Fashion Reverie Exclusive: Kendall Miles Puts her Fiery Stamp on Footwear

Image courtesy of chicago splash.com

Image courtesy of chicago splash.com

Be brave enough to live life creatively. The creative place where no one else has ever been. — Alan Alda

In this volatile fashion market, bravery and perseverance is necessary for any designer to maintain their brand. But, it has always been that way.

Whether the market is up or down, it takes confidence and a winner-take-all attitude to survive the vicissitudes of the fashion industry. Fashion is risk adverse, so the weak-minded better take flight.

Taking flight is not in Kendall Miles vocabulary. This young designer embraces it all; all the risk in the fashion industry and all the triumphs. And in her short career, Kendall Miles has experienced both.

Kendall Miles’ shoe designs demonstrate that she has lots of great ideas, craftsmanship skills and a fashion-forward sensibility. But Miles also has great business acumen and determination.

Never one to mince words, Kendall Miles knows her own mind and has a clear idea of who her customer is. And above all, she is very, very brave.

Images courtesy of Seventh House PR

Images courtesy of Seventh House PR

Fashion Reverie: You have this passion for shoes. Where does this passion come from?

Kendall Miles: My mom has always loved shoes. She has this fabulous collection of shoes, from Manolo Blahniks to Prada and Gucci. Through my mom, I was first introduced to luxury shoes, superior in quality and designer. When I was younger, I can remember playing in her closet all day, wearing her pumps. I wore my moms shoes out to parties in high school. I was the only one wearing high heels at that age, by the way.

Shoes have always been my passion and then it became this thing between my mom and I. We have this secret language around shoes. If I did well in school, my mom bribed me with shoes.

FR: You launched your eponymous shoe line while you were a senior in college. How did that all come about?

Kendall Miles: That was really hard. I was in college in Los Angeles. I am originally from Chicago, but I was studying at the University of Southern California (USC). I’d had a bad breakup in LA and after the breakup I realized I had very few friends. So, to get over the breakup and with the extra time on my hands, I decided to launch a shoe line. Crazy right!!

FR: That said; how did you source leather, get finances, and mentorship for your first collection?

Kendall Miles: I was majoring in international relations, so footwear design was definitely off the beaten path. First, I had real ideas around shoes that women would want to wear and that lead me to sketching my ideas. The first person I took my sketches to was my mom and she loved them. That was my first stamp of validation. My mom had a friend who worked in fashion consulting. She’d worked for Nordstrom, and had a lot of fashion connections in LA. This friend sent my sketches out to people in her network and from there opportunities fell in my path.

The companies that were interested in me as a footwear designer set up a series of interviews with me to work for their brands. I thought working for someone else would be a good path for me, so I interviewed at global brands and nothing seemed to fit. I decided that I really should work for myself and have complete freedom over everything I was doing.

During that time, I met someone from Thomas Wylde—a company I interviewed with—we clicked, and this gentleman connected me with an agent in Italy. So all the challenges a designer can have working with Italian tanneries and factories was kind of smoothed out for me. An agent can facilitate factories and material sources.

Images courtesy of Seventh House PR

Images courtesy of Seventh House PR

FR: What was it like studying at the Arts Sutoria, and why the choice to study there?

Kendall Miles: It was actually really tough. They had a cookie cutter design method of how someone should design shoes. My sketches didn’t seem to meet what they were required. That made everything more difficult. But, my challenges there fueled me to work hard and I was getting validation from the other editors. Studying in Italy was an eye opening experience because there was so much to learn.

FR: What was the course concentration at Arts Sutoria?

Kendall Miles: We learned the process and principles around making different types of shoes. So, there were lots of construction courses. There were also sketch classes and pattern-making classes.

FR: How did you get your shoe line financed?

Kendall Miles: I did a round of angel investing.

FR: Who is your customer?

Kendall Miles: My customer base is anywhere from 18 to 55 years of age  She is strong, opinionated, well researched, and passionate about everything she does. And, she likes to make a statement.

FR: What is your design aesthetic?

Kendall Miles: My design aesthetic is very sexy, elegant, timeless; and there is an edge with a refined sexuality.

FR: Lets talk about your spring/summer 2017 shoes. What was the inspiration?

Kendall Miles: Cleopatra, and her relationship with Julius Caesar inspired the spring/summer 2017 collection. I played with the design motif of the breastplate that Cleopatra made from Cesar’s coins when he was murdered. I am an academic, so I do a lot of research.

Images courtesy of Seventh House PR

Images courtesy of Seventh House PR

FR: Let’s talk about your pistol-packing, James Bond-like shoes, where did that come from?

Kendall Miles: That particular shoe design motif came from spats that men wore on their shoes, dating back to the Gilded Age. I took that idea of having a component that you can attach to the shoe and remove at will, and I modernized this accessory.

FR: What are the price points?

Kendall Miles: My price points are $500 to $1600.

FR: Which celebrities are wearing your shoes?

Kendall Miles: Hailey Baldwin, Tinashe, Andra Day, Regina King, Naturi Naughton, and several others.

Images courtesy of Seventh House PR

Images courtesy of Seventh House PR

FR: What can consumers expect from you next?

Kendall Miles: They can expect more fire designs. Designs that  light up your feet and are amazing.

—William S. Gooch

Fashion Reverie Interview Exclusive: Miles Ladin’s “Supermodels at the End of Time”

Supermodels_coverIs a picture worth a thousand words? That picture is if Miles Ladin photographed the subject. And the image might just get a few chuckles out of you.

Miles Ladin’s photography is never just about the beauty of the subject, his images evoke mood, stimulate conversation, and even shock. With Ladin’s new book “Supermodels at the End of Time,” Ladin documents that heady era in fashion history where supermodels not only ruled the runways and magazine covers, but suddenly had a huge presence in popular culture.

Still, Ladin’s photographic book is not necessarily a beautiful, manicured photographic dissertation on that time, but a hardcore photographic memoir of the darker recesses and excesses of the fashion world of the 1990s. In his classic, film noir–photographic still, Ladin’ “Supermodels at the End of Time” is revealing, nuanced, and strangely poignant.

Miles Ladin Debuts 'Supermodels at the End of Time' Exhibition

Miles Ladin

From supermodels Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Kate Moss, and Claudia Mason to fashion personalities Diana Vreeland, Milla Jovovich, and Chloe Sevigny, “Supermodels at the End of Time” with text by Bret Easton Ellis informs, reveals and tickles the fashion funny bone. On the eve of Miles Ladin’s exhibit of images from the book at the Station Independent Project’s Gallery in New York City, Miles Ladin spoke with Fashion Reverie.

Fashion Reverie: Why did you call this book “Supermodels at the End of Time”?

Miles Ladin: There is a documentary aspect to the images. I was photographing supermodels and fashion celebrities at social events like the Met Gala, the CFDA Awards, documenting notable people and the fashion elite. I created a narrative with these images using Bret Easton Ellis’ text. So, I wanted this book to be a limited edition artist book.  The book has a certain quality; there is satire and I merged Ellison’s fiction with pictures that could be looked at as documentary.At these fashion social events my photography is very stylized, a kind of film noir quality for which I am known for. I manipulate the reality in a certain way with my photography. And we know, that is what photography really is; there is a truth, but also a fiction.

So, how I came up with this title, I wanted the new artist book to directly comment on our most recent fin de siècle. Most historians when they refer to fin de siècle they are referring to the 1890s and the Austrian-German Hapsburg Empire that lead up to World War I. However, I used a little artistic license and referred to the end of the 20th Century that for me culminated in the attacks of 9/11 in 2001.  The title also eludes to the end of fashion as we knew it at that time and the rise of fashion and entertainment evolved by social media and instant celebrity.

Up until recent times, in my mind, supermodels were more than just beautiful; they had personality and a certain charm. They had so much more to them than the current crop of supermodels—Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid. “Supermodels at the End of Time” refers to the end of fashion as we knew it. And the way I like to play around with art meeting fiction meeting science fiction.

FR: Your style of photography is a film noir style. Could you elaborate on that?

Miles Ladin: Film noir refers to cinema. From the 1930s to the 1950s, film noir was at its peak in films like Orson Welles’ “Third Man.” Film noir is mostly in black and white and I shoot in mostly black and white using a handheld flash. I sculpture the reality with my flash and I would get in close to my subject, being short in stature helps in that respect.

I would often shoot these fashion celebrities because I was on assignment with W magazine or The New York Times. I didn’t have the regality and grandeur of Bill Cunningham who kind of did what I do or Patrick McMullen who really loves being a part of the scene. I was kind of a hired hand that was invisible which gave me the advantage or capturing some exquisite moments.

My role was not to flatter the fashion elite, but to capture a moment in time. I also used a short lens to get in really close and I intuitively knew how to use the handheld flash to evoke mood and manipulate my subjects. I would have to move the handheld flash around to capture the moments I wanted and simulate drama and suspense.

 Miles_Laden_02FR: How did you choose your subjects for the book?

Miles Ladin: I chose supermodels first and then I decided I wanted use images from around 2002 and before that time. I’ve been shooting New York Fashion Week until up to two years ago, so that access give me a lot of material. Still, I didn’t want to use runway images past 2002. I also wanted to include the best pictures that I had, signature pictures that had run in W magazine and images that were used in their anniversary issues. Then, there were pictures that were never published or reproduced that I also included in the book.

There are some supermodels that I would have liked to include just to expand the spectrum of models and model personalities, but often that particular image didn’t match Ellis’ text. Sometimes, I had a great image but the supermodel was in the background, not the foreground, so I couldn’t include the picture. And there were some other constraints. But, there are some great images of Iman, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Heidi Klum, Claudia Schiffer, and many other supermodels. I also have images of model personalities, meaning actresses that modeled for specific brands but were not necessarily supermodels. I have an image of Chloe Sevigny, who was a muse for Imitation of Christ and walked the runway, as well. So, the image of Chloe Sevigny really fit in with the photo-narrative quality of this book because Chloe is the name of the character in Ellis’ “Glamorama.” Milla Jovovich is the other model personality in the book. So, a lot of my choices had to do with supermodels that fit Ellis’ text.

“Supermodels at the End of Time” is not like Michael Gross’ 1999 book “Model” which is the reality of supermodels. This tabletop book is more massaged and manipulated.

FR: Do you consider yourself a fashion photographer?

Miles Ladin: No.

FR: Well, have to do define yourself?

Miles LadinW magazine defined me as a paparazzi photographer. But, I don’t see myself that way because I don’t stalk celebrities like Rob Galella. However, I am always invited to events to shoot celebrities; I don’t scurry to shoot them unless they are coming out the back entrance for New York Fashion Week.

Some people do consider me a fashion photographer, so I don’t correct them. Still, I don’t consider myself a fashion photographer because I am not interested in fashion as it relates to designers and what celebrities are wearing or chronicling fashion. I like to photograph parts of society that are not exposed to everyday folks. I shot New York Fashion Week for 15 years, but more to document that scene, not to promote the clothes.

I call myself a photographic artist. I started photography as a photographic expression, in addition to drawing and painting. My clients like The New York TimesW magazine and more recently WWD, gave me carte blanche to shoot in my photographic style.

FR: You photograph the dark recesses of beauty. Could you explain that?

Miles Ladin: The pictures have humor and there is a satiric element to them. I was never seduced by the glamour of celebrity or the fashion industry, so my perspective on those worlds is quite different. I never try to make my subjects look unattractive; I am just attempting to photograph something that goes beyond external beauty. There is this one photo in the book of Linda Evangelista, Kate Moss, and Naomi Campbell sitting at this table with an ashtray filled with cigarette butts, coffee cups and wine glasses, and all three of them looking very bored. There is a sense of ennui in that image. Of course, one would think who doesn’t want to be any one of those supermodels? But, again the image says something else, maybe. I don’t know if every moment of every day is so fabulous for them, and certainly in that moment in the picture, there is a moment of reality.

My images have a sardonic quality. You have the film noir quality of the pictures in black and white. There are shadows, and shadows visually make things look a certain way.

There is a photograph in the exhibit that did not make it into the book of Tyra Banks posing on the red carpet for Fashion Rocks. Tyra Banks is posing beautifully, but in my shot there is also the publicist telling us to stop taking pictures because the red carpet is over. A PR person might be pissed at that, but this image details how supermodels and celebrities are prodded and pushed, and it is not always so nice and polite.

We are now in this overdrive of celebrity culture, which existed in the 40s and 50s. However, with social media it is really insane now. And what precipitated this current celebrity extreme, in my opinion, were the supermodels of the 1990s. These women were so famous for being beautiful. But, there is a dark side to all of this.

Miles_Laden_feature

FR: What are some of your favorite photographs in the book?

Miles Ladin: There are some photographs in the book that have never been reproduced. But, my top three photographs are the image of the three supermodels—Kate, Naomi, and Linda—at the table at the movie premiere party at the end of the evening. That photograph had never been published until this book. The other one is of Claudia Mason being made up backstage and the women next to her is looking at this Vogue magazine, hoping she’ll be on the cover one day. The third one is of Lauren Hutton.

FR: Which models did you always hope to photograph at these events?

Miles Ladin: Well, I always had a tip sheet, so I knew who would be at the event. I knew my role at these events was to get the money shot. Obviously, getting an interesting shot of an A-Lister was more important than photographing someone on the C-list. Still, sometimes it was like a dog looking for a bone because occasionally A-Listers didn’t show up so you had to work with who was there. Unlike, everyone having their 15 minutes of fame due to social media, it took a while to get on the A-list, which back then was Linda Evangelista and other supermodels.

FR: What do you want readers to get out of the book and viewers to get from your exhibit?

Miles Ladin: I think the book is a fun ride. I believe my work, without being mean-spirited, holds a mirror up to society and in this case it is the world of supermodels in the 90s. The 90s was a narcissistic time; however, now the narcissism is beyond reason. It is very disturbing, particularly if you look at who’s running for president. The accepted notion of narcissism that feeds into our selfie culture and everyone having the own sense of self-importance was, perhaps, borne out the 1990s. And this book documents that in a time capsule kind of way. Have we evolved past that time, or not? Hopefully, this book will stimulate the conversation.

Images courtesy of Station Independent Projects

Images courtesy of Station Independent Projects

FR: What’s next for you?

Miles Ladin: I have another exhibition opening in December at an alternative space, and the theme of that exhibit is the idea of the American dream. This exhibit will have a much stronger polemic than “Supermodels at the End of Time” exhibit. It is very objective with installations to promote stream of consciousness while viewing the exhibit. Beyond these exhibits, I have been photographing and developing a multimedia piece on zombies. I have been shooting zombies for the past five years.

By zombies, I am referring to people who vote from an emotive headset or people  who are so entranced in their Smart phones that they have accidents, get hit by cars, etc. They are so entranced by these devices they hold in their hands that they don’t notice the world around them. They might as well be in the Matrix.

There is also humor in these zombie images, very much like my photographs of 90s supermodels. I am not trying to change the world, just show people things that are all around them that maybe they haven’t notice before. Maybe these images will cause people to elevate the future in a way they hadn’t considered. Or maybe, they will just have a good laugh!!

Miles Ladin’s fashion photography will be on exhibit at the Station Independent Gallery through October 30.

—William S. Gooch

Fashion Reverie Exclusive Interview: Karen Harvey of Fashion Tech Forum

 Downloads93

Change is inevitable and change stimulates growth. However, with several well-known fashion brands in recent months closing shop and the constant shifts in management at top fashion brands, one has to wonder if all the reshuffling and the constant quest for new direction is impeding growth, causing a kind of fashion bewilderment and stagnation.

Oftentimes, fashion brands, in particular, are associated with the brilliant aesthetic approach of the people who founded the label. But if market demands and perpetual stimulation of the consumer shopping palette causes continued reorganization, where is the industry to go?

Enter Fashion Tech Forum. Realizing that the only constant in life is change and that the fashion industry is always primed for innovation and new perspectives, founder Karen Harvey felt the time was ripe for a forum that examined the synergy between technology and its effects on the fashion industry.

In 2014, Karen Harvey Consulting Group launched Fashion Tech Forum (FTF) to bring awareness to an ever-increasing war for talent, and the cultural shifts impacting both the fashion and technology sectors. FTF host an annual conference with 500+ top industry leaders, including CEOs, creative directors, designers, founders and investors in fashion, retail, media and technology. FTF curates intimate conversations with industry leaders to address, discuss and educate on the specific needs of a particular city, function or demographic.

Karen Harvey spoke with Fashion Reverie about the synergistic relationship of fashion and technology, as well as her goals for FTF and the new direction of fashion.

Image courtesy of wwd.com

Image courtesy of wwd.com

Fashion Reverie: How did the Fashion Tech Forum come about?

Karen Harvey: I think importantly we need to think about my original company Karen Harvey Consulting Group that sits at the center of the luxury fashion retail innovation space. As our core business has been bringing talent to some of our industry’s largest global brands and some of the most significant emerging companies, we sit with boards of directors and CEOs all over the world and they share what they are thinking about.

When you are fortunate enough to be privy to these types of conversations, of course, we realized that these powerbrokers were paralyzed about their concerns for the future. When you start to hear the same things from a variety of executives that could dramatically impact the future of fashion, this was a motivation for us to address these issues.

What also was simultaneously happening—and Karen Harvey Consultants was front and center—was organization issues, and how to think about structure for the future because so many of our companies were solvent. Naturally, you began to recognize that these asylums became barriers into the new world of digitalization.

Many of the new companies coming into the fashion digital world were emerging tech companies and we discovered that most of them didn’t really understand fashion. But, they understood online marketing, sustainability, social media, and any number of things. Because of our incubation division at Karen Harvey Marketing Group and as an affiliate member of the CFDA, we have always been sensitive to new and emerging designers. We have always had this open door policy for entrepreneurs to contact us. Coincidentally, as all these inquiries were coming in from the tech sector, I was really interested in what they were doing and the conversations they were having, even though I knew they probably couldn’t afford our services.

Fashion_Tech_Forum_Joe_Zee

Image courtesy of Fashion Tech Forum

I began to realize that there were real shifts in the fashion industry from the way that millenials shop and purchase product, and interact with brands using innovative technology, I felt we had to consider how the tech industry was going to grab some of our best talent. For example, Joe Zee—former creative director of Elle—is now at Yahoo. My background in training and development for companies like Nike and Benetton, primed me for doing live content and putting programs together that bring value to brands.

With my talented team I was able to bring this conversation to a very high level and that is how Fashion Tech Forum was borne.

Fashion Reverie: We are aware that there is a lot of synergy between technology and fashion, in your opinion what are some of the most innovative combinations of fashion and technology that’s driving the market right now?

Karen Harvey: We did out best to curate a group of speakers and panelists we had their fingers on the pulse of this synergistic melding of fashion and technology. I felt very strongly that the conversations around the invisible technology that is beginning to influence wearable clothing that does not require sewing or seaming was groundbreaking and incredibly exciting. On a product level this is very fashion forward.

Fashion Reverie: In one of the panel discussions at the recent Fashion Tech Forum Andrew Rosen expressed that the fashion industry is going through an adjustment period. Do you agree with him and would you care to elaborate on his perspective?

Karen Harvey: I was glad to have Andrew Rosen acknowledge that we are going through seismic shifts. At our core, we have to be aware how we communicate with today’s consumers. We know that brick and mortar shopping is not going away. It is about what the consumer wants and it always was about product and what the consumer wants. That will not change; however, what has changed is how we communicate with consumers.

Andrew Rosen was referring to adjusting to this new paradigm. And each brand has to think about this new shift to better position and market their product. This adjustment period, as he defines it, is being played out in retail sales, social media, technology and marketing, and quite frankly some brands are just not keeping up with the change. That is one of the reasons that we are starting to see some brands that had market value falter. And, unfortunately some of those brands are being eased out of the market. Fashion Tech Forum is positioning itself to look all these new paradigms.

Image courtesy of Lividini & Co.

Image courtesy of Fashion Tech Forum

Fashion Reverie: Recently, there have been articles in the press on the return of onshore manufacturing. In the current market where there is such a scramble for cheap labor, is onshore manufacturing sustainable?

Karen Harvey: I am not an expert in this area; however, I think there is a huge motivation in many cities in the US to revitalize their manufacturing history; to bring more affordable manufacturing to their cities. Just look at Shinola and think of the number of brands that are attempting and some successfully beginning to manufacture in the US. And some of those brands are solving and/or tackling labor issues, employing workers at a living wage while making their product affordable and accessible. Innovative technology is helping to forward this onshore movement.

Fashion Reverie: Do you feel that the celebrity culture is still driving the fashion industry or has its time past?

Karen Harvey: Well, I think there is a new celebrity. The way we have normally thought about celebrity is changing. The new celebrity is the social influencer. I don’t mean the framework in terms of following everything that a celebrity wears or following a celebrity’s every move or motivation. That framework does not have the same market value it once had. The difference now it is not about the perfect celebrity, it is about authenticity and a connection that is more related to the brand and how that celebrity reflects the brand whether it is a lifestyle brand or just a clothing or beauty product.

Image courtesy of Lividini & Co.

Image courtesy of Fashion Tech Forum

Fashion Reverie: How is social media currently having an influence in the market as opposed to fashion blogs and older social media outlets like Facebook of five years ago?

Karen Harvey: The millenials and generation X are not using Facebook the way previous users did in the past. That said; they are pivoting brilliantly. They have creating platforms for brands to communicate with their massive interface. They are creating content that will be incredibly powerful. The information that they are able to drive to consumers will have a tremendous impact on those brands that are apt to engage with it.

Fashion Reverie: That said: what is the market value of social media when it comes to moving product or selling clothes? 

Karen Harvey: It is about engagement in the brand. If a consumer is not engaged in the brand there will be a dip in sales. Engagement definitely leads to sales. Currently, there are marketing and digital content companies that are aggregating guest bloggers and all types of social media that are driving sales in the millions to brands due to engaging customers through social media. And there are algorithms that accurately measure this engagement as it relates to sales. Influence and engagement equal sales.

Image courtesy of Lividini & Co.

Image courtesy of Fashion Tech Forum

Fashion Reverie: What do you hope that people take away from Fashion and Tech Forum?

Karen Harvey: I want FTF to be a creative petri dish of ideas and solutions around the growing intersection of fashion and technology.

—William S. Gooch

NYFW Profile: Nicole Miller Up-Close and Personal

nicole-miller-premiere-bad-teacher-01What’s it like to be a designer the week before New York Fashion Week (NYFW)? Designer Nicole Miller gave Fashion Reverie a window into her world. The designer is currently preparing for a September 5 showing of her Brazilian-themed spring 2015 collection.

Fashion Reverie: Next week you’ll be showing at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week (on September 5). Where are you at with your preparations?

Nicole Miller: Everything is piled up and backed up; everyone is busy sewing away. Most of our stuff has come in from overseas so we don’t have to worry about that. Shoes are really the biggest panic, but those are in so that should be okay.

FR: What’s your spring 2015 collection about?

Nicole Miller: I was inspired by Brazil. I was listening to some song about Rio and was feeling a bit nostalgic about it. And then I got news about an art opening there. So that’s really how it started.

FR: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about the fashion business?

Nicole Miller: Well, ever say never, and you can’t kill a trend. When you think you’ve had enough of a trend and it’s going to make you ill—like peplums, and then, the next day, everybody is doing peplums and you’re like “Oh, my God, I just threw those out.” Platform shoes; are they going out? No. Nothing goes away anymore.

FR: What’s been the biggest change you’ve observed/experienced in the fashion industry since you got into the business?

Nicole Miller: Global sourcing for sure. When we started making clothes, there was just not a lot of techniquey things available. Now, all this beading we get done in China and India was just not available in those days. So global sourcing has, I think, upgraded the quality of clothes in America.

Nicole Miller pre-fall 2014 image courtesy of fashioners.com

Nicole Miller pre-fall 2014 image courtesy of fashioners.com

FR: A lot of people have been talking about how much NYFW has changed and not necessarily for the better. Why do you still show during NYFW and what do you feel you get out of it?

Nicole Miller: I think the minute you stop showing everybody forgets about you so that’s never a good idea. I know all the editors complain about how there are too many shows and (designers) should do presentations. I disagree. I like to have a show. There are always new kids on the block and a lot of them fall through the cracks. There’s always a constant recycling of new people and people falling out of the ranks. I think there are too many shows. But the thing is (as a designer) you just can’t stop having shows because then you would just fall off the planet.

FR: I also have heard designers comment about how much the business has changed—so many seasons, etc. Your business is so expansive. But it seems like that’s a necessity to stay in “the game.”  Has that been your mindset?

Nicole Miller: We’ve always had a 12-month calendar … so it really doesn’t make any difference to me. You have to do everything. I think we want to have longevity and if you want longevity it’s important to be in all the different categories.

Nicole Miller spring 2014 images courtesy of becomegorgeous.com

Nicole Miller spring 2014 images courtesy of becomegorgeous.com

FR: What will you do once the show is over? Vacation? Take time off from the business?

Nicole Miller: We get so excited and my whole team gets excited about the collection. It’s just a real high when we have the right inspiration and everyone is coming up with ideas and doing research. It’s such a great team spirit thing. We always have such a great time.

We never think about it as a business. Sometimes we’re not professional enough because we get so excited about the idea and the concept. And then (we have to) try not to be too literal.

But we have a great time. I have a great team. These girls are great. They’re like my best friends. And we just love the team spirit of when we’re all pow-wowing and coming up with ideas.

Everybody does talk about the fashion shows being a nightmare and they are a nightmare for a lot of reasons like getting your shoes an hour before (the show), or where a girl trips on the runway, or worrying about if your sweaters are coming in on time. The last week is chaotic. We have 20 girls who have to come in for fittings and the sewers are here until midnight. So it’s a very chaotic and stressful week. It is a nightmare. But within the nightmare, it is fun.

And we complain about it, but if we didn’t do it, we would be looking at each other like “Oh, those people are doing it. Why aren’t we doing it?” We would feel left out if we didn’t do it.

—Karyn D. Collins

 

 

 

 

Michelle Lesniak Franklin’s Fresh Approach to Hard and Soft

Downloads344As Project Runway nears the end of its 11th season, many pause to wonder about the success of the many designers who have appeared on the show. Christian Siriano from season four is quickly becoming a household name with a lucrative contract with Payless Shoes and garments sold in Bergdorf Goodman’s, Neiman Marcus, and many upscale boutiques, as well as recently opening his signature store in New York City. Austin Scarlett from season one recently launched a well-received bridal collection. Irina Shabayeva, Korto Momolu, and Daniel Vosovic regularly show during New York Fashion Week. And season seven’s Emilio Sosa is one of the designers for Broadway’s much anticipated Motown: The Musical.

Michelle Lesniak Franklin may be one of the breakout alumnae from Project Runway’s growing list of contestant’s that will continue to make her mark in the fashion industry after her turn on the show. As a cast member of the current 11th season, Franklin had to remain silent about the outcome of the already taped finale, but she was forthcoming about her experiences on season 11.

Fashion Reverie recently caught up with Michelle at Lord & Taylor’s signature store as she debuted her dress that won the Lord & Taylor challenge.

michelle_Lesniak_08Fashion Reverie: How would you describe your design aesthetic?

Michelle Lesniak Franklin: I call it geek chic. My style is for a fashionable woman who is very serious during the day, but at night she turns it to a real diva.

FR: What are your favorite fabrications?

Michelle Lesniak Franklin: I work a lot in leather, wool and silk. I also like natural fibers and rainwear fabrics. I am from Portland, Oregon where it rains a lot, so you could say I do sportswear-inspired rainwear.

FR: Since the show have you moved to NYC?

Michelle Lesniak Franklin: I still currently live in Portland because I am a Pacific Northwest girl. My dream would be to have an apartment in NYC and my house in Portland. But, there is no budget for that right now.

Michelle Franklin Dress [1]FR: Would you say you combine hard and soft in your silhouettes and construction?

Michelle Lesniak Franklin: Yes, I definitely combine hard and soft elements in my garments. No woman’s body is perfect, but with the right tailoring and design we can make a woman’s body look ideal and the combination of hard and soft fabrics facilitates a designer’s ability to make women look perfect.

FR: What did you learn on Project Runway that now informs you as a designer or your design aesthetic?

Michelle Lesniak Franklin: I learned a lot. People spend a lifetime trying to figure out who they are and I got it in a crash course on Project Runway. I learned that I am very dedicated and focused, and that I have a very strong aesthetic and stick to my guns, which is important in this industry.

FR: I am sure you were a fan of Project Runway before your appearance on the show. How many times did you audition before you won a spot on Project Runway?

Michelle Lesniak Franklin: I auditioned once before.

Michelle_Lesniak_10FR: How was Zac Posen different as a judge than Michael Kors?

Michelle Lesniak Franklin: They are both incredibly successful designers. But, what I like about Zac Posen was that he is newer as a designer relative to the industry. So, he may have a more current perspective of what we are going through as emerging designers.

FR: This is the first season that Project Runway designers worked on the team format for the entire length of the current season. When you won a spot on the show and learned that you would be working as teams, how did you respond?

Michelle Lesniak Franklin: When we learned we would be working as teams it was very frightening at first. The designers for this season really didn’t sign up for this new format. But, if you think about it, in business everything is a collaborative effort, in other words, you work in teams. So, in the end it was a good thing.

FR: What is next for you?

Michelle Lesniak Franklin: I am currently in production with my brand. I produce everything from start to finish, and I am now looking to hire that out.

—William S. Gooch

 

 

Designers Return to “Project Runway: All Stars” with Something to Prove

Redemption, pride, personal challenge, curiosity.

Thirteen designers from previous seasons of the hit reality fashion design show Project Runway have returned to compete in Project Runway: All Stars. The All Stars edition of Project Runway debuts on October 25 at 9 p.m. EST on Lifetime. And the reasons behind each designer’s return are as varied as their design aesthetics and backgrounds in the industry.

This latest edition of Project Runway: All Stars (the second full season version not counting a truncated All Stars special), comes just weeks after Project Runway finished its 10th anniversary regular season.

While fans will see familiar faces at the sewing machines, the quartet of judges and advisors are a different crew from the Project Runway regular personalities of Heidi Klum, Michael Kors, Nina Garcia and Tim Gunn. Instead, Project Runway: All Stars features a judging panel of supermodel Carolyn Murphy and designers Issac Mizrahi and Marchesa’s Georgina Chapman. Joanna Coles, formerly of Elle and now editor-in-chief at Cosmopolitan, fills the workroom advisor role.

An interesting wrinkle to this season of Project Runway: All Stars is that this season features a lot of runners-up, all with something to prove.

The runners-up looking for a shot at redemption in this edition of Project Runway: All Stars are:

  • Wendy Pepper (Middleburg, VA) – Season One, Second Runner-up
  • Uli Herzner (Miami, FL) – Season Three, First Runner-up
  • Althea Harper (New Haven, CT) – Season Six, First Runner-up
  • Emilio Sosa (New York, NY) – Season Seven, First Runner-up
  • Joshua McKinley (New York, NY) – Season Nine, First Runner-up

Other designers returning are:

  • Andrae Gonzalo (New York, NY) – Season Two
  • Kayne Gillaspie (Oklahoma City, OK) – Season Three
  • Suede (Barryville, NY) – Season Five
  • Peach Carr (Lake Forest, IL) – Season Eight
  • Casanova (New York, NY) – Season Eight.
  • Ivy Higa (New York, NY) – Season Eight.
  • Anthony Ryan Auld (Baton Rouge, LA) – Season Nine.
  • Laura Kathleen (St. Louis, MO) – Season Nine.

Fashion Reverie talked to three returning designers of this season of Project Runway: All Stars to find out why they returned and how the Project Runway: All Stars experience compared to their original experience on Project Runway.

Wendy Pepper

It’s been eight years since America met the mom who became known as the villain of the first season of Project Runway for her often sarcastic and acerbic comments about her fellow contestants. Since then Pepper, 48, has kept busy designing for her boutique in Middleburg, VA.

Fashion Reverie: What do you think of how you were shown in Season One?

Wendy Pepper: It’s TV and you throw your hat in the ring and do what you can. I really thought it was a pretty amazing experience. I thought all in all it’s been a wonderful experience for me. I think that editing is  a miraculous thing. I really don’t know that person they created on Season 1 but they managed to create it and kudos to them for that. But never once for a minute have I confused it with who I am.

FR: How was the Project Runway experience for you this time and working with designers who grew up watching you on television?

Wendy Pepper: I definitely felt it took me back to eight years ago. It reminded me of the craziness. I can tell you my job does not include challenges like that. It actually made me grateful to come back to my real job. My main observation was it was an extraordinary opportunityto spend some real time with people that are entering the industry in a different way than I did. To me that was invaluable to have a meal with them, and talk with them, and talk strategy. I learned a lot.

Kayne Gillaspie

Since being introduced to “Project Runway” audiences as the pageant gown king of Season 3 and finishing in the top 5, Gillaspie, 33, has been busy building his fashion business. His Jonathan Kayne brand, based in his hometown of Nashville, includes dresses, intimates and shoe lines.

FR: Given your heavy work commitments with your three lines, why did you decide to participate on Project Runway All Stars?

Kayne Gillaspie: I think all of us love the creative process so when else do you get a chance to leave your cell phone behind, and the whole outside world behind and all you do is focus on creating. You get to just zone out and take a challenge at hand and really concentrate on showing what you can do,  perfecting your craft and getting into a creative zone to do what you love to do. On top of that, it’s great exposure for young designers. There’s so much competition out there to get your brand out there. And for so many people to get to see your creative process and talent, it’s pretty awesome. It’s a no brainer. As long as I can make it work with my schedule and my business I will do that. This is another great opportunity for me. I couldn’t pay for a single commercial for my brand on Lifetime. So that type of exposure with television is awesome. For me it was a business move more than anything else.

FR:  Almost half of the designers are from seasons eight and nine. What was it like being with them?

Kayne Gillaspie: They grew up watching us. These kids come in wearing only their product and promoting their product. And even just how [they approached the show], they always had things they might want to say or do. For me it’s just spontaneous. I do what I do. There were a lot of egos I felt from some of the younger crowd. I pretty much get along with anyone but I was a little surprised by how much ego was there without much work that’s been put in before. I just grew up where hard work was number one and everything would come after that. But good for them. Maybe it works for them.

Peach Carr

Peach Carr has been busy since she appeared in 2010 on Season 8 of Project Runway. The 52-year-old mom from Lake Forest, IL.—she hopped on a plane to tape this All Stars season literally hours after watching her daughter graduate from high school—has also been busy with her line of tennis togs and daywear.

All images courtesy of lifetime.com

FR: Why did you decide to do Project Runway All Stars?

Peach Carr: I said no about four times. I think the reason why I finally said yes was because I thought I had really grown so much in two years as a designer since my time on Season 8. I really wanted to show everybody not only how much growth but what Lifetime gave to me because I had no voice before Project Runway. Project Runway really channeled me to where I was supposed to go. I wanted to show everybody what this opportunity did for me.

FR: What was the experience like this time around?

Peach Carr: My daughter graduated from high school and hours later I was on a plane to New York to film so by the time I met everybody I was thinking ‘What did I do?’ It was very weird at first. But I was so star struck by some of the people there that I almost didn’t feel I was on Project Runway at first. I am still star struck with Uli and Kayne. Season 3 is [when] I first got hooked on Project Runway. I am just like everybody else; you feel like you know these people and you want to get to know them.”

—Karyn D. Collins

Coco Mitchell: A Benevolent Keeper of the Secrets

In just a couple of days, New York City will bear witness to a bevy of beauties that parade back and forth over hallowed runways twice a year. Fashion Week which starts this Thursday, has had many incarnations from its original moniker, Press Week, to Olympus Fashion to current tome, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. But one thing has not changed; no Fashion Week could exist without the models that show off the garments. Though a model’s career seems to get shorter each decade, there are those rare creatures who season after season continue to inspire designers and light up the catwalk.

Coco Mitchell is one such rarefied being. From Valentino, Armani, Chanel, Givenchy, Thierry Mugler to Donna Karan, Patrick Kelly,  Bill Blass, Betsey Johnson and Ralph Rucci, Mitchell has walked and worked for the best. And after more than three decades in the industry, she is still going strong, loving what she does and sharing that joy. Unlike those in the industry who put up walls and approach fashion as a gated community, Coco shares the joy and passion of her chosen profession with likeminded souls and kindred spirits. Though Coco does not throw her pearls before swine, she willingly gives her gifts to those who respect the craft.

On the eve of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, Coco gave some detailed insight into what it takes to make it as a top model.

 

Fashion Reverie: What do you contribute to the longevity of your career?

Coco Mitchell:  I believe the reason my career has been so varied and extensive is because I have a passion for fashion. I know that sounds very cliché, but it’s true. I have really studied my craft and I try to stay current. You cannot work in 2012 and have a 90s runway walk. I know the trends, the new fabrications and textile technologies, and I know who the new, hot designers are. Just in case a particular door opens, I want to be able to walk through.

FB: Sometimes, agencies spin stories about finding some nascent beauty in the cornfields who knows nothing about fashion and beauty,  and turning that young lady into a high-fashion model. How much of that well-spun story has weight in today’s market?

Coco Mitchell:  The girls who are successful models usually have been following fashion and reading magazines since they were teenagers. Agencies like to spend that story but with the proliferation of fashion on television and in movies it is kind of hard for a young person not to have any exposure to fashion. Now, I was discovered by Eileen Ford walking down Fifth Avenue. I knew nothing about fashion and was already working as a school teacher. Fashion was not on my radar. Back then there was no youtube, Internet, fashion reality shows, etc.  But now fashion is ubiquitous. The girls like Karlie Kloss who have extremely successful modeling careers had a goal of being a model.

FR: What do the girls that are successful possess that not only makes designers like them but also gives them longevity in this industry?

Coco Mitchell:  The models that are successful are models that inspire designers. And that hasn’t changed in the industry. Pat Cleveland inspired Halston; Linda Evangelista inspired Karl Lagerfeld, Coco Rocha inspires Jean-Paul Gaultier. These models have passion for clothes, the arts, movement; a variety of things. These models are expert at referencing and drawing inspiration from the things around them and that passion transmits through their work in print or on the runway. And that gives them an edge over other models. They are also very educated about fashion.  And lastly, they do the work, which is the maintenance required to stay relevant and keep working. They not only serve as muses for these designers, they are also their confidantes, and designers trust their taste.

FR: There are a lot of very attractive people who want to be models, but a top model brings something more than good looks. Could you elaborate on this?

Coco Mitchell:  For me fashion is war. And in a war you have to an arsenal of weapons and tools. So, let’s say that you are getting your body and skin together. Now, you look like a model and you might get signed to a good agency. The next step is can you bring it to a photo shoot or the runway. It is so much more than your beauty and physique.

You have to educate yourself and bring the correct point of view to a variety of designers and design aesthetics. Chanel has a different point of view than Ralph Lauren, and the top models understand that and deliver the correct perspective to a specific assignment. To hold your body in a certain way that a designer may want for their aesthetic takes a lot of work and an educated approach to the work.  Designer’s and fashion editors want to work with models who understand the craft.

FR: It is often said that designers are no longer interested in forming long-term relationships with models. Is that true?

Coco Mitchell:  No, that is a false perception.  Just because there are so many new models every season does not mean that designers are not invested in working with a select group of models for several seasons. Designers want to work with models who understand the language of their clothes. There is a language that goes with different design aesthetics and silhouettes. You have to evoke a mood and mystery.

FR: How have the walks or points of view on the runway changed over the years?

Coco Mitchell:  Pat Cleveland said something very interesting in the HBO documentary About Face. She said that fashion gave her wings.  And Pat Cleveland can fly. She can spin and twirl while beautifully showing off the clothes. In the 80s, sometimes to open a show a designer would send out 10 models at one time. It was all for effect and very theatrical. Then all of the sudden in the late 80s, the Japanese started buying up brands and it became more about showing the clothes. The runway walk was more about selling product and marketing, so the walk became very singular, not theatrical.

In the 90s with the ascent of Gisele Bundchen, the walk became more of a stomp and a gallop. And now the walk is more fluid, but the attitude is all in the face. The face sets the mood and evokes mystery. Black models like Joan Smalls and Sessilee Lopez give you theater and intensity in the face. They look like fashion warriors.

I was not a model that performed or twirled down the runway. So, I am thankful that I came after that kind of walk. I always sold the clothes and gave focus and intensity in my face. I learned to give you face in Paris from models like Katoucha.

Carmen dell’Orefice image courtesy of models.com

FR: Where do you fit in the pantheon of supermodels?

Coco Mitchell:  I’ve had a very fulfilling career both in Europe and in the States. And now that my career has spanned several decade, I can truly say that I am blessed. My idol is Carmen dell’Orefice. She is fabulous, working in her 80s and I want to be like her.  No matter where you send me I want to be able to evoke mode and deliver a superior product. So when I get booked, I will get booked because you want me specifically for what I bring.

FR: What is your legacy?

Coco Mitchell:  I truly believe my legacy is all the young models I have coached over the years and the pearls of wisdom I have given them. So whatever they do with their lives, if I have had a positive influence; that is my legacy.

—William S. Gooch

Andres Escobar: The Master Builder Speaks

“This is the house that Jack built, y’all. Remember this house! This was the land that he worked by hand. This was the dream of an upright man. This was the room that was filled with love,” croons R&B icon Aretha Franklin from her 1968 hit by the same title.

Master builder Andres Escobar just like the character in “This Is the House that Jack Built” pours lots of love and dedication into his craft. Moved more by what his heart dictates than financial gain, Escobar has created a phenomenal portfolio of work that illustrates his passion and creative genius. From designing the New York Times Building interior to the Guess Flagship store in Toronto to the newly renovated and renamed Noir (originally Nikki Beach) in Midtown East, Escobar is riding high on an astonishing list of accomplishments. Still, Escobar approaches each new project as an opportunity to evolve and test the limits of  his ingenuity.

Andres Escobar took time out of his busy schedule to talk to Fashion Reverie about his trajectory, his philosophy of life, and the thing that brings him so much joy.

Fashion Reverie: You moved from Colombia to Montreal to study engineering. During your studies you switched from engineering to architecture/interior design, why?

Andres Escobar: I have always been a creative person, and in my youth I would make model buildings and automobiles. I started out as an engineer major because my family thought that a creative career was too risky. I decided to move to designing spaces and it had taken a long time for me to obtain what I wanted to achieve.

NY Times Building rendering

FR: What were you trying to obtain?

Andres Escobar: I wanted to have a portfolio of a diversity of projects. Obviously, you have to make enough money to support yourself, but it is more about the challenge of designing different venues. Working on a new project is like starting a new love affair. It is fun for me and I don’t feel like I go to work.

It is very important as a designer to work on a diversity of projects that have a different aesthetic. In this industry it is very easy to get stereotyped. For a while I was thought of a designer that only designed very edgy, downtown spaces with a minimalistic aesthetic. But with this new project, Noir, I have been able to show a wider range of my talents, combining Art Deco with neoclassicism, mixed in with Hollywood glamour and modern elements. This space also gives the feeling of the old supper clubs, but modernized.

FR: When you opened your company in 1989 what were some of your first projects?

Andres Escobar: Early on I was designing large supermarkets that had very specialized departments with their own personalities within the food store, like a boucherie, boulangerie or chacuterie.  Early on we had clients in Halifax, Montreal, and even some European clients. That morphed into designing restaurants and later retail stores like Timbaland and sportswear stores.

FR: What sets your firm apart from other architectural/interior design firms?

Andres Escobar: I am able to understand what people are looking for. I am great listener. When I am meeting with my clients I let them talk and I am able to discern what they want, even if they are not clear or so sure themselves. My firm is very good at understanding markets and what works best for that particular market. We are good at not letting the design overwhelm the product.

FR: Your job requires a lot of hands-on knowledge. How do you do the research needed to stay competitive?

Andres Escobar: I am very fortunate to do a lot of traveling.  I love meeting people and different cultures, and I infuse all those experiences into my work. One common quality among all people and cultures is that there is beauty among all people and all cultures. The media would have us to believe that beauty comes in a very specific package, but that is not so.

I make it a point to see what is going on in different cultures. I go outside of the packaged tourist areas. I visit different types of restaurants and hotels.  I always look at what people are wearing, how they accessorize; how the men and the women are beautifying themselves.

Duo Restaurant

FR: What is your design aesthetic or signature look?

Andres Escobar: I try to create a place that has its own unique look. For long time it was very linear, and that was a part of my learning and growing. You know, sometimes it is more difficult to create a clever, minimalistic space than a Baroque-inspired space.  You can hide imperfections in more busy or Baroque spaces. Having said that, you have to understand what is going on right now, but you also have to understand different periods, from Baroque to Bauhaus, etc.  This knowledge really enriches you and you can use those historical references in your work designed with your particular point of view.

FR: How do you select your projects?

Andres Escobar: Most of the projects come by word of mouth, so the more projects we work on, the more people are aware of my firm’s work. I also have to feel that I have the right chemistry with my clients to have a successful relationship. I can usually tell within five minutes if it is going to work out.

FR: What has been your most challenging, and why?

Andres Escobar: We worked on a hotel a while back, and I knew early on that it would be difficult. I followed my financial necessity and not my heart. I did the project to honor the commitment, but I hated the project. I promised myself to never do to that again.

FR: You designed the New York Times Building, Noir, and other significant spaces in NYC. What is it about NYC that lends itself to your design aesthetic?

Andres Escobar: I believe personality is very important. Once people get to know me they understand that I am probably the easiest guy to work with. There are a lot of prima donnas out there that are very hard to work with. New Yorkers like to get down to brass tacks without a lot of fuss and muss. So my personality lends itself to getting things done and meeting deadlines without a lot of drama. I believe also that New Yorkers appreciate when a designer can bring in different elements from different cultures and periods and make the design look like one seamless expression of beauty and functionality. My firm is able to accomplish that.

Noir Images courtesy of Robert Chojnacki

FR: Could you talk about how Noir and how that project came about?

Andres Escobar: I met the owner George Giordano in Florida and he mentioned that he had a club/restaurant, Nikki Beach in New York City. He contacted me when he wanted Nikki Beach to be renovated. When I looked at the space I immediately wanted to make the space different from other similar spaces in NYC. Most marquees in NYC are square, so we wanted to differentiate Noir’s marquee from the others. I decided to bring a little bit of the Champs Elysees to the space, so that is what we did. We built in a beautiful spiral staircase, padded walls and banquettes.

FR: There has been a trend in NYC and other major cities to move toward upscale lounges and away from large clubs and dance spaces. What to you contribute this to?

Andres Escobar: There has been a very big generational shift in populations that desire a night life. The baby boomers want to go out and have a relaxing time in environments that not too crowded and noisy. The clubbing scene is too loud and you cannot have a conversation in those spaces. Also, designers are bored with being asked to always create cutting edge, Jetson-like environments; it is too linear with hard edges. If you notice a lot of beauty comes in soft, round, smooth-edged packages. The Renaissance was all about round edges, and architecture and interior design is having a renaissance of sorts.

People want to go back to the basics. You want all the innovation and accessibility that comes with technology, but you want the beauty of the basics and the quality of great design.

FR: That said; what are the current trends in architecture?

Andres Escobar: Design is becoming a lot more fluid because of access to a wider variety of building materials. In my case, which is mainly interiors, technology has come a long, long way. Through media, like the Internet, consumers are exposed to everything and they have a certain amount of sophistication. Advancements in lighting have changed the industry. LED and longevity of the product is now the order of the day. However, with the new technologies we are losing the craftsmen. Because everything now is done through machines, craftsmen are becoming almost obsolete and with that loss we are losing some of the romance of their artistry. Through machines we can do an interpretation of an engraved wall, but it is not the same.

The retail industry everyone is trying to follow the leaders in terms of personality and branding a interior design look in the store. Each store will have its own individual look. Prada started this, now everyone is trying to copy that. Unfortunately, the branding looks similar.

FR: What comes next?

Andres Escobar: I want to keep evolving and doing the romantic, evocative designs. I want to keep doing what I am doing, and that is always fun and fulfilling.

—William S. Gooch

 

 

 

HOUSEWIVES Alum Jill Zarin Has Graduated to Bigger and Better

This week The Real Housewives of New York City Season 5 premiered on Bravo with new cast members—and without some of the old.  Housewives alumna Jill Zarin reported on her blog, “I felt like I graduated high school and am in college now… going back to the high school to visit my old friends and some transfer students.”  What’s Jill been up to;  apparently, quite a lot.  In addition to continuing a round of television appearances, Jill Zarin has been just a tad occupied—building an empire around her name with her Jill Zarin Home Bedding Collection, Skweez Couture shapewear line, and most recently her Jill Zarin Jewelry Collection.  Fashion Reverie has had a chance to catch up with her to learn more about her newest ventures in the fashion and accessories industries.

 

Fashion Reverie: What inspired you to start Skweez Couture?

Jill Zarin: I had my “aha” moment while I was filming Season 4 of The Real Housewives of New York City when I was wearing someone else’s shapewear and getting out of the car and my whole leg was exposed.  It was really squeezing my whole leg, very uncomfortable and very unattractive.  It was at that moment, I told my husband that I have to make own shapewear, and I have to make it look pretty.  I said I could do better, and I did!

FR: Can you go over your background for some of our readers who may not know of your professional background beyond The Real Housewives of New York City?

Jill Zarin: I started as a buyer at Filene’s Department Store in Boston, Massachusetts.  My last job was President of Jockey Hosiery for Great American Knitting Mills.  So I’ve really ran the gamut in ladies and menswear and undergarments, specifically from hosiery to tights, for over 10 of my 25 years in the business.  Then I worked for my husband, Bobby, who has a fabric company, which allowed me to learn a lot about textiles and fabrication.

Skweez Couture’s Peek-a-boob

FR: What does your collection consist of?

Jill Zarin: It ranges from functional and affordable undergarments to a hybrid collection and outerwear.  For example, I have a Bodyguard Bodysuit that can be worn under a blouse, under a sweater, under a dress, under anything to hold in your stomach, lift your rear end, to give you support because it has an underwire, and yet makes you feel very feminine and comfortable.  You can also wear my shapewear by itself with a jacket, or a jacket over it with jeans, which is the way I like to wear it.  So it can go from undergarment to outerwear.  I also have items that are primarily for outerwear, but can be worn under clothes, which makes up my corset line.

So I have items that go under your clothes, items that are hybrid that can be worn under or out, corsets, then I have garments that are just phenomenal—soft, easy to wear, from velvet leggings to cotton capris to those that have more spandex and support.  My favorite item allows you to wear your own bra: it’s called the Peek-a-boob.  My biggest concern as a seller is bra size.  This way, I can support all of them, no pun intended, by letting them wear their own bra and giving them an undergarment that surrounds it literally and sucks them in all the way down.  At the bottom, I’ve added lace, which I love.

The side effect of these garments is that it gives you incredible back support, which all of us need.  We’ll all leaning over our computers, we’re slouching as we get older, we’re tired, and we’re resting in that position.  These garments force you to stay up straighter.  It’s healthier for your body.

Skweez Couture’s Bodyguard Seamless Shaping Bodysuit

FR: Would you tell us about the fabrics you use?

Jill Zarin: I like to use fabrics that have incredible softness, which is the most important thing to me because I think the first thing you do when you open up your package is touch it. It’s really important for me that it passes a certain number of washing machine passes.  It’s sort of like a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.  I should really apply for that!  But we put the garments through our own testing.  I have my own Jill Zarin Housekeeping Seal of Approval.  So does HSN by the way.  One of the things I am most proud about is being one of the suppliers of HSN.

FR: Please tell us the steps it took to put together Skweez Couture.

Jill Zarin: It’s been trial and error.  I’ve never opened a business so aggressively and quickly in my life.  My husband, Bobby, is an entrepreneur, and he helped guide me.  I have a licensee that is my partner in making these goods and designing.  That was the fastest way to do it.  If I had tried to do it myself, it would have taken me another year or two.  I had to make that choice to give part up a part of my business, but it was worth it.  With that, there comes a lot of expertise and many, many years of experience.

 Forbes Magazine recently named us one of the top 5 emerging shapewear brands in the world.  They were doing an article on my competitor.  This other company has been in the business for ten years and is now worth billions of dollars.  And now Skweez Couture is on its heels.

 FR: But you’re still actively involved in the design?

Jill Zarin:  That’s where there was a bit of a challenge because they’re based in Boca Raton, Florida and I’m based in New York.  So, FedEx is my best friend!

FR: What are you most proud of regarding your collection?

Jill Zarin: I think it would be the corsets because that was the most challenging.  I literally took apart with a scissor one of my favorite corsets that I had bought years ago because I needed to find out what was annoying me so I could do it better. My weight would fluctuate up and down, but this thing had no stretch at all.  I’d have to hold my breath while Bobby would struggle to try to help hook all the eyes.  It had no straps and would slip,so I took it apart.  One of the things I did was replace hooks and eyes with a very a practical zipper that has a safety latch on it.  When I took it apart, I noticed the reason why it was hurting me so much was because the bones were so hard and wiry and tore through the fabric and dug into me.  I wanted soft boning, which I had to source, and of course I wanted a really beautiful sateen finish, and a silk look.

My retail price is $75 for a gorgeous corset, which is unheard of at that price.  I also added removable straps.  I made the straps removable so people who didn’t want them could remove them, for example, smaller chested women who might not need the extra support.

I used the princess seaming 360 degrees around it.  In fact, one of HSN hosts, Diana Perkovic, loved it so much that she picked me as the Host Pick, which is a big honor.  WWD also featured that same corset.

Jill Zarin Jewelry Collection’s “Allyson” ring, $78, Jill Zarin Jewelry Collection’s “Gloria” ring, $38

FR: How did the Jill Zarin Jewelry Collection come about?

 Jill Zarin: I’m a jewelry hoarder, like so many of my peers. I am a little bit careless, and I’ve lost a lot of jewelry, with that in mind I really wanted to make the collection affordable.

FR: What has the road been like since leaving the reality show and entering this new phase of your life as a fashion and jewelry entrepreneur?

Jill Zarin: It feels organic.  I feel like my life is always evolving.  That was a stage in my life for 5 years, and I was ready to leave.  I never thought it would last as long as it did, and I’m grateful that it’s still on-air because people are still talking about the show.

I feel like I’ve graduated.  It’s sort of like being in high school.  They forced me to graduate.

FR: What was your experience like being on one of the most popular reality shows, and are there any regrets?

Jill Zarin: I don’t live with regrets.  I’m sure I’ve had regrets, I just don’t remember them because I don’t live in the past.  I did the show to have fun and to promote my brand.  My brand at the time was solely Zarin Fabrics on the lower eastside, the largest discount drapery and upholstery fabric store in New York City.  Then it became more about the Jill Zarin brand, and then I came up with Skweez Couture.  It kept evolving.

The show also gave me a platform to write a book with my mother and sister, “Secrets of a Jewish Mother.”  That was an advice book on everything from marriage to dating to career.  It’s the kind of book that will live forever and will stand the test of time.

 FR: I have heard from celebrities, especially those who are on TV on a weekly basis, that they are often approached by fans, who mistake them for the characters they portray.  It must be doubly confusing for a reality star.

Jill Zarin: Actually it’s much easier as a reality star because I am my character.  When I meet fans, they know a lot about me that is all true.  I’m married to Bobby.  My daughter is Ally.  Sure, there are different storylines that may be exaggerated.  But the core of who I am, what I do is all true.  So people will just feel like I’m a familiar friend.

FR: Is there more you’d like to accomplish?

Jill Zarin: There’s always more; things I don’t know yet.  I’m very creative, and I’m always coming up with new challenges and things for me to do.  I’m working on twenty different projects I can’t even talk about.  I’ll have a couple that I’ll be able to talk about in a couple of months.

Jill Zarin will appear on HSN June 15th at 8pm EST. Skweez Couture and the Jill Zarin Jewelry Collection can be purchased on www.jillzarin.com.

—Jeanine Jeo-Hi Kim

 

The Wonderful World of Zang Toi

Images courtesy of Ernest Green

If you’ve never been to a Zang Toi fashion show then you’ve missed incredible works of timeless beauty. Rarely, in the current incarnation of fashion shows to audiences watch in amazement, stand up and cheer, applaud for several minutes at the display of masterpieces of wearable art. Then again, this is the Wonderful World of Zang Toi.

Fashion Reverie was privileged to have a conversation with Zang Toi right before his dynamic runway show that was a part of the Beth Israel Breast Cancer Luncheon.

Fashion Reverie: We all know you came from humble beginnings in Malaysia to study fashion design at Parsons, so coming from such a humble background what gave you the courage to become a designer, particularly a luxury designer?

Zang Toi:  I always knew I wanted to have a creative career. As a young child I loved to draw and sketch, so I thought I would have a career in the fine arts.

It is very common for Malaysian to go abroad to further their education. I first went to Canada to study and then I moved to Parsons to study fashion design. Originally, I pursued a career in interior design; however, through a series of incidences I switched to fashion design.

FR: What would you say is your design aesthetic?

Zang Toi:  My design is very chic, classic and sophisticated. My clothes are timeless, investment pieces for women that want a touch of elegance and are not afraid to make a statement.  I’m one of the few independent American high-end designers that have survived the recession. Last year we had a 57% increase in sales and this season are sales are already up 70%.

FR: What do you credit this dramatic increase in sales to?

Zang Toi:  For three months we travel from city to city doing trunks shows and I am personally present for all of the shows. I have gotten to know all my customers individually from these trunk show appearances.  Some designers make the mistake of trying to be a rock star or a celebrity designer. I am more concentrated on giving good quality service to my customers. My clients are far wealthier than me and they know quality products and good service.  I have loyal customers that will come into our showroom and in one outing spend hundreds of thousands of dollars. So, the combination of a quality product and tactile interaction with my customer base is increasing our sales.

FR: All of your clothes are made in the US. Could you speak about that?

Zang Toi:  Every garment is made in my workspace in NYC. I have loyal employees who have been with me for over 15 years. I have a very good team and we have a very good product. When women wear my clothes out to an event or even as a part of their daily wardrobe, they demand attention and get noticed. Everyone thinks they are wearing clothes from a European couture house.

Images courtesy of Ernest Green

FR: Compared to last season where you used more neutrals with dashes of green, why did you use imperial red this season and more color in general?

Zang Toi:  The inspiration for fall/winter 2012 really came from Gstaad, the famous ski resort in Switzerland. All the famous jet setting celebrities from Audrey Hepburn to Elizabeth Taylor used to vacation there. So you can see the ski aesthetic in the winter white we use in the collection. We always use a basic black in our collections and I wanted to light up the runway toward the end of the show with dramatic, bold splashes of ruby and imperial red. As you know in some Asian cultures, imperial red is a symbol of good luck.

FR: When you use color it’s always bold splashes of color, could you talk about that?

Zang Toi: Three months before our fall/winter 2012 show at Lincoln Center during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week I decided I wanted to do a mini Adele concert. My music director thought I was going crazy. But I felt that combined with the dramatic red colorations, and the overall inspiration for the collection, an homage, of sorts, to Adele would produce an incredible impact for the audience. I wanted to create theatre, which is something you don’t normally see in fashion productions in NYC. The combination of bold colors and great music lends itself to the Zang Toi experience.

FR: In your current collection there were bold, dramatic pieces but also easy daytime pieces.

Zang Toi:  We have great dramatic showpieces in our collection, but the bread and butter of the House of Zang Toi is the fine-tailored suits. We also use Loro Piana cashmere in many of our garments. When you give a consumer who has everything the best of the best, they keep coming back.

Images courtesy of Ernest Green

FR: You also like to use a lot of silk.

Zang Toi:  I have clients that can afford anything they want, and they want the best of the best; so it is a given that we use silk, as well as other expensive fabrics. I am on the road doing trunk shows for both seasons, making myself available for my clients. Over time I have learned what my clients want and what their lifestyle is. I have tapped into that customer where money is not an object; however, if they are going to spend a lot of money, the product must be top drawer.

FR: Why would a consumer choose a Zang Toi garment over other luxury designers?

Zang Toi:  A fashion critic once said “When you wear Zang Toi, you don’t just go to a party, you arrive.”   Women are always stopped and admired at events, in the airport, really anywhere when they are wearing my clothes. My female customers love my garments and their husbands love the way they look in Zang Toi. The husbands of my clients always tell me that they get more attention when their wives are wearing Zang Toi. So, if the wives and husbands are pleased, I must be doing something right.

FR: What’s next for you?

Zang Toi:   What is next for me is continuing what I am doing and continuing to make my clients happy.

—William S. Gooch

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