Niantic artist named one of nine Connecticut Arts Heroes
The Connecticut Office of the Arts has named Niantic fashion designer and show curator Cristin Rivera, co-owner of the retail shop The Annex, as one of nine Connecticut Arts Heroes.
They will be honored in a free, public event, with music and dance performances, on Wednesday evening at Infinity Music Hall in Hartford.
Rivera said she was nominated by fellow artist Krista Stanowicz and “was totally surprised by the honor,” which she believes represents 17 years of bringing events to life in southeastern Connecticut.
She is looking forward to meeting the other honorees and hopes the recognition will bring more opportunities to the hub of artists she helped create as The Annex looks for its “forever home.”
Rivera opened The Annex as a pop-up at 60 Bank St. in February 2021 along with her husband, Denny Rivera, also known as Klashwon, and Frank Marchany, also known as DJ Frank Lo. The shop then moved to 24 Bank St. but closed in August of last year due to water damage in the building that turned into mold.
The Annex has also operated at the Westbrook Outlets since last July.
But Rivera said they are looking to get back to downtown New London and are eyeing a few potential locations with plans to close the Westbrook location soon. She still wants to do pop-ups elsewhere in Connecticut.
She said The Annex is “about empowering each other to grow our business minds and also it’s a shoulder to lean on.” It’s about local artists teaching each other what does and does not work without compromising their creativity.
The spot in Westbrook is full of other people’s art. There’s apparel from Klashwon and Not a Fashion Haus, multimedia art by Susan Hickman, cyanotype prints and zines from Magik Press, resin artwork on cutting boards from Pour and Bloom Creations, jewelry and candles from Beltweaver, and much more.
As for her own work, Rivera has had multiple clothing lines, from Local Threads to Ima and now C*kin, which originated as a collaboration with her brother, artist Kevin Gallagher. She is now working on a line called Violet Sphinx, which she said is “about my infatuation and dedication to the color purple.” One of her icons growing up was a Montville woman with a purple house, purple car and purple hair.
Rivera has long described her clothing ― which she designs, cuts and sews ― as “femme comfort.”
“I like to play around with different textures. I’m not necessarily using vintage fabric, but I’m using vintage-inspired ideas,” she said. Her favorite material is chiffon, and she loves playing with velvet.
Coming back to New London
Rivera, 38, recalled that she has been interested in fashion since she would “grab my brother’s T-shirt and staple it together to make it smaller” as a teenager. And both her grandmothers are seamstresses.
She grew up in Montville and graduated from Saint Bernard School, and after doing some traveling, she found herself in Santa Barbara, Calif., in 2004. Rivera recalls walking into a beautiful shop there, seeing “clothes like nothing I’d seen before,” and learning that the clothes were from local artists.
She realized that’s what she wanted to do ― but in New London.
Rivera moved back from California in 2005 with the goal of opening a store. She met her husband in 2006 after walking into Oasis Pub and seeing his work; she jokes that she fell in love with Denny’s work before falling in love with him.
Denny Rivera and Marchany in 2007 opened the sneaker shop/art gallery Muse, where Cristin Rivera held her first fashion show. She said another, bigger fashion show led to support from city event planner Barbara Neff and to Hygienic Art reaching out.
She also cites Oasis manager Sean Murray, The Telegraph record store owner Rich Martin, and local artists Kat Murphy and Susan Hickman as inspirations. The Riveras ran the boutique Aticc for about two years after Muse opened until 2010, and then they lived in New York City ― where Rivera worked as an actor, brand technician and wardrobe supervisor ― for about six years before moving to Niantic.
But even while living away, Rivera said she continued to come back to work on fashion shows.
Rivera said she and her husband have gotten a great welcome since opening The Annex, along with support from the New London Arts Council, New London Cultural District and Southeastern Connecticut Cultural Coalition. She has also been interviewing local artists for an “Annex Artist Chat” YouTube series.
Rivera hopes to do more fashion shows, gallery openings and exhibits, and said she is always looking for new artists and collaborators.