Paris, Milan, New York . . . you'd hardly think that Cedaredge, Colorado, belonged on the list of cities known worldwide as fashion meccas. But then again, only a handful of people have seen the clothing that Mitchell Gronenthal makes, creations gorgeous enough to make grown-up girls long for the days of dress-up.
Mitchell is probably most recognizable as half of the amazing photography duo from Revé Portraits in Cedaredge. But on the side, he enjoys designing and creating upscale, one-of-a-kind clothing pieces.
The hobby started as an outlet for his photography passion, and specifically his interest in fashion photography. In college, he had an acquaintance who studied fashion marketing. Part of her acceptance into the school included creating a piece of clothing, from concept to finished product. That whole process of design intrigued Mitchell, and he wanted to document the process in photos. He kept in touch with his friend throughout school, and even photographed some of her clothing projects throughout the years. He finished college with a bachelor's in art and the notion to one day craft his own clothing pieces in order to photograph them.
After graduation, he began working in the photography industry, and as is often the case, everything else fell away while he worked 40+ hours a week trying to make a living in a competitive field in a big city. That break-neck speed didn't slow down even when he moved here after getting married. He and his husband Trey Gronenthal opened their photography studio in 2013, and circumstances -- finances, work schedule, life -- ensured Mitchell never quite got around to designing any clothing. He's always been a dabble and a crafter, but didn't really start in the clothing design hobby until Trey encouraged him to make something and enter it the Delta County Fair. That conversation reignited the spark he'd had several years earlier.
Mitchell had an image in his head to make a dress out of paper. He did extensive research online to see if any other designer -- from big names to hobbyists like himself -- had ever created a dress from paper. "The style I wanted and way I pictured it, there was nothing like that out there," he explained. That could be because not many people hear "paper" and think "clothing." And even fewer people would look at a ream of copy paper sitting on the desk and think that a beautiful piece of clothing could come from simple sheets of paper. But not Mitchell. "I'm really interested in creating something that people don't wear normally," he said. He crafted a unique piece out of repurposed craft paper and recycled copy paper, resulting in a fun and funky frock. It took him a full year to conceptualize, design and create the dress. Though the dress is extremely fragile, it is definitely wearable, though it's only been worn just once.
That entire year of creating, his intention again was to photograph the dress and photograph someone wearing the dress. When Trey saw the finished product, he proclaimed that Mitchell would take first place at the fair, but Mitchell had his doubts -- he wasn't sure what the "norm" was at the local fair. He entered his dress anyway and was placed in the craft category. "I was highly surprised that I actually took first, but even more so surprised that I got judge's choice," he said.
That blue ribbon, that excitement, that rush that came from knowing he'd created something of beauty and that others recognized that beauty -- it all sparked that passion that had lain dormant for many years. "Seeing that I was able to create images, beautiful images that captured the essence of the model, the dress, the makeup, the hair -- that sparked it all," he said. He itched to get back to the sewing room to create a new piece.
Within the next year, he created two new dresses. The first came about much like the first; he saw something out of the corner of his eye and immediately pictured an article of clothing. In this case, it was a stack of burlap leftover from his wedding.
"Burlap is not a fabric that is conducive to clothing," Mitchell acknowledged. "When you think of burlap, you don't think of it as a comfortable fabric. It's itchy, it isn't sturdy. I took all of those notions and threw them out and created a functional, wearable dress." Because burlap is so flexible, it was easier to shape and come up with an abstract design. He created the dress by pinning strips of the fabric in crazy designs and rosettes onto a mannequin. "It's very abstract, very complex on top and light and flowing on the bottom," Mitchell explained.
While he was crafting the dress, he asked his mother-in-law Debi to crochet roses in white and turquoise. At the time, she didn't know what she was crocheting for, but it all came to fruition with the final touches on the dress. Mitchell adorned the burlap dress with the roses as a way to honor both his mother and his mother-in-law. His mother had passed away from lung and liver cancer, and his mother-in-law suffers from scleroderma. White is the color associated with liver cancer; turquoise with scleroderma.
"Debi absolutely loved the dress, that someone had designed something in her honor," Mitchell said. "I wish my mother was here to see it, because she would have loved it as well." This dress was also entered in the fair, in the sewing category this time, where he earned second place from the judges.
The next dress he made was a special request. A customer at his photography studio requested a special maternity shoot -- she wanted a woodland fairy type of scene, and wanted something special to wear during the shoot. Mitchell created an ethereal, flowing burgundy gown made out of tulle that was designed specifically to showcase the baby bump. "When she walked, the dress just followed her," Mitchell said. "It's very flowing, very light." He made a matching dress for the customer's daughter to wear in the shoot as well.
He's currently working on a fourth dress, using more repurposed materials. He is using a silvery mint green stain material that was once a set of curtains in his aunt's house, and then a backdrop at his photography studio. Soon, it will be an open-sided gown with leather accents. "It's very revealing, open on both sides, and shimmery," Mitchell said. "The creation of the dress was all about how the fabric flowed and how I could shape and design it to fall on a woman's body."
It is the type of material that inspires Mitchell more than anything in his creations. Up next, he wants to create a dress made out of the plastic rings around a six-pack of soda. He's also playing around with a new airbrush kit he was given for his birthday recently. He read an article about a new fashion movement for gender-neutral clothing. He has plans to create a gender-neutral t-shirt out of canvas, and then embellish the shirt with the airbrush kit.
That article of clothing is just practice for something he is really looking forward to. He plans to create a white men's suit using a 1940s Dior suit pattern. He plans to cut out sections of the suit and have different people use the airbrush to paint their emotions onto the piece of fabric, which he will then incorporate into the finished suit.
All of Mitchell's designs can be worn, but they all are also art pieces primarily. "My clothing leans more towards someone who would walk the red carpet, someone who wants a statement piece," he said. "This is a way for me to not be limited on what I can do in the world. I enjoy designing, and it's fun, but I also want to show others that they can be creative and do whatever they want in their chosen art form -- there are no limitations on creativity."