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Columbia student’s wearable art makes splash, Chicago fashion scene under brand name Delyse

Lukas Katilius
Senior fashion merchandising major Kendyl Delyse poses beside the garments she made for her upcoming show in the fashion lab on Friday, May 3, 2024.

Kendyl Delyse Johnson, a senior fashion studies major concentrating on merchandising, has spent roughly the last year building up her fashion brand of wearable art pieces under the “Delyse” name. On May 5, some of her pieces will be featured in “Beyond the Bias,” a fashion show showcasing Chicago-based designers at the Salt Shed. 

Johnson first became interested in fashion trying to find creative ways to wear a uniform in middle school. Her fashion classes at Thornwood High School in the southern Chicago suburb of South Holland further inspired her. Once attending Columbia, where she is also minoring in fashion styling, she began experimenting with chain link patterns in late 2022. She established her brand, named Delyse, in early 2023. She specializes in working with chain-link materials as opposed to traditional fabric and often incorporates motifs of spider webs, butterflies and crosses. 

“I’ve always loved jewelry, so that’s kind of what got me into the chains specifically,” Johnson said. “I just started experimenting with cable chains, breaking them down and stuff.”

Rather than taking the traditional path of using fabric and stitching to create designs, Johnson said she wanted to make her work stand out with non-traditional materials. 

“I was drawn more to unconventional materials instead of the basic fabrics,” she said. “I just love avant-garde fashion, so I thought it was cool to do that instead of doing the regular fabrics and silhouettes.” 

She cited Alexander McQueen’s whimsical designs and Paco Rabaan’s metal distinctiveness as inspirations for her work. She said she prioritizes reimagining various silhouettes into the work of her brand, asking herself, “How can I recreate that and make it my own?”

Johnson is the head designer and creative director of her brand and creates all of the pieces herself. She works with a small team of friends and collaborators who help cultivate a social media presence and execute brand campaigns. Throughout her work, she aims for people to feel confident when wearing the pieces she makes. 

“When I see people wearing Delyse, I just want them to feel confident,” she said. “I just love seeing people wear different stuff.” 

Adilah Muhammad, who teaches at Thornwood High School and owns her own brand, Adilah M, first met Johnson in 2018 while teaching one of the school’s fashion classes. Muhammad had Delyse as a student the following school year and observed her growing interest in fashion. 

“Kendyl was always interested in the work. She attended all of the field trips we had,” Muhammad said. “I took her [on] her first tour to Columbia College and also took her to the Chicago Fashion Incubator at Macy’s [where] she had the opportunity to speak to designers.” 

Now that Johnson has founded her own brand while still attending college, Muhammad said that she is certain that great things lie ahead for her. 

“As long as Kendyl decides to continue to work on her brand, she will be successful. It doesn’t matter if she decides to stay with her brand, pivots, or try something new,” Muhammad said. “As long as she continues to push and fight for her dreams, she will continue to win.” 

“Beyond the Bias” will be at the Salt Shed on Sunday, May 5, and feature the work of over a dozen Chicago-based designers. 

Sal Yvat, founder of styling studio The Look Authority, is the stylist behind the fashion show and hopes to celebrate Chicago-based fashion craftsmanship, which she said is often overlooked due to the larger markets of New York and Los Angeles. 

Yvat featured some of Johnson’s creations in a previous photoshoot she styled and said she wanted to include her work in the lineup for “Beyond the Bias” because the show’s focus aligned with Delyse’s work.

“I wanted to showcase her work again because ‘Beyond the Bias,’ this show, is about sustainable fashion and also making it ready-to-wear,” she said. “So I just wanted to have someone in there who was using what I considered an unconventional material.” 

Yvat said that what she called the “hot girl aesthetic” present in Johnson’s work inspired her, in addition to the quality of the pieces themselves. “They’re well made and I think they kind of live in this liminal space of calling back to an era that we’ve experienced before but still being new in its execution and interpretation,” she said, referencing early 2000s aesthetics. “Which I think is pretty great.”

Johnson said she will also be debuting a new collection in June with inspiration from the Gilded Age, a time in American history remembered for its over-the-top, grand fashion. As for the greater future of her brand, she said she has her sights set on continuing to expand her pursuits.

“This is something I’m really passionate about. I would love to be based in Chicago but still do work in New York or do work in L.A. and work with different creatives,” Johnson said. “I just wanna keep growing.” 

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About the Contributors
Avery Heeringa
Avery Heeringa, Former Reporter
aheeringa@columbiachronicle.com   Avery Heeringa is a senior communications major, minoring in journalism. Heeringa has reported on the college's unions and events on-campus. He was also the editor-in-chief of ChicagoTalks. Heeringa worked for the Chronicle from December 2023 through May 2024.   Hometown: St. Paul, Minnesota
Lukas Katilius
Lukas Katilius, Photojournalist
lkatilius@columbiachronicle.com   Lukas Katilius is a junior photojournalism major. He has covered various campus and Chicago events. Katilius  joined the Chronicle in July 2023.   Hometown: New Lenox, Illinois