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Art in flux
Residents and business owners in Milwaukee’s western city neighborhoods push for revitalization

By LAURIE ARENDT

July 13, 2008

Artists know that inspiration can strike anytime, anywhere.

For Shorewood resident May Klisch, inspiration - and just the right encouragement - happened while waiting for breakfast at Jean Pierre with her husband and daughters. "It was the first time I’d sketched in 20 years and I picked up a crayon and started drawing," she says. "My husband, Russ, looked over and said, ‘You’re in the wrong business.’" Klisch responded with a casual, "Maybe."

But in hindsight, it really was more of an epiphany moment for someone who has made a career out of eclectic, yet always creative, career choices. Her latest is the year-old MK Wrapsody, a design studio and boutique that operates out of the lower level of Harley’s The Store for Men in Shorewood.

Singapore-born Klisch had spent most of her adult life as a public relations and marketing professional, starting in her native Singapore.

She eventually moved on to California and had her first, albeit quirky and brief, brush with design. "When I lived in San Francisco, I made padded tapestry tablecloths and runners, and they were for sale in the Museum Store and Macy’s," she says. "I sold only one — a rich red-and-gold ‘Garden of Eden’ design — but it was to Danielle Steele’s interior designer for her home."

The ability to sew for Klisch was more like the ability to cook or bake well. It was just a part of her that she didn’t really acknowledge in a professional capacity.

"I do think I always had that intuition about sewing, about being able to see things in my mind before they were sewn together," she muses. "But it was never a big part of what I did as an adult. It was just a hobby."

A job opening with Time Warner brought Klisch to the Midwest, where she and her husband Russ co-own Lakefront Brewery. While Klisch continued working public relations, her career path evolved, eventually taking her to Erik of Norway where she took on PR and marketing tasks. It was here where her interest in fashion and design was reignited. "I was always around stylish people, and we did a number of fashion shows," she says, noting that the local salon took their show on the road to London, New York, Minneapolis and Chicago while she was there. "The models in our show sometimes wore haute couture. On one trip in particular, I dabbled in repairing, refinishing and altering most of the designer pieces to fit the models."

Those clothes were returned to the designers in better shape than when they were loaned to the salon. The practice also helped Klisch discover that she did have real talent, both in sewing construction as well as design. "I realized that I was drawn to things that are kind of unique," she says.

When she started MK Wrapsody, she focused primarily on wraps in fibers, fur and feathers. "It’s not just fashion for me; it’s art, too," she says of her work.

And because of that, most people react to her designs much like they would to art. People generally have one of three reactions the first time they see her work, and she’d like to point out that all three are perfectly acceptable in her eyes. "The first reaction is that people really get it and love it," she says. "It surprises me that so many people get my work."

The second reaction her wearable creations often elicit is quite similar: People really appreciate the work, but would never wear it. "The final reaction is that people are horrified by it," she says with a grin. "But that doesn’t bother me, because it means that they feel it and are reacting to it." Spoken like a true artist.

Her business has already evolved to include bridal dresses, an area she wasn’t initially planning to explore. "My first wedding dress took the better part of nine months to complete, but it was because the gown evolved as an art piece," she says, of the chocolate-wool lace with feathers, shredded fabric elements and pieces of vintage jewelry from the bride’s grandmothers. She also fashioned a jaguar collar into a fox-lined shrug with a red Chinese wedding satin lining. "Her parents came to the final fitting and her dad actually wept," says Klisch. "When she walked down the aisle, it was like my art had come to life."

Klisch’s art also continues to come to life on a growing clientele throughout Milwaukee and the Northshore. She’s already exhibited at the One of a Kind Show in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, is exploring potential Manhattan-based opportunities and is working on some design work with a noted national brand. "People can’t believe that I’m doing what I’m doing here in Milwaukee," she says. "But it’s a good fit for me, and more people are continuing to discover what I do all the time."

 


This article was featured in the March 2008 issue of