Surface Textiles designer with a specialization in Artisanal Menswear, Mady Berry is a BFA graduate from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois. Berry has work experience from Bernard Willhelm. She was selected to receive the Ungaro Foundation Scholarship and Marris and Rose Goldman Foundation Scholarship. She is currently residing in Illinois.
The Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc. (CFDA) 2016 Design Graduates

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Take a Roadtrip with Mady Berry's "Hair of the Dog" Senior Collection

There are hundreds of fashion students pumped out of the school system every year, but few have the same promise as Chicago-based designer Mady Berry, whose senior collection “Hair of the Dog” highlights her unique ability to experiment with artisanal processes and piece together a tactful narrative. This year’s range follows Berry’s junior collection, “Sand Doesn’t Need to be Bland,” which reflected on her Texas origins by developing three fictional characters to help her navigate through a metaphorical “creative desert.”

Tinged with a similar southwestern aesthetic, Berry’s latest seven-look collection is the result of her love for storytelling, offering yet another whimsical world to get lost inside. Her process begins by diving into personal, emotional experiences—listening to her parents’ stories and challenging herself to understand their lives in a pre-digital, pro-wanderlust age.

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Trends With Benefits: Why Are Cacti Everywhere In The Fashion Right Now?

The cactus is an icon rich with possibilities. In cartoons, it's been used to heighten campy southwestern illustrations like Looney Tunes' Roadrunner and Speedy Gonzales. In classic Westerns, the cactus acts as a backdrop for ominous desert scenes with cowboy shootouts staged against grainy, black-and-white film. A key to Native American spirituality, the greenery can embody serenity and escapism. With SXSW in full swing, Texas' state plant, the Prickly Pear Cactus, has become a visual keystone for one of the year's leading music festivals.

Throughout pop culture history, Westernalia has been repeatedly mined on underground and mainstream platforms, from Madonna's early 2000s "Don't Tell Me" video to K Rizz's Salbahe Cowgirl rodeo in NYC's club circuit. Immediately recognizable and imbued with tongue-in- cheek humor, fashion has more recently put a special spotlight on this iconography, using the cactus, specifically, as an unlikely focal point for style. Whether worn as earrings, on pants or to cover your entire face, the cactus has officially transcended windowsills of Kinfolk subscribers and become a statement-making look worth working into your wardrobe.

Like with all trends, this recent surge isn't necessarily new—Jeremy Scott heavily dabbled with the motif for his spring '12 collection, which starred an array of campy cactus prints on fitted cocktail dresses, one-piece swimsuits and sweaters. Rising NYC label Vaquera also played with succulents for one of founder Patric DiCaprio's early collections, creating a basic white tee printed with a stylized cactus that served as the season's logo, as well.

More recently, Kenzo brought this iconography back, drawing inspiration from the desert's climatic characteristics and introducing an abstract cacti print and embroidered cactus camouflage on jackets and shirt dresses. German-born designer Markus Lupfer complemented Kenzo's collection, wrestling with the image of a beautiful, blooming desert after being satiated with a rainfall for spring '16. This informed his use of decorative saguaros on sheer floor-length dresses and flirty A-line skirts, as well as a graphic cactus print and more sophisticated cactus brocade to round out this season's warm inspiration. logo

Trends With Benefits: Why Are Cacti Everywhere In The Fashion Right Now?

During Milan's fall '16 menswear presentation's last month, Dolce & Gabbana kept this exploration alive by dotting their presentation with real cacti and camera dollies, making for a runway set that looked as if they were filming a real-time Western. Oozing with Sergio Leone influence, the D&G man's wardrobe this season featured two leather zip-up jackets, both with cute, cactus-shaped detailing across the front. The Italian house also designed a tailored suiting jacket with cacti patches to loosen up the otherwise traditional silhouette.

While Kenzo, Markus Lupfer and D&G opted for more subtle cacti references—a move innately fueled by commercial pressures to be marketable—two up-and-coming designers, Chicago-based Mady Berry and London-based Digby Jackson, explored cactus imagery with far less inhibition.

Berry created her last full collection, "Sand Doesn't Have to be Bland," after a summer of traveling through Arizona and seeing a towering Saguaro in real life. Each look in the lineup represents a guide through the metaphorical "creative desert" she experienced while producing this body of work. "I chose the cactus as one of the 'guides' because it thrives in extreme environments," Berry said. "It is a reservoir for water and nourishment in a place where there is little. I thought of the cactus as a protector, as well as a place where I could draw ideas."

This conversation manifested into two key looks, one a very literal cactus-shaped sweater and the other, a cactus bra with glass eyes in the center of each cup. For the chunky gauge, three- dimensional sweater, Berry said she designed it to seem intimidating from afar, but slowly become soft and inviting as you move closer. "It was a collaborative effort between me and my mom," she said, describing the slow, hand-knitting process that was involved in completing this showpiece—a worthwhile effort recently worn to the club by queer nightlife pillar Imp Queen.

Berry's mom was once a proud owner of her own cactus dress in college, which sparked the idea to create a bra for Berry's desert guide, the "Siren." She said the look represents desire and passion, laced with a showy, sexy Las Vegas mentality. "Each look [in my collection] has a set of glass eyes where they 'see' from," Berry said. "I thought it would be appropriate and a bit cheeky if the Siren saw from her breasts."

Armed with a refreshing sense of humor, Berry said she works by reflecting on her "darker, anxious feelings" and processes those until they become "lighter" and she's able to then poke fun at herself. This appreciation for amusement is shared by Digby Jackson, whose own exploration of cacti was driven by his desire to approach fashion comically. "Life can be so serious sometimes," Digby said, explaining the motivation behind his graphic resort '16 collection, appropriately titled, "Prick."

His capsule lineup features simple separates—pullovers, skirts, tanks and caps—all printed with bright and bold southwestern landscapes—the cactus, of course, taking a star thematic role. "A cactus is such a strong visual image that has loads of scope to be played around with," he said. "I could say that it's the juxtaposition of something that is spiky and tough, yet produces flowers that are delicate and pretty. Animated, a cartoon cactus can also look like a dick—it's just a matter of perspective."

~Justin Moran / March 17, 2016

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Student Designer Mady Berry Is One Of Chicago's Most Promising Young Talents

September 8, 2015
Student Designer Mady Berry Is One Of Chicago's Most Promising Young Talents

Easily one of the strongest student presentations at the School of the Art Institute Chicago’s runway show last spring, Texas-born designer Mady Berry’s junior collection left us proudly craving her campy cactus-shaped knit sweater (See above). A fanciful master of storytelling, Berry’s three-part array, aptly titled, “Sand Doesn’t Need to be Bland,” represents her trying experience spent concepting, creating and executing the standout collection.

Each look serves a fictional “guide” through the creative “desert” Berry said she felt victim to last year; the “Cactus” outfit exemplifies resilience, finished with a crystallized “Peyote Coyote” stole, made in collaboration with Chicago artist Lane Preston; the “Siren” look is Berry’s flashy portrayal of passion, styled with an eyeball-adorned cactus bra that’d make Miley Cyrus weak at the knees; the third look, or “Creator,” represents Berry finally discovering her artistic oasis with a festive, hand-stitched scene of dancing coyotes, mountain lions and javelinas.

We caught up with the rising Chicago-based talent to discuss growing up in Texas, attending SAIC and her post-college plans.

On the collection’s origins:

“‘Sand Doesn’t Need to be Bland” came from a lack of inspiration and stamina. When I began designing I felt lost and uninspired and the longer that persisted, the more anxious and frustrated I became. I started to feel that I was walking through this metaphorical ‘desert.’ Once I began thinking of it in that way, I started to consider who would be my guides out of the desert and into the Oasis or ‘center of inspiration.’

My first guide is the ‘Cactus,’ at first intimidating, but really just a big softy. The Cactus is such a resilient and enduring icon and I am very inspired by that. The second look, the ‘Siren,’ is my interpretation of passion. She looks a little like a showgirl that got lost in the desert and became this animal. I learned a lot about myself while designing this collection and I expressed that in the third look. It’s a celebration of the creative process and the moment of inspiration. I think of it as a reminder moving forward that it’s always possible to find the oasis or inspiration.”

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September 8, 2015
Student Designer Mady Berry Is One Of Chicago's Most Promising Young Talents

On growing up in Texas:

“While living in Austin, I never felt any affinity for the way people dressed. Every once and a while I’d see a guy wearing a cowboy hat and boots, but I didn’t really pay much attention. I don’t even own a cowboy hat or boots. After leaving Texas, that’s when my fascination and obsession with my home state manifested itself. I feel a little like Sandy from SpongeBob when she sings the Texas song, ‘I guess deep in my heart I’ll always be a Texas Girl.’ My sophomore [work] dealt with my longing for home and the fantasy versus reality of coming back to the place where I grew up. I have a lot of nostalgia for the mythology of Texas; I’m drawn to southwestern themes and imagery in my work because it feels like home.”

On her ideal customer:

“Anyone that relates to the story I’m telling. Most of my garments have very performative qualities. I think the person who wears my clothes is adventurous, optimistic and a true individual. I design for someone who can suspend their disbelief and fall into another world where the garments take on a life of their own.”


“SAIC really allowed me to explore my voice as a designer without any exterior industry pressure. The school is very conceptual and that’s how I enjoy working. This method allows me to tell a story and feel very personally about my work. I would be very bored if clothes were simply clothes. I love the multidisciplinary nature of the school; it allows me to think outside of the framework of fashion and expand into different mediums like textile design and sculpture. This freedom has been extremely important in my growth as a designer.”

“In the beginning I was very frustrated. I’m a bit of a control freak and enjoy having my hands in every step of the process. I hand-dyed almost every garment and many times I was matching colors. In order to get the color right sometimes I would have to dye fabric multiple times; there was always a chance it’d go horribly wrong and I’d need to start over from scratch. I also screen printed and beaded, so there was quite a lot of handwork involved.

I knew from the beginning I wanted the cactus to be a sweater, but I had limited experience knitting. I found the yarn, figured out the stitch, and consulted on the pattern with this knitting shop in Austin called, ‘Hill Country Weavers.’ The cactus was really a collaboration between me and my mom; she knit pieces of the sweater and we worked together to assemble it. I don’t think the collection would have been finished if it weren’t for my mom; she studied textile design in college and is a very talented artist.”

On post-college plans:

“I want to gain as much experience working for people I admire, while also working on my own projects. My dream is to work for Walter Van Beirendonck. I would love to apply to intern for him after I graduate; I have so much respect for him and his approach to the fashion industry. He’s basically my design hero, as I feel he has never compromised his vision. I would also like to work for Henrik Vibskov and Viktor & Rolf. I think about returning to school to get a masters degree and maybe start my own label eventually. I would also love to design costumes for a pop star and be part of creating some sort of multimedia experience.”

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Chicago Tribune School of the Arts Fashion Students May 24 2015
Chicago Tribune School of the Arts Fashion Students Mady berry Cactus
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The School of the Art Institute of Chicago Stages Annual The Walk, May 12 2015
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago Stages Annual The Walk, image 2
The Best of SAICs Fashion Show, The Walk, May 22 2015
The Best of SAICs Fashion Show, The Walk, Mady Berry Sand Doesn't Have to be Bland