By Colleen Jurkiewicz Reporter Published Sep 12, 2013 at 5:29 AM

In the midst of rebranding efforts for Water Street, Milwaukee artist Patrice Procopio opened the area’s latest fashion anchor, Third Coast Style, last weekend at 514 N. Water St.

"There’s the East Coast, where there’s one designer who tells everybody what to do and they all do it, like sheep, every year," said Procopio. "And there’s the West Coast, where there’s a fad a week and we can’t possibly afford to change our clothes that often!"

So what’s a Milwaukee fashionista to do?

"We are very uniquely Midwestern and this is the Third Coast, which is best out of the other two coasts," she said, proudly.

A by-Milwaukee-for-Milwaukee one-stop fashion shop, the new boutique features the handiwork of over 30 Cream City artists, including Timothy Westbrook, Miranda Levy, Tessa Koller and Melissa Lawler.

Also included in the space are a gallery, a salon chair for cutting and styling as well as an area dedicated to weekly style and sewing workshops.

The idea for this created-in-Milwaukee boutique came to Procopio early one morning this past May. She and husband Kirk Schneeberg recently moved to the downtown area after raising their kids in the suburbs, and while she relishes the urban lifestyle, she misses the atmosphere of creativity provided by her large family.

"We are having another childhood down here and loving everything that's going on," she said. "I kept running into so many twenty and thirty-somethings that were creating. I miss my children dearly; they’re all over the world, and we were always making and creating. I miss them! The house was full of pins and needles. I needed some young’uns – and now I have 32."

Procopio has a considerable background in art and design; born on a farm in western Iowa, she studied art at Drake University and later at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Wherever she found herself, she said, she worked to foster creative communities, starting the art department at the Vermont Conservatory of the Arts and a gallery in Montpelier, Vt. before coming to Wisconsin, where she has lived and worked in Wisconsin for over 30 years.

Her youngest daughter is a costume designer in Los Angeles, and her middle daughter, Beth, is a painter and jewelry designer who lives overseas – and whose work will be carried at Third Coast Style.

Procopio gets a lot of her inspiration from Door County, but she is equally impressed by the hardy self-sufficiency of Milwaukee.

"I love Milwaukee. I love the whole idea that we’re a place where things are made," she said. Third Coast Style’s logo features the phrase "Created in Milwaukee" – "and all that implies," Procopio added. "We were known over the years for making everything, and that spirit is so alive."

As a transplant to Milwaukee it is an honor to be revered so highly within so many artistic communities including the fashion community. I'm so excited to see all that Patrice has done in curating an entire boutique out of exclusively Milwaukee designers and I'm elated to be a part of it!"

Throughout her career, Procopio has also done considerable teaching work with children and adults alike, and Third Coast Style will also provide the teacher at heart with an opportunity to cultivate young talent.

"Mentoring is what I love to do," she said. "I love making and creating and the stimulus of having lots of people doing that around you just multiplies the talent."

Most of her designers, she said, are in the beginning of their careers, frequenting artisanal markets and selling on She hopes to give them an opportunity for experience and advancement in an environment that respects their talent.

"I am trying to correct every ill that ever bugged me from being in this industry my whole life!" she said. "I’m on sort of a campaign or vendetta to right the wrongs."

Instead of the boutique standard 50 percent markup, Procopio is only marking up her artists’ products 20 percent and nixing consignment.

"Kirk and I are doing this as a give-back to the community," she said. "We aim to break even. We do not aim to make money off of this."

It’s a policy that is definitely appreciated by the designers, according to jewelry artist Melissa Lawler.

"(The low markup) was one of the things that drew me to the shop," she said. "I've been asked to have my work at other stores, but with having my own online store it's tricky to commit to having work in another space on commission. There also ends up being a disconnect from how much I would charge online to how much the items in store would be. The beauty of Third Coast Style is that the work is the same price in store as it is online."

Lawler will be showing a mix of the Cellular beaded necklaces worn by fellow Third Coast Style designer Miranda Levy on "Project Runway" as well as some wire crochet beaded necklaces and hand-cut polymer clay necklaces made to resemble irregularly cut stone.

Procopio also hopes that Third Coast Style will be "the incubator and the creative force" for a renaissance on Water Street just outside the Third Ward. She has labeled this area "Milwaukee’s fashion district" and got approval to put up banners on the block with the designation earlier this summer.

"I just needed a hook to sell it, and I figured, Los Angeles has a fashion district, so why don’t we do it here? We have a lot of empty stores," she said. "The intention is that this is the incubator; maybe the kids will pull together this or that; there are empty stores that need to be filled in this area and it’s a place to start."

Another designer featured in Third Coast Style, Tessa Koller, said that it's high time such a fashionable city had a district dedicated to its good style.

"I think the rebranding of Water Street as 'Milwaukee's Fashion District' is incredible and both honors and celebrates the creative talent of designers who work hard to produce outfits," said Koller. "I think it is exciting to have a fashion district and Milwaukee surely needs one, as there are so many talented fashion designers in Milwaukee."

"The whole block was essentially its own little fashion area, so it's nice that it has its own branding as the fashion district," agreed Lawler. "Hopefully this brings more traffic to the area. You definitely can't miss the brightly colored banners on that block!"

Colleen Jurkiewicz Reporter

Colleen Jurkiewicz is a Milwaukee native with a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she loves having a job where she learns something new about the Cream City every day. Her previous incarnations have included stints as a waitress, a barista, a writing tutor, a medical transcriptionist, a freelance journalist, and now this lovely gig at the best online magazine in Milwaukee.