Haute couture for the chess world

by Macauley Peterson
10/11/2017 – A new exhibit at the World Chess Hall of Fame in Saint Louis puts a new twist on the question of professional chess player dress codes. In cooperation with the Saint Louis Fashion Fund, the museum launched a "Designer Chess Challenge" which paired up professional fashion designers with chess pros to craft a chic but practical tournament outfit. The results are on display in "PINNED!", which opened October 6th and runs until Spring, 2018. | Designer Photos: Geoff Story, TOKY | Chess photos: Austin Fuller, Matt Kile, and Spectrum Studios

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From concept to contest

The Saint Louis Fashion fund began a year ago, as an incubator for new ideas in fashion, located in downtown Saint Louis on Washington Avenue, at the site of St. Louis' old garment district. Once dubbed "shoe street USA" the avenue claimed more shoe manufacturers than any other in the world. The new nonprofit was founded by Susan Sherman who hoped to bring national and international designers to Saint Louis and stimulate the fashion industry downtown.

For its inaugural class in August, 2016, six designers moved to the city for a two year stint, and in the course of brain storming ideas, the "Designer Chess Challenge" was born. With the assistance of the World Chess Hall of Fame and Museum, a first-of-its-kind designer challenge paired the professional fashion artists with chess professionals, to craft stylish but functional clothing for chess players.

The finished work has been worn only by fashion models for now, but we may one day see future iterations adorn real life players.

Pinned exhibit models

Models: Mallory Veith & Logan Williams at Mother Model Management | Courtesy of the World Chess Hall of Fame

The chess consultants were a mix of big names and Saint Louis regulars: GMs Fabiano Caruana, Maurice Ashley, Cristian Chirila and Alejandro Ramirez, WGM Jennifer Shahade, and IM (and 2016 US Women's Champion) Nazi Paikidze-Barnes. The designers were Charles Smith II, Audra Noyes, Agnes Hamerlik, Allison Mitchell, Emily Brady Koplar and Reuben Reuel.

The project complements one of the overall objectives of the World Chess Hall of Fame, says chief curator Shannon Bailey:

One thing we like to do at the Hall of Fame is kind of break down different kinds of stereotypes, and I think if you asked a average person off the street to describe an average chess player, it's not going to be what we're seeing right now.

Each designer was asked to complete two garment designs for the challenge, one that could actually be worn by a player, and the other a more avant-garde creation.

A panel of judges — fashion industry professionals plus Grandmaster Eric Hansen — selected the work of Noyes, who was paired with Ashley. She earned a USD $10,000 scholarship prize, and was recognized at the opening ceremony of the Sinquefield Cup this past August.

2 min clip from the Sinquefield Cup opening ceremony | Saint Louis Chess Club YouTube

Audra Noyes

Sketches from Audra Noyes | Courtesy of the World Chess Hall of Fame

Audra Noyes design with Maurice Ashley

Winning design by Audra Noyes (center), advised by Maurice Ashley | Courtesy of the World Chess Hall of Fame

A "People's Choice Award" was also given out based on voting by guests on-site at the event, and went to Emily Brady Kopler. She received advice from Jennifer Shahade, whose interest in the intersection between chess and fashion dates back to 2014 and another World Chess Hall of Fame project: A Queen Within. Of the current exhibition, Jennifer remarked:

The PINNED! concept allowed designers to be creative, while still rewarding knowledge and inspiration from chess itself. I was thrilled to be paired with Emily as I love her style and her line "Wai Ming" is full of outfits that I'd want to wear...lots of color blocking, looks for women with strong arms, and camera friendly palettes and shoulder details. I wasn't at all surprised to see she won the People's Choice Award at the opening ceremony of the Sinquefield Cup, and the women chess players I spoke to all mentioned how much they liked her work (which is the real win in my opinon!)

Emily received a gift from Tiffany Co. one of the event sponsors.

The Ragozin Defense

The Ragozin is being played by every top grandmaster in the world - it is time you also add it to your repertoire to get interesting and dynamic positions against 1. d4!
GM Alejandro Ramirez analyses every single move that White can play once the Ragozin is reached, but due to several transpositional possibilities he always emphasises strategic goals to keep in mind.

We also heard from GM and ChessBase contributor Alejandro Ramirez, who was paired with Agnes Hamerlik:

The projects was certainly fun. Meeting Agnes was a delight — she is bubbly, out going and full of personality. You can see that passion in her work. The designs that we got to see at the Sinquefield Cup opening ceremony were truly something. The Designer Challenge strafed heavily into the artistic by the time it was completed, but you can definitely see the influences the grandmasters had — even simple things about how we dress to feel comfortable during games, or what bothers us. 

Agnes Hamerlik designs

Sketches by Agnes Hamerlik | Courtesy of the World Chess Hall of Fame

Designers were shown historical photos from tournaments and the chess professionals could share insights into how players dress today, and how trends have changed. With player dress codes in the news, it's natural to wonder whether active professionals could be coaxed into a substantial upgrade of their wardrobe. Both Shahade and Ramirez think it's plausible.


Chess players are used to being told what to wear. Formal attire in many tournaments, team uniform for collegiate chess or olympiads, etc. They also tend to have a terrible fashion sense, so I'm not opposed to the idea of wearing something classier!


I don't think the idea of a chess "uniform" is meant to be a rigid requirement, but rather a creative and thoughtful design that helps brand chess as a fashionable pursuit and that Grandmasters will want to wear. The idea is to expand chess fashion, not to restrict it.

Former US Women's Champion, Nazi Paikidze also weighed in:

If a uniform serves some purpose, whether it's an ad for sponsors, or it promotes chess, attracts more viewers, etc, I would not mind it. Preferably, I would have some say in the design/style of the uniform.

The designers / chess professionals

Chess players in white, designers in black | Designer Photos: Geoff Story, TOKY | Chess photos: Austin Fuller, Matt Kile, and Spectrum Studios

The exhibit itself, features, six different "bays" for the designers, with the looks crafted for the Designer Challenge, plus extra pieces, including drawings, sketches, designs.

There's talk of futher iterations of the "practical" designs possibly going on sale in the Hall of Fame's Q Boutique gift shop, although they will need to be made more practical still if they are to be embraced by actual players in competition.

Bailey is optimistic, and although she'd heard of the recent World Cup debacle, her experience at the STL Chess Campus has been different. "Players look really hip that are coming to Saint Louis and playing in these tournaments. They all look incredible and have amazing fashion sense to them."

Perhaps FIDE should take notes!

The Sicilian Tajmanov-Scheveningen

The Sicilian has been known for decades as the most reliable way for Black to obtain an unbalanced but good position. Among the most popular Sicilians at the top level the two that certainly stand out are the Najdorf and the Paulsen.

Model designs

Click or tap to expand (additional photos in the gallery at the top of the story)

Model designs

Designs from Reuben-Riddick, Agnes-Hamerlik, and Charles Smith II | Courtesy of the World Chess Hall of Fame


Photography: Carmody Creative
Creative Direction: Paige Pedersen
Creative Consultant: Cabanne Howard, Kaleidoscope Management Group
Hair & Makeup: Tia Reagan
Styling: Michael Drummond
Models: Mallory Veith & Logan Williams at Mother Model Management
Creative Assistant: Aidan Douglas
Photography Assistant: LJ Photography
Time-lapse Photography: Nick Schleicher
Floral Design: Flowers for the People
Props provided by Q Boutique
Shot on location at The BHIVE
Special Thanks to Kevin Brennan & The BHIVE

Macauley served as the Editor in Chief of ChessBase News from July 2017 to March 2020. He is the producer of The Full English Breakfast chess podcast, and was an Associate Producer of the 2016 feature documentary, Magnus.


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