Chris Donovan’s designs dominate the streets well beyond Boston
| by Hailey Bishop
Chris Donovan is taking over the fashion world from the ground up.
Donovan gained prominence for his dazzling designs on the hit Bravo TV show Project Runway, which he won in Season 14 in 2015. Donovan’s star was ascendant in that moment. With the whole world watching, Donovan’s designs were just beginning to take off in the fashion industry. The Boston-native began to turn heads with his creative talents and caught the eyes of many including Boston Fashion Week, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and The Boston Globe.
His designs didn’t come to be on the big-screen overnight. Donovan’s dreams of shoe stardom started long before his start in Boston. The Worcester native first sketched artwork in the basement of his childhood home, and although he had several career detours including a long stint as a telephone repairman, that work would later become his brand Chris Donovan Footwear.
It all started simply enough for Donovan. “I remember the moment that my passion for shoes was ignited. I was in a Catholic high school in Worcester in the ’70s. The girls wore uniforms and would express themselves with the highest hair and highest shoes,” said the 60something Donovan. “One of my classmates walked in with the highest platforms I had ever seen. I was amazed that an article of clothing could become a piece of sculpture.”
This story of his epiphany just flows from Donovan: “I started sketching the shoes in my notebook and the questions started racing through my head. What else could you do with shoes? What else is possible? I started sketching and I never stopped for 35 years. There were sketches of shoes in all my notebooks, on all my work orders at work, every napkin at every restaurant I ate at, and on every envelope and scrap of paper in my house. I may have taken 35 years but I turned it into a business.”
Fast forward to 2021 and he is dominating the streets of the SoWa District with his dazzling designs. Recently Donovan partnered with the Lanoue Gallery on Harrison Avenue in the South End on a new collection of his that was released this year. His designs have a variety of prints, patterns, lux finishes, and vibrant colors to complement his creative eye for design. His creations are unlike anyone else within the industry. When asked to describe his latest shoe creations in one word he used the word “soar.”
Diving deeper into the process for Donovan’s latest collection, he said: “My designs are based more in art than on trend. Art is a huge inspiration to me because it’s the voice and perspective from the artist that you may never have thought of. …It opens your mind. I see my work in the same way. I want you to see shoes in a different way.”
For Donovan, that led to the South End and his partners on this project. “SoWa Boston and Lanoue Gallery seemed like the perfect place to introduce my work. The whole area is filled with creative people, artist studios, galleries and shops. It’s a center for innovation in design and where you can meet the makers themselves. I’m very happy I chose SoWa Boston.”
Susan Lanoue, owner of the eponymous gallery, echoed Donovan’s thoughts on inspiration. “I’ve been passionate about the visual arts since I was a child growing up in Baltimore. I was surrounded by paintings and sculpture at home, and I developed a strong affinity for creating things with my hands,” Lanoue said. “As the years passed, I came to realize that my strengths did not lay in making art so much as giving a platform and voice to those who did.”
Lanoue, too, has been working a long time to see her inspiration take form. She first started working in a Boston gallery in 1988 and helped start a gallery “from scratch” in 2000. In 2004, she launched Lanoue Gallery on Newbury Street and moved a decade later to the SoWa Art + Design District in Boston’s South End.
For Lanoue, it was love at first inspiration. “We found an incredible community of creative entrepreneurs including art galleries, artists, design studios, one-of-a-kind retailers and ‘makers’ of all kinds. We were fortunate to secure the largest gallery space in SoWa. …It’s a fabulous industrial setting in which to exhibit our contemporary, artist’s works.”
The sentiment was shared by Chris Donovan and led to their collaboration. Donovan’s latest designs included a collection full of pieces that were effortlessly chic, but had an edge to them making them glamorous and unique just as art is. The vision behind his designs was heavily influenced by the topic of creativity. Art has taken center stage in his latest collection and “lookbook,” which features bright pops of color, mesmerizing metallics, a mix of textures and prints, and intricate hardware detailing.
Kathy Benharris of KB Productions, who worked with Donovan and the gallery on the lookbook and on Donovan’s release, said that Donovan is the “real deal.” While working with the gallery, KB Productions helped develop and conceptualize this bright idea and said that they all worked together to ensure that Donovan’s vision was everything he wished for and more for his iconic lookbook.
A longtime fashion industry insider, Benharris noted that fashion commentators don’t just like Donovan’s designs, women actually like wearing his shoes.
“One of the things that comes through to me about CD the person is that he truly loves women,” said Benharris. “He 100 percent wants the (I think very lucky) ladies who wear his masterpieces to feel confident, strong, and beautiful. For CD this is not a PR thing that a male designer says to align himself with being pro-female. I know how much he genuinely thinks about how his footwear can empower and celebrate women.”