Visual Arts

Studio Visit: Chucky Spears

Chucky Spears has constructed a space to showcase his deconstructed denim.

On the first Friday in June, he's surrounded by beautiful women. Spears' tiny studio, at Seventh Street and Fillmore in downtown Phoenix, is crammed full of people -- friends, First Friday revelers and several models. Spears fields phone calls and fusses, pinning pieces right onto the models.

Four months ago, this 100-year-old building was, literally, a crack house. Now it's home to Swagga, Spears' own clothing line. And tonight, a fashion show.

The front room, where the ceiling was once caving in and the floor was so full of holes it was dangerous to walk across, now showcases Spears' denim designs. As he walks through the showroom, he touches each piece, calling out their names and telling a little story. "This one here is called 'pockets,'" he says as he brushes his hand across a floor-length skirt made, appropriately enough, out of about 50 back pockets gleaned off vintage jeans. "'Pockets' is my favorite -- she took me about two weeks to sew."

Behind the showroom, which Spears eventually hopes to turn into a functioning shop for his line, is a modest living space. Dishes are piled high in the sink, an open jar of peanut butter sits on the counter.

Past the kitchen is Spears' bedroom/studio. A mattress is thrown in the corner of the room and dressed with some old sheets indicating that this is, in fact, a place to sleep. Piles of denim cover the floor, and next to them in a small black ashtray is a similar pile of Kool menthol milds. Spears' sketches and measurements paper the wall along with a list of goals he's set for himself.

It doesn't appear as though much sleeping goes on here.

"I was up until seven in the morning sewing last night," he says. "I got two new ideas and I couldn't stop."

A sewing machine sits on a work table, the centerpiece of the room. Spears bought the machine about a year ago at a thrift store in downtown Phoenix -- marking his beginning as a hands-on designer.

"I had these designs in my head all my life, but I had no one to sew any samples for me. So one day I got pissed off about it, went and got a sewing machine and learned how to do it myself," he says. In the year since he started sewing, Spears has sold several original pieces. Now he has his own studio and showroom.

"Not bad for a young man from the Bronx, huh?" he asks. "Three years ago I was a bike messenger in Manhattan, dodging cabs, trying to survive. I'm done with surviving. To me it's either success or death. And I'm not going anywhere."

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