LICENSED PROFESSIONAL COUNSELOR, FASHION EXPRESSIONIST
Written and Photographed By Kelley Mullarkey | Video Produced By Sean Stillmaker
As humans we cry, bleed, suffer, survive and thrive in the clothing we dress our bodies in. We celebrate birthdays, graduations and marriages in hand selected suits and gowns, and outlive break ups and failures in sacred denim jeans holding onto hope that next time our lucky pair of socks don’t fail us. More than just empty pieces of fabric, these pieces collect our feelings and memories as they press tightly against our precious internal organs. They help heel us and help inspire us. Aside from another human being, their touch remains constant.
Erilda, a licensed professional counselor, is the embodiment of how significant the depth and strength of cultural knowledge is in one’s individual pursuit and fight for personal style. Completely divorced from the marketing of fashion, it’s her wide-ranging independent thinking, pure imagination and understated compassion that makes her fearless quest for the unacquired so fascinating.
Light years away from the shy, withdrawn girl growing up in the tiny, mountainous lands of Albania, Erilda lives and breathes a philosophy that defines what it truly means to be alive. A mixture of tranquility and a fierce willingness to stand alone, Erilda possesses the ingredients of an It Girl (sans pretentiousness) in her vintage kimonos and lace embellishments, rising above the masses with her clear vision of self-expression, integrity and success.
Brought up in a conservative culture she describes as having a “bizarre dichotomy” she constantly felt out of place. Surrounded by a “social uniform and dress code” she didn’t identity with, she fought to separate herself and individuality from it through the use of her own curated style.
“Personal style is just a personal thing for me because I feel like I’ve had to fight for it,” explained Erilda as she began revisiting indescribable moments of anguish from the past.
Situated inside of the Chicago loft she shares with her boyfriend and creative counterpart, Harrison, a brilliant fashion photographer, their space embodies an aesthetic that feels like Ricks Owens’ Parisian flat meets Isabel Marant’s summer holidays — a sort of unorthodox inventive vision complete with polished imperfections like unfinished plywood walls, animal bones and seashells that once were home to another life form.
While I felt a sense of kindred spirits prior to meeting, it was the vintage Este Lauder necklace Erilda happened to be wearing when she opened the door that secured my belief. I had purchased the exact same large gold pendant and lapis stone necklace in a tiny shop in Nashville only a few weeks earlier.
Clad in a pair of structured trousers complimented by a white vintage blazer and delicate cropped bra, a staple look for her, Erilda peacefully divulged her thoughts, taking Sean and I back to her former life across the globe.
Beginning with the moment her father won the USA Green Card lottery, Erilda and her entire family came to America from Albania when she was 12 in 1999 first settling in Boston before planting their feet in the Midwest, Milwaukee to be exact.
Only 55,000 lottery winners are selected each year across the world. majestic disorder has the fortunate luck to meet two so far, Tina Djenge and her family immigrated from Serbia after winning.
“From the start I knew I was different. My family didn’t have a lot of money so I shopped at a lot of thrift stores. I was wearing grandma dresses and red lipstick. With my name and how I looked, I kind of realized I never would fit in. I thought to myself, well, I might as well embrace my differences,” explained Erilda.
With both of her parents having instilled the idea of her becoming a doctor, Erilda enrolled at the University of Wisconsin Milwakuee set on that path until taking a psychology class and falling madly in love. Graduating with a degree in psychology and a minor in chemistry Erilda moved to Chicago in pursuit of her own independence.
As she softly recalled how amazing it felt being in a city alone for the first time with just a mattress I was reminded of my own personal experience of moving into my first apartment in Chicago at 20, a memory I associate with American Apparel leggings, a gold cross and chain from my mother and vintage finds found on Belmont Ave.
Wanting to combine her love of psychology with the desire to help others Erilda applied to the Chicago Professional School of Psychology, receiving a Masters in clinical psychology.
While her journey both personally and professionally speak for themselves, it’s sincerely the work Erilda does now that is most remarkable and inspiring.
Working as a licensed counselor for a youth social service agency in the suburbs of Chicago that focuses on mental health and character development, Erilda deals daily with adolescents at a stage of not knowing what to look like or dress like.
A strong believer in the power of art therapy through forms of body movement such as yoga and artistic disciplines such as drawing, design, music and fashion (yes, fashion), Erilda keeps fluidity between her professional life and her own aesthetic.
Always pushing the boundaries at work with how she dresses, Erilda wears vintage ensembles and hand dyed indigo shibori dresses from her and Harrison’s textile line Prairies & Lakes to show the kids how clothing can help communicate emotions and thoughts they were unable to convey verbally.
“I love the piece where it’s my job and I help kids by combining my creativity and experimental vision. I incorporate how I dress as a means to reach them by aiding them to understand that it’s okay to look and feel different.”
Alongside two additional groups she runs at the agency, Erilda is starting another where she shows teenage girls alternate forms of medicine such as acupuncture and yoga.
A lover of juxtapositions with balanced proportions, Erilda’s feminine personal style matches her aspirations.
“I’d love to have a boutique, a mixture of vintage and hand crafted pieces with a space above where I could see clients. The kind of place where I could combine art therapy with personal style.”
With a radiating inner and outer effortless beauty, Erilda brings to life the complexity of giving permission to connect to your own emotions with sartorial articulation.
Style is not sinful, rather a vehicle for passion that drives us to bond more genuinely with one another and our memories.