Meet Fashion Designer and College for Creative Studies professor Aki Choklat
By Susan Peck
Photography by Jessica Polk
Internationally renowned fashion designer Aki Choklat thrives on the energy of new beginnings. Relocating to Detroit from Italy last year and being part of Downtown’s rebirth has pumped him full of inspiration he wants to share with young designers in the city.
The College for Creative Studies in Detroit’s Midtown brought Choklat, a footwear and accessories designer, in last year as the chair and associate professor of its BFA fashion accessories design program, one of only a few that exists in the country.
“The call came in unexpectedly to offer me the position at CCS, and it was an honor to be asked,” Choklat said. “It’s a true renaissance time in an exciting city that has so much going on in art and culture. It’s very energizing to be part of what I call ‘New Detroit.’”
The idea to launch an accessories design program at CCS came from advisory board member Ashley Olsen.
“It made sense to start the program because the accessories business is a $50 billion industry in the United States alone,” Choklat said. “The main focus of the program is to understand the full cycle — from design to final product — for footwear, handbags and small leather goods. The students can also explore other accessories, such as hats and glasses, taking advantage of the opportunities we have here at the college.”
With a master’s degree from the Royal College of Art in London, Choklat has worked in all levels of the fashion industry, from design to production “and learned from the bottom up.”
He still designs for his own label and acts as design consultant for prestigious international brands. “My two life’s passions have merged — designing fashion and sharing my knowledge with young designers,” Choklat said.
“I don’t have children of my own, so my students become my children as I get the chance to share what I know and to watch them grow in their craft. There are few institutions in the United States preparing the next generations of accessories designers, so that makes my purpose with the program here in Detroit even more important.”
Originally from Finland, Choklat was an artistic child and remembers spending hours creating on a sketch pad. As a young accessories designer, Choklat worked with top design houses like Ferragamo, and today his artful designs are known for their vivid colors, unconventional materials and bespoke craftsmanship. He has ongoing collaborations with companies like Tillander and Lahtiset from Finland and Diverso from London.
“I’ve lived almost everywhere, but what’s been so revitalizing for me living in Detroit is the creative collaboration with local companies like Shinola or young local designers like Alxvndra and the radical, avante garde underground fashion scene here that reminds me of urban New York in the ’70s.
“We are only into the second year of our program at CCS and, no doubt about it, we are turning out some stars who will become part of the fashion family in Detroit and make a name for themselves in the fashion industry.”
Artist, designer, teacher and visionary, Choklat is also the author of numerous books. Footwear Design is his latest, which has become the quintessential design book for the shoe industry.
“I am interested in so many things, and I like to be productive in all of them,” Choklat said.
Currently living in Birmingham and close to one of his fashion mentors, “the fairy godmother of fashion, Linda Dresner,” he feels eventually his best fit would be to live in Downtown Detroit.
“I hang out Downtown for the majority of my work and social life, and I look forward to the beauty and weirdness that inspires me there every day. I really can’t imagine now living anywhere else.” NS
To see some of Choklat’s students’ creations showcased, the Student Exhibition Opening takes place May 12 at the College for Creative Studies’ Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education, 485 W. Milwaukee,
in Detroit. This will be the first year that Fashion Accessories Design students will have the opportunity to sell their work, with visitors having the opportunity to buy their custom-made accessories, like handbags and clutches.
A Collector’s Reception starts at 5:30 p.m.; general admission is 7-10 p.m. Tickets are $350 for the Collector’s Reception and $50 for general admission. Free parking and shuttle to the Taubman Center are available. Public days are May 13-26. For information, call (313) 664-7464.