Couturier couple Mario Gallegos and Michael Crigger turned their Deep Ellum loft into the Parisian-style fashion studio Petit Atelier
J. DENTON BRICKER | Contributing Writer
What started out simply as a beautiful idea while vacationing in France, transformed into an everyday reality for partners Michael Crigger and Mario Gallegos: The business that is not their passion.
“It really stemmed from a trip to Paris,” Crigger says.
The couple was celebrating Gallegos’ birthday in Parisian style when they fell in love with the old-school French approach to fashion. “Mario had never seen how, in the boutiques [there], they take so much time on every customer. They assist you immediately upon entering, they pick things out [and bring them to you] based on your tastes so customers don’t have to hunt, and they wrap every item, even in the lower end stores,” says Crigger. “We wanted to bring some of that back with us and for our space to have a touch of the old world.”
So when they returned to Dallas, they opened their own studio storefront, appropriately called Petit Atelier (“little workshop” en francais), a multi-purpose studio space in Deep Ellum which offers custom design through its resident designers.
Gallegos (himself a custom couture designer) and Crigger (a designer with a passion for teaching) combined their multi-faceted perspectives on fashion to add to the rich complexity of services offered at Petit Atelier.
“We come from different aspects of it,” Gallegos explains. “I come from the improvisational creative side and [Michael] is more from the technical, academic setting where ‘this is exactly what you’re supposed to do’ — it’s precise. Sometimes, we have to meet in the middle but it balances everything out.”
This unique balance led the founders not merely to offer a retail shop, but a space where they could teach others the finer points of fashion.
Petit Atelier offers sewing/construction classes for anyone interested in learning how to make fashion at any level, taught by both Crigger and Gallegos. And these guys mean business — they have a diverse collection of commercial-grade equipment, dress forms in every size (not just fit-model slim) and a multitude of seasoned advice and guidance to offer. The tall ceilings, large windows that open onto Commerce Street, exposed bits of brick, French décor and diverse tools come together to conjure a sense of French industrial chic realness.
“There is no back of the shop — everything is done out front,” Gallegos says. “We want people to find interest by walking by and looking into the windows and asking, ‘Hey, what are they doing in there?’”
Whether it’s the first time you’ve sat down at a sewing machine or you’re ready to construct your first Chanel coat, the resources, environment and sense of community can help you take your design skills to the next stage, the couple insists.
“You’re getting a condensed university level education. The curriculum changes based on the student’s skill level. I teach a lot of the couture techniques I learned from studying in Paris,” says Crigger.
Stitch N’ Bitch is an open session that Petit Atelier offers each Thursday evening, allowing designers/students to bring the project they’re working on, pay 10 bucks, and get four hours of access to the equipment — and they even open the session to B.Y.O.B. (This ain’t your grandmother’s sewing circle.) Cathy, one of the Stitch N’ Bitch regulars, is working her way through an entire book of Vionnet designs a la Julie and Julia.
Appropriately enough, beginning and burgeoning designers can rent out the workspace by the hour. This smart, multi-layered set-up allows Crigger to teach, Gallegos to design and the fashion design community of the greater Dallas area to grow and develop. (They even encourage any local designers looking to try out for the next season of Project Runway to stop in for a few classes to refresh their sewing skills.)
“We thought, ‘Why not start a studio and treat it as an incubator for those looking to get into fashion but lack the funds to do so?’ Because [starting a fashion line] is quite an investment. We already had a lot of the equipment and materials from being in school/working and we’ve expanded,” says Crigger.
Indeed, Petit Atelier has expanded sooner than either expected — the space next door became available and they opted to snatch it up to open a fabric store. Called Tissu, it will open its doors in July. (Tissu will reinforce the French motif both in name and concept.)
“It’s a natural extension of what we wanted to do, but it happened faster than we planned on,” says Crigger. This synergistic relationship between the two should be beneficial because according to Gallegos “Fabric normally attracts people looking to sew and design.”
The couple rarely get a break from fashion — they also live in the loft apartment over Petit Atelier. Unavoidably, their personal and professional lives tend to bleed over into each other, but they don’t let that stop them from keeping a menagerie of beloved animals: An unnamed diamond dove, their dog Gaia, and a turtle called Speedy all make up the store mascots.
“At this little boutique in Paris, the storeowner had a little apartment upstairs. It’s again part of the old world shopkeeper specialty theme.
There’s glitter and sequins upstairs all over the place because we work everywhere and sometimes in our pajamas,” laughs Gallegos.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 20, 2014.