in mind, I've decided to dedicate a portion of my blog to German Restaurant Reviews! For the first few, I'll write about some local Chicago places, but then I'll need your help! I can't travel all over the US searching for the best German Food (unless the Travel Channel would like to pay me to do so... hint hint ;-) Anyway, so if you have a favorite German place, click here to learn how to get your review up on the Rare Dirndl blog!

My first review is of Laschet's Inn! (yes, I know, kinda a cop-out since I worked there for a year and a half… but this is my honest to goodness review!) Laschet's is located at 2119 W. Irving Park Road in Chicago, between Western Ave. and Damen. I went there for dinner on a Saturday night with my sister and her boyfriend and 2 other good friends. We had a reservation, which I highly recommend making, if you want to go there on a Friday or Saturday night. The atmosphere is warm and cozy! There are lots of wood and old school German decor (some of it is actually 30+ years old!) It's very comfortable, even on a Saturday when the waitstaff is running around and it's really busy.

The menu is extensive and includes a large selection of appetizers, sandwiches & salads, entrees and daily specials. On Saturday the special is the Pork Shank and Königsberger Klopse. The shank was already sold out (not unusual since we sat down for dinner at 7:45 and usually they sell out by 7pm).

We started out with our favorite apps, Hackepeter (wonderful and fresh German-style steak tartar) and the Buffalo Wings. Now, I know what your thinking… "really, Erika? Chicken wings at a German place?" Um… YA!!! They are hands down the best wings I've ever had. They serve the wings with the bleu cheese and wing sauce on the side, so the wings come out, they are hot, crispy and AHmazing!! The Hackepeter was also really delicious! It's served with capers & onions, and we like to dump them out into the center, drizzle some Maggi (Germany's version of soy sauce) over the pile and then smash the little Hackepeters in it so each bite has some capers & onions… YUMO!

To drink, I had the Weinstephaner Vitus! It's one of my favs, so I get very excited when it's on draft. Laschet's has 12 different German beers on tap at all times. There are some that stay pretty constant, but for the most part it changes weekly. The Vitus is a strong weiss bier or wheat beer. It's got a different taste then a typical weiss bier, like hackerschorr weiss, and I think it's smoother as well.

For an entree, I went with the Mushroom Goulash. I love that dish because its really unique and yummy. It has 3 different kinds of mushrooms (white, shitake and portabella) mixed with onions in a buttery balsamic sauce. It is served with Spätzle and red cabbage. The Spätzle is made in house and then seared on the flat top, so it's a little crunchy and soooo delicious. The red cabbage is good, but it's a tad tart for my taste, so I usually don't eat too much of it, just a bite here and there. The entree also comes with your choice of soup or salad and I went with the salad with bleu cheese dressing. They use a combination of dressing and bleu cheese crumbles… its really really yummy! (If you like bleu cheese that is.)

My sister Monika has a gluten allergy, so she can't have a lot of wheat, so she opted for the Potato Pancake appetizer (which has 2 potato pancakes the size of your head, so it's more than enough food) with a side salad, with hot bacon vinaigrette, yes hot bacon (its a warm sweet dressing with pieces of bacon in it, very popular and yummy) and a cup of the Goulash Soup.

Mark had the Goulash Dinner, which is one of his favorites! It's a spicy beef stew packed with paprika and other spices served with Spätzle and red cabbage.

And Alex had his favorite, Chicken Schnitzel with a fried egg on top. This dish is typically served with Roasted Potatoes and your choice of sauerkraut or red cabbage, but he opted for double potatoes.

It was such a wonderful dinner! We had a great time talking, laughing and enjoying our good German food. Our waitress, Cookie, was wonderful and made sure to check on us even though we were in the very back corner of the restaurant.
The last great thing about Laschet's Inn is the "complimentary after dinner Schnapps!" Your choice of apple, cherry-peach, or Obstler (a strong apple-pear brandy that has no apple or pear flavor… but it's one of my favs,) so we ended our meal with a "Prost". I would most definitely return to Laschet's… and I do, whether it's for dinner or just drinks, I end up there at least once a month.

Do you have a favorite German restaurant and want to share it with the Rare Dirndl community? Click here to get all the details about how your thoughts can make it on this blog!

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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Rare Dirndls on the Mancow Show!?

Samantha, myself and Nikki in the Mancow Studio

Yesterday morning I got my lil booty out of bed at 4:45am to get ready to head down to Michigan Avenue for the taping of the Mancow Morning Show. After leaving the taping of the show, my best friend Nikki, assistant Samantha, and I all looked at each other... laughed and said, "What just the F* just happened? Was that real?" Let's back track and bit and start this craziness from the beginning.

Last Friday (about a week ago) Jason, the owner and chef at Bauer's Brauhaus in Palatine, IL called me up and said that they were going to feature the restaurant on the Mancow Morning Show. (my first thought was "Mancow has a morning show?" but then I remembered reading about it in one of my favorite blogs, A Drink With) Anyway… Jason then asked if I wanted to get some girls together wearing Rare Dirndls, and go on the show with him. Naturally, I said, "Sure!!"

Mancow during the show
Over the course of the next week (so this past week), I did a little Mancow Muller research, so I could prepare myself for his questions, comments etc.  Let's just say, there was no amount of prepping I could have done to properly prepare me for this experience.

So back to yesterday morning... Nikki, Samantha and myself got down to the building (which I guess has most of the Fox studios in it… not quite sure) we walked in and the marketing director from Bauer's Brauhaus met us in the studio lobby and showed us to the dressing room and then onto the Green Room. Not 3 minutes after we walked into the Green Room and sat down, this LIVE camera comes in and puts our faces on TV. Naturally we just smiled and once the cameraman went into the other room, we looked at each other in disbelief, this was no ordinary morning talk show. A few minutes later a member of Mancow's team brought us into the studio and told us to stand in a space with a microphone and just look at Mancow, pretend that we are comfortable, look natural, smile and blow kisses at the cameras… this is the only information we were given.

In the Mancow Studio!
From there it just got crazier. First thing everyone says to me as we walk into the studio was "Hey! You look like Taylor Swift" Mancow asked me if I was from Bauer's Brauhaus, and since I felt that I was there partly to represent the restaurant, I said yes… he then asked me if I brought food, to which I replied "No, I make dirndls" "OH! You make the drindles?! Cool" and then he moved on. (and you, you read that right… the dreaded Drindle… one of my biggest pet peaves, but what was I gonna do? Say "excuse me Mr. Mancow, but its Dirndl, not Drindle… it's a Bavarian style dress, not a toy you spin around on Hanukah")

The beautiful spread of food provided by Bauer's Brauhaus
He did an interview with Dov Davidoff (he's pretty funny comedian who has been on Chelsea Lately) and all of a sudden Mancow straight up asks him which one of us he thinks is the cutest… really Mancow, really!? However, I totally figured that something like that was going to happen. I was mostly impressed with Dov's answer! He said, with sincerity "maybe if I had 5 minutes to talk to them and get to know them a little bit, I could make an accurate decision!" Then Mancow made fun of him and made the camera man point it right at Nikki. Honestly, we were treated with respect in the studio by all of the members of the Mancow team, but the actual broadcast was offensive, since cameras were mostly on our chests and not our faces. Not to mention it was difficult to talk about Rare Dirndl when Mancow was a bit busy talking about himself and playing clips from the past that were disturbing and disgusting.

The Leopard Dirndl

I knew anytime Mancow was directing questions at me, I had to just play along with the 150% unscripted chaos that was going on. I could go on and on about the ridiculousness that took place yesterday, from the girl named "Amanda Bynes" coming to co-host monday's show wearing the teeniest dress with a tiger face on it and making that goofy kiss lip duck face to the camera, to having a wacky Michael Meyers-eque mannequin behind me, or listening to Mancow rant about the Coke commercial from the Super Bowl for a solid 5 min and listening to a man (who told us he was Simon Kirke, drummer from the band Bad Company) tell us about his 2 pet tigers! Seriously… it was an experience I'll never forget, but can hardly believe!

Hopefully someone out there who watches the Mancow Morning show likes some of my designs enough to check out my website… highly unlikely, but you never know. Thanks to Jason for inviting us. And thanks to the lovely man who took my business card and said he would call me soon so we can go back on the show... probably not going to happen… I'll wait for a call from Ellen ;-)

Like what we were wearing on the show? Here are links to the online store and Spring/Summer promo video where you can check out the dirndl Samantha is wearing (coming soon!)

Erika (me) is wearing the "Pit and the Pendulum" Dirndl with the Black & Beige Hat
Nikki is wearing the top selling Leopard Dirndl
Samantha is wearing the NEW Wildflower Dirndl (coming soon!)

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Edelweiss Flower Power!

Chicago at 6:30am
On Tuesday morning I woke up bright and early to catch a flight to NYC for the dg Expo, a fabric and trim show held in the heart of the garment district. I decided to go because, as much as I love woking int my studio and sourcing here in Chicago, I just knew that if I explored what this expo had to offer I would be able to find things that would simply make Rare Dirndls better… and I was right!

I found a great source for zippers, took wonderful seminars about costing, sourcing and marketing, ordered a beautiful knit for a summer sweater, met a digital printer who would be able to get the Rare Dirndl Edelweiss Icon printed onto fabric, found a source for beautiful beading for bridal dirndls, but probably the most exciting was meeting Warren Brand, president of M&S Schmalberg, who specialized in custom fabric flowers.
Awesome presentation from Jane Hamill of Fashion Brain Academy.  Love her!

M&S Schmalberg Showroom
I was simply walking around the show and I had on my Loose Knit Scarf on with the Edelweiss Clip and he says to me "Where did you get that?" I replied, "I made it," And that started a conversation that led to, "Erika, why don't you come by the booth tomorrow morning and I'll take you over to our warehouse/workshop and you can see the place for yourself. Maybe we can help you make those flowers!"

I was over the moon! Soooooo excited!! The next morning Pam, (a lovely woman who works for M&S Schmalberg) took me to the warehouse, which was only 3 blocks away. I was blown away by the old school feel, the genuine artwork that was taking place. They showed me how the fabric is starched, cut into the petals and then pressed to shape the petals to look like real flowers!

Flower Petals being cut

We searched through their vast array of die cuts and tools to find a shape that would work for an edelweiss. Some had too many petals, some had too little, too fat, too round… until all of a sudden, the lovely man who worked the cutting machine pulls out a perfect shape! A little uneven, some petals longer than others, it was perfect! I couldn't believe it!

The flower shape I picked for the Edelweiss (unpressed and then pressed)

When I showed the girls who were putting the flowers together the edelweiss that I made, and they were most impressed with the fuzzy center. They said right away that those tiny details were something they would not do, but just having the petals cut for me is a blessing! Not having to take apart a bunch of lilies from Michaels Craft Store would save me so much time… and these are much better quality!

Then I found some fabric that they had laying around and they said I could use that as my flower petals for no extra charge. And believe it or not, they made the petals that day and I took them home with me! I also bought some beautiful white leather  at the expo that they are going to create into leather edelweiss petals for me and I can't wait to see how they turn out.

Overall, I am so glad that I went because I met some amazing people who are doing amazing things in beautiful US of A and I got to hang out with other wonderful designers that I have been working with over the past year. I have to thank my coach and mentor, Jane Hamill, for convincing me to get out from behind my computer and "go get it, girl!!"

Heidi Kelly from HKelly Designs, Adeline Olmer from French-Secrets, Jane Hamill from FBA, and ME!

Also check out this great video I found that features M&S Schmalberg and be sure to grab your Rare Dirndl Edelweiss clip while we still have them!

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Monday, February 3, 2014

For the Love of Germany, this is a Busy Week!!

Somehow this week has suddenly become one of the busiest weeks I've ever had! I'm working like crazy getting all the production for Spring/Summer in motion and sewing custom orders, but an opportunity presented itself and I took it… I'm heading to NYC baby! Today (Tuesday) and Wednesday, I'll be in New York sourcing fabric and taking a few seminars on textiles, marketing, production etc. I'm so exited to experience the d.g. expo for the first time, but I'm also a tad nervous… but I'm not one to back down because of nerves (for the most part ;)

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi start on Thursday this week and I'm soooo excited. I love watching the Olympics, maybe because I have no athletic abilities and I find every aspect of the events fascinating and incredibly impressive. I love hearing all the athletes back stories and learning where they come from. As an American I gotta root for Team USA, but all that aside, I love to cheer on countries like Germany, Austria and Switzerland! My ancestors are from Germany, my grandparents lived in Austria for a few years and my boyfriend's dad is from Switzerland so we cheer for them all!! GO TEAMS!

And then on Friday… I'll be accompanying Jason Bauer, chef and owner of Bauer's Brauhaus on the Mancow Morning show! Myself, Samantha and my bf Nikki will be sporting our Rare Dirndls on TV. So, we will be on MY50 Chicago between 6-8am on Friday morning! Can't believe it!

What a crazy busy week! But you better believe that for all these events, I'll be wearing Rare Dirndl items all week. For the dg expo, I'm bringing my accessories like lederhosen bracelets and scarves. For the Olympics I'll be sporting my Germany scarf and maybe the In Bloom Dirndl in Germany colors and then on Friday, for the Mancow show, I can't decide between "The Raven" Dirndl or "The Pit & The Pendulum" Dirndl… you'll have to watch and find out what I wear!

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