The opportunity to meet well-known New York designer Rachel Comey came very unexpected. Rachel was an honored guest at the Stanley Korshak fashion luncheon. Of course, I couldn’t miss this serendipitous chance and approached her for an interview. Graciously, she was very open and welcoming, and we had a very nice chat.
Rachel, I’ll start with a question you must be asked all the time. Where do you draw your inspiration?
“Yes, this question comes up often, but it is difficult to answer it with precision. Inspiration can come from anywhere. I study textures, materials. It could be a very purposeful process, or it can come up from a small detail I notice walking down the street in New York. I spend a lot of time researching and reviewing different fabrics. Different fabrics evoke different aesthetics. Selecting fabrics and working with fabrics is a big part of the design development.”
I see strong artistic influences in your designs. Do you feel that your Fine Art education influences your creative process?
“Fine art background definitely helps; it broadens the overall perspective of the design process. I tend to think sculpturally, when I approach shapes, so, I guess the answer is ‘Yes. Yes, it does’.”
In your design process, do you design with a certain customer in mind, or is the process uniquely your own?
“Of course, I always think of my customers. It’s important to keep in mind that all women are different. Their body types, professional positions, ages – all of that dictates what a woman may find comfortable and appealing. I am inspired by women’s strengths and individualities, by their uniqueness; I want to make sure that my clothes answer a variety of needs and tastes – that they can be lived in. I know how important it is.”
How would you describe your customer?
“My customer is a woman who portraits strength. She has her own style, and is comfortable in expressing herself. She is empowered and sexy, easy going and energetic. There is a reason why my clothes are designed with the movement in mind. My customer is always on the go.”
I have noticed that your brand campaign employs models of all ages. It is quite unusual in the fashion industry. What prompted you to make that choice?
“I don’t believe fashion is only for the young. As I have said, I am designing for women of all ages and all body types. My clothes look as good on a fifty year old, as on a twenty year old. Style and individuality don’t have an age restriction. I believe our marketing campaign shows that.”
You have boutiques both in New York and LA, your collections are sold all over the world. Do you find that your clients’ tastes differ on the East Coast and on the West Coast, for example?
“Definitely. That’s why my seasonal collections include a broad range of garments. The buyers can select what works best for the clientele in their markets. I actually design with specific accounts in mind and work closely with them to create offerings that answer their specific aesthetic, store type and location. For example, we thought it would be fun to create a cowgirl pattern for our LA boutique. We didn’t plan on it at the time, but it was a happy coincidence that we can now offer it here at Stanley Korshak in Dallas. It seems very appropriate.”
Now that you mentioned the pattern, I must ask you about it. You are well known for the use of graphics. What is your approach? Do you first select or develop a pattern and then design a garment, or is it the other way around?
“It really depends. The cowgirl pattern came as a result of collaboration with Masha Reva. She is a young artist and designer from Odessa, now living in New York. We fell in love with her work, and asked her to develop a pattern for us. As I said, cowgirls’ idea was something we thought would work well for Los Angeles. We knew what the style was going to be; from the beginning we were planning on producing silk prints. In this case, garments were designed after the prints were completed, but it’s not always the case.”
In one of your interviews you’ve said that when you work, you are not designing for a brand, that you do not want your collections to be predictable. You want your customers’ experience to be a quest to find something unique, unexpected, something that makes them feel good. Can you extrapolate on that?
“Designing for a brand is actually complicated, you need to see and follow your long game scenario. However, you can’t have tunnel vision. Following a predictable path is actually not interesting, not challenging for me. I want to enjoy what I am doing. I like exploration and experimentation with various things – textures, silhouettes, graphics, everything. I want customers to keep coming back and finding something different each time.”
Let’s talk about shoes now. Tell me about your shoes. They are fascinating, unique, artistic, but definitely designed with walking in mind. How do you approach shoe design?
“Living in New York gives you a completely different perspective on shoe design. Shoes are not just pretty accessories for New Yorkers. You need shoes that you can be active in without sacrificing style. Comfort and active lifestyle is paramount in my approach to footwear design. I want my shoes to be practical, but at the same time artistic. A woman does want to be noticed after all.”
Your brand offers clothing, accessories, and footwear. Do you have a certain product category that you like to design more than others? Do you have a favorite?
“It goes in waves. Usually it is not the product category that occupies me. I get really involved in one type of fabrication or construction. White denim was a great example of that. I was very absorbed in everything “white denim”, and exploration of its applications.”
You are coming up with several collections per year, and as you’ve mentioned, you strive to come up with something new each time. How do you reinvent yourself? I am sure it is not an easy process.
“It’s a continuous process, in fact. You sketch, fit, drape fabrics to find in inkling of a new shape, new idea. It can be difficult, of course. There was a time when we worked on a design till the final product fitting before we realized that we’ve already done something very similar in the past. There are trends in fashion, of course, but today there are many opportunities to push the boundaries, and apply innovations.”
Where do you see your brand in the future? What are your aspirations?
“We just opened our LA store in June of this year. Now we are updating the website. The focus will be on New York and Los Angeles, and on exploring new product categories. It is too early to talk about particulars, but I am planning on developing a line of lifestyle products as part of the brand. There is also distinct opportunity for global growth. Thirty percent of our business comes from outside the US; we can increase this share. Overall, we want to make our brand offering more cohesive, provide a wider selection, and work closely with the retailers to direct their choices.”
Learn More www.rachelcomey.com