When Rachel Frank thinks of what to wear each morning, the words “something simple” never cross her mind.
That would never go with her green and purple hair or her dashingly fun personality.
Even as a child growing up in Baraboo, Barbie couldn’t have boring outfits from the store. She had to have something edgy. So Frank would cut and create, singing songs like a commercial: “Gymnastic Barbie, her bag turns into a skirt.”
Frank has turned that childhood passion for something different into a clothing design career that’s taken her to Chicago, where she owns her own company.
“I’ve always kind of viewed my clothes as costumes as opposed to fashion, so it’s kind of like having a character come alive,” she said.
Frank’s designs will come to life Sunday during the Summerset Festival of the Arts in Baraboo, where she will hold a fashion show that will pay homage to Steampunk, a science-fiction genre inspired by steam power from the 19th century.
“There will be tops and skirts all very detailed - nothing simple, of course,” she said.
The look will incorporate another passion of Frank’s — jewelry. When she designs, she goes far beyond the cloth, taking into account every detail — from makeup to a necklace that’s fixed with gears from old clocks.
“Before I even started doing Steampunk clothing I started doing Steampunk jewelry because I found 300 skeleton keys in my grandfather’s basement,” she said. “I thought they were really amazing, so I started making necklaces.”
To find parts, Frank found herself rummaging through antique shops and garage sales, trying to find old clocks for gear parts. Gears are a big part of the Steampunk look.
To capture the era, imagine future technology in the age of steam engines. Kind of like Jules Verne meets the inside of a clock.
“When I started doing (the pieces) someone said, ‘It’s very Steampunk.’ And I didn’t even know what that was. But that opened me up to the genre,” she said.
While her career path was fashion, Frank said during a lot of her youth she thought she wanted to be a singer. But by the time she entered high school, the way she dressed and worked with clothing became more than a fashion statement or a trend.
“My mom always said when I was in high school I dressed much older than my age,” Frank said.
She was always wearing dresses, and says she only has one pair of pants. “Everyone always asked me, ‘Where are you going?’ I always looked very overdressed, even in high school.”
Her design inspiration blossomed during this period when she saw the work of famed designer Alexander McQueen. She now has McQueen Mondays at her work. Big extravagant garments, accessories, they all became part of her life.
After graduating Baraboo in 2004, Frank found herself attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to study fashion. She also worked at a Chicago fashion incubator at Macy’s working on a clothing line.
“I tried to do ready-to-wear clothing that you buy off the rack. But I realized that’s not my calling, trying to design something with the least amount of fabric at the lowest price to sell for the most,” she said.
This past year, Frank opened her own business, RFD by Rachel Frank, where she can spend more time on the details. And the details, she said, are everything.
Simple clothes were not for her. A self-proclaimed fabric snob, Frank needs texture, pleats and fabric. Lot of fabric — silk, leather and lace.
“That’s how my mind works — lots of details,” she said.
After hours of sketching and creating each part of a look, Frank said the first time seeing it on a model is a different experience, an awesome one.
“Usually when I’m designing clothing, I’ve always kind of thought of myself as an accessory designer because my garments are made up of a lot of pieces,” she said.
“So even when I’m designing the initial garment I will design jewelry (to go with).”
Her days in Chicago are not all spent on design. During the day she walks dogs for a few hours before heading back to the studio to fill orders.
“I do lots of custom, one-of-a-kind pieces,” she said. “I’m currently working on bridesmaid dresses.”
But her dream may not come to fruition in Chicago. Frank is looking toward a bigger canvas to create her art — movies.
“I belong in L.A.” she said. “I want to be a costume designer for film. That’s my absolute goal in life. I love to design in the likes of ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Lord of the Rings.’ Very intense fantasy, or sci-fi.”
One of her favorite films for costumes of late was “The Hunger Games,” which incorporated a McQueen style. While she loved that film for the style, there are other movies she wishes she could help on.
“I look at that stuff and I really do feel all of what I do is about a character,” she said. “There’s so many films I look at that I could have done so much better. Give me a script and I will show you what that’s about.”
She also is inspired by nature, having used trees as her source of inspiration for dresses. She even made a hat out of deer antlers and a raccoon skull with a compass for an eye.
“Even in my early years I have never, ever been simple,” she said. “I actually have a very hard time designing simple.”
If You Go:
What: Rachel Frank fashion show at Summerset Festival of the Arts.
When: 5 p.m. Sunday.
Where: R.G. Brown Theatre, UW-Baraboo campus.
Cost: Festival tickets run $5-$7 for each day. Events run through Sunday.
Web: Go to rfdbyrachelfrank.com to check out her work.