McKenzie Thompson’s Chicago

Art is ... Chicago.

A photo of a man in a grey wool coat and a button up with the following text behind him: Gardening; "Italian" food, jazz, neoclassical piano, and Otto Marseus van Schreck

McKenzie Thompson

McKenzie Thompson

by Micco Caporale (MA 2018)

McKenzie Thompson (MFA 2014) wants art to move through the world.

That’s why she founded the company Outsider Supply [10], an e-commerce apparel brand informed by six years of living in Chicago. “I look at the garment as not only a living sculpture,” Thompson explained, “but also a means of spreading a message.” Combining streetwear with visual and textual references to art history once considered avant-garde—for instance, a tee printed with an Andy Warhol photo of Basquiat with a white circle blocking his face or an emerald hat that reads “expressionism” in a white sans-serif font—Thompson takes a minimalist approach to clothing that invites lookers and wearers alike to consider what these artists, movements, and ideas mean now. And her approach has earned her a following—including a deal with Nordstrom to carry Outsider Supply.

A model wearing Outsider Supply apparel. Image courtesy of Outsider Supply.

A model wearing Outsider Supply apparel. Image courtesy of Outsider Supply.

The brand grew from her experience as a graduate student in Visual Communication Design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). There, she met Jason Guo (BFA 2014) and they co-founded Maybe Sunday, a conceptually-driven art gallery, community space, and storefront that eventually transitioned to an online-only apparel company. Maybe Sunday closed when Thompson left Chicago in 2017, but the spirit of the city—and its lessons in organizing community around art—have informed her populist approach to making ever since. This is Thompson’s Chicago.

The Red Line

My first experience of Chicago was coming to SAIC for an interview. I stayed with a friend who was in school at Northwestern, and I was on the Red Line. Just that ride into the city—it was cold and snowing. I was coming into the Loop and seeing the lake … it was just so magical. I’d never lived anywhere cold. I remember thinking, if I could love this in the dead of winter, then I could love it all the time.

The Sheridan Red Line stop.

The Sheridan Red Line stop.

RSVP Gallery

RSVP was definitely an inspiration for me. I liked that it was sort of so tucked away, off the beaten path. I think Wicker Park has expanded so much now that it’s probably not off the beaten path anymore. But I liked the idea of it being a Chicago homegrown place. And it was started by Virgil Abloh. He went on to have a really interesting career, but he had his Chicago roots.

Soho House

I produced a bunch of neon works for them in exchange for a yearlong membership. When I joined after finishing grad school, I was still super strapped for cash, so I couldn’t fully indulge in everything. But they had a cool gym that had a steam room that I used all the time. Soho attracts people that push themselves, and it has a lot of crossover with the music industry. You just meet people and spark collaborations.

The front door to Soho House in Chicago's West Loop neighborhood.

The front door to Soho House in Chicago's West Loop neighborhood.

Pollo Express

Honestly, that place is a hidden gem. I think it caught on fire twice. It’s in Pilsen, and they just do a half chicken. That’s it. But it’s amazing. I lived off Pollo Express for a time.

Pollo Express in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood.

Pollo Express in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood.