Chicago’s Fashion Loves Art Runway Spotlights Designers with Day Jobs

Dress at Chicago Fashion Loves Art Photo: Isabel Souza

“Can I take a photo?” asked the photographer. It wasn’t of the models on the runway, it was of the women seated for the fashion show in the white fur coat and mid-calf black boots.

Attendees at Fashion Loves Art Photo: Isabel Souza
Attendees at Fashion Loves Art Photo: Isabel Souza

The audience was just as inspiring as the runway with red lips, sleek hair, over-sized sweaters, stilettos, and fury coats for Chicago’s Fashion Loves Art fashion show and art silent auction on Friday, October 23, 2015 at Moonlight Studios in the West Loop.

Velvet Wrapped Shoes:

I had just escaped the storm. The photographers were ready to take pictures.

“Is my make-up running?” I asked a tall man in a suit.

He reassured me that I looked okay. His name was Hristo Pepelanov of RiaBulga, one of several emerging and established designers including Silvia Bours, Chicago Playground, Filthy Haanz, Nicole Andrews, and Mark Roscoe, who presented their spring lines at Fashion Loves Art.

We took a photo together, and then we sat at the edge of the runway for an interview.

I noticed his shoes—they were wrapped in velvet like Khloe Kardashian’s car.

Pepelanov was wearing his lucky black velvet wrapped dress shoes—the same ones he wore on his wedding day two years ago. This was his big night, debuting his first collection for his line RiaBulga.

“I had the best cocktail at TWO,” Pepelanov said. He was going to start walking to Moonlight Studios, but it started raining.

He pulled over for a cab and gave him the address. The driver said, “You know that’s a really short ride?”

“Yes, but I have to save my velvet shoes,” Pepelanov insisted, who took a three dollar cab ride in the name of fashion.

Velvet aside, we took to his Instagram account to see his designs and learn about his inspirations.

Interview with RiaBulga Fashion Designer:

Hristo Pepelanov from RiaBulga is a New York fashion designer and middle school science teacher. He grew up in Bulgaria and moved to the states when he was 18.

Windy City Cosmo: What inspired you to become a fashion designer? 

Hristo Pepelanov from RiaBulga: I always loved fashion. I just like that fashion is a form of art—and also science. You have to know how cotton fabrics fit in a certain way.

Hristo Pepelanov from RiaBulga Photo: Isabel Souza
Hristo Pepelanov from RiaBulga with his models after the fashion show Photo: Isabel Souza

Windy City Cosmo: What inspired your collection? 

Hristo Pepelanov from RiaBulga:  My collection and the company is inspired by Bulgarian national folklore…I put the “Ria” in front. I manufacture only in Bulgaria.

I like the silhouettes to by very clean-cut. They compliment the body—slim or not. I wanted to make [the designs] more modern to bring it to the new world.

Windy City Cosmo: As a New York designer, what brought you to this Chicago fashion show? 

Hristo Pepelanov from RiaBulga: The people organizing it and the stylist is originally from New York. There are a lot of designers and artists in Chicago who are really cool and hip. And, I wanted to meet them.

I was actually really inspired today because everyone looked so cool [in the Gold Coast]. They had really cool accessories.

Windy City Cosmo: Can you give me an example of someone in Chicago who inspired you?

Hristo Pepelanov from RiaBulga: There was this women walking into a restaurant. Her coat was really cool. It had a double collar…cashmere looking. She was a woman in maybe her 50’s. She looked, you know, timeless.

Silhouettes are not for a season or a trend.

Windy City Cosmo: What is the hardest part of being a designer?

Hristo Pepelanov from RiaBulga: It was a couple of years in the making. I really wanted to find the right partners to work with and the right manufactures…the one with attention to detail.

Windy City Cosmo: Why did you come to America? 

Hristo Pepelanov from RiaBulga: I came to the states when I was 18. I wanted to do marketing and PR. I got a full scholarship for science.

I thought everywhere in the states was “Sex and The City” because that’s what I saw in the movies.
Now, imagine a little boy in Bulgaria who wanted to go to America. 

Pepelanov went to school in Missouri and then transitioned to a place that was more  “Sex in The City” when he finished his degree at Hunter College in New York. He graduated with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry and adolescent education.

Windy City Cosmo: Where did you teach?

Hristo Pepelanov from RiaBulga: First, high school, and now I actually still teach middle school science. I love teaching. I enjoy everyday going into work.

Windy City Cosmo: What is the best piece of advice you tell your kids? 

Hristo Pepelanov from RiaBulga:

You should pursue what your passions are. I work in a school that is supportive of our side passions. You don’t have to be one thing in life. 

Aneta Geometric Print Dress from RiaBulga Photo: Isabel Souza
Aneta Geometric Print Dress from RiaBulga Photo: Isabel Souza

Windy City Cosmo: What is your favorite piece in your collection?

Hristo Pepelanov from RiaBulga: My favorite piece in collection is the beige and white dress with the peek a boo. It’s classic but has a little hint of naughty.

Pepelanov named some of his clothes using Bulgarian terms such as, ognyana, which means “fiery”.

Chicago and New York Designers at the Fashion Show:

As we were talking, guests lined up to take a photo with the Fashion Loves Art backdrop, and then sat under vibrant chandeliers as they talked in between the DJ’s beats from past favorite artists, Shaggy and Rhianna.

At 7:00 pm, Stephanie Alexis, Founder and Stylist of SAStyle Studio, welcomed guests to the fashion show in an opening speech.

The night began with Chicago Playground’s varsity boy look.

Chicago Playground Photo: Isabel Souza
Chicago Playground Photo: Isabel Souza

Then, it quickly switched to extravagant gowns with plunging necklines from Mark Roscoe. RiaBulga, based in New York, introduced Bulgarian influenced looks that mixed silk and cotton blends. Nicole Andrews brought long, flowy dresses with animal print, and then a classic long black dress with a side slit.

Mark Roscoe: Lawyer and Designer:

Mark Roscoe and his models Photo: Isabel Souza
Mark Roscoe and his models Photo: Isabel Souza

One of the favorites of the night was inspired by Little Red Riding Hood, complete with a long red cape made by Mark Roscoe.

Roscoe, like Pepelanov, also kept his day job as a lawyer and continues to design at night. Crain’s Chicago Business reported that Roscoe designed a dress for this year’s Grammy nominee, Antonique Smith.

 Mark Roscoe Photo: Isabel Souza
Mark Roscoe’s Evening Dress Photo: Isabel Souza

Ronald McDonald House Fundraiser and Partnership:

Tickets for the night started at $50. Both a portion of the tickets and sales from the silent auction went to local charity, The Ronald McDonald House Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana.

“Our Ronald McDonald House near Lurie Children’s Hospital has the opportunity to host over 22,000 family room nights annually since opening as what was the world’s largest Ronald McDonald House in 2012,” said Managing Director of Ronald McDonald House near Lurie Children’s Hospital, Mark Shouger,

“Our ability to offer the comfort, care and compassion to so many families only happens with the support of the local community and families, an event such as Fashion Loves Art is a prime example of this. We are thrilled to partner for this special event.”

Cocktails and Silent Auction:

After the fashion show, guests took in the live music from  Marcus Matteo ft. SWAY and sipped on cocktails from two open bars. The silent auction was held through cell phone bidding and included donated art from Katrina Jackson of VH1’s Black Ink Crew, Jules Muck, Artistic Views, Joey Africa, Miriam Zuckerman, and Rome Won. RiaBulga also donated a size two, pink dress for the auction.


Guests from New York and groupies from the band attended as well as On Air Talent for iHeart Media, Kristina Lutz, New’s Personality, Showbiz Shelly, and Chicago Tribune’s Randi Shaffer and Kasondra St. Antoine.

 Marcus Matteo featuring SWAY Photo: Isabel Souza
Live music from Marcus Matteo featuring SWAY Photo: Isabel Souza
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