I’ve recently realised that I usually start my posts with the same phrases. One of which is “remember my post aaaages ago on x” and I’m afraid to say that tried, tested and done to death opening line applies today. But you’ll have to forgive me. One of the most wonderful things about blogging has been writing a feature on a particular person, brand or designer I find inspiring and later getting the chance to actually work with them. When the inimitable creations of LA based designer, Raquel Allegra launched on Matches and I thought both her work, and the backstory behind it were so fascinating I just had to share them with you. Almost exactly a year later, I’ve had the chance to interview Raquel so without further ado, here’s what she had to say about her fashion journey so far and the unconventional approach to design that have made her label an international hit…
LPA: I love the story of how you made your first pieces from recycled prison shirts which led you to develop the unique fabric construction techniques for which you become renowned. Do you feel those initial experiments still inform your design process today?
RA: I began all of this curious business when I first moved to Los Angeles from Berkeley about 11 years ago. At that time I was collecting soft vintage tees from the Goodwill thrift store and others like it, and just experimenting to have fun. So much has happened between then and now… it really blows my mind. Honestly, one of my most motivating factors was that I was flat broke! I used vintage tees because they were soft, cheap, and I could ‘destroy’ them without feeling too wasteful. I still gravitate towards soft, affordable, casual fabrics and through the hand deconstruction process, elevate the feeling and value of each piece.
LPA: It sounds like your brand had an incredibly organic start, no ten year plan just timing and talent. Is this really the case or am I being incredibly naïve? Do you think you would approach it differently if you were setting up your label now?
RA: You couldn’t be more right! I still pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming… BUT, had I known what I was getting myself into I’m sure I would have tucked my tail and ran for the hills! Thank goodness I was so green and naive. I have never worked so hard in my LIFE. I tried a semester of sewing, draping, and pattern drafting in college and absolutely hated it. I’m pretty sure I dropped out of drafting after the first week and I remember my mom sewing my final project for my sewing class. The traditional school approach was NOT for me. All this to say I really made my way into this business through the back door. The main ingredients for me were simply playing, having a good time, and going with the flow.
LPA: Your one of a surprisingly large group of designers who had no formal training yet went on to have hugely successful careers in the industry. Do you feel your background means you approach design in a different way?
RA: I can’t really compare how I approach design to others because I don’t know any other way. For me it’s constant exploration, testing ideas, and problem solving. I visualize what I want to see, and I work with my team to manifest it. There are pieces that never make it into the line because they don’t feel ready yet. Others branch off into stronger ideas. I’ve always been open to learning new ways to doing things though, maybe not formally, but through the support of others.
LPA: According to your bio, 2009 “marked a maturation for the Raquel Allegra brand.” Tell me a little about this…
RA: This fashion adventure of mine started while I was working retail and deconstructing old t-shirts on the side purely to express my own personal style, and my clients at Barneys New York started asking to buy what I was wearing. One thing led to another… my little hobby turned into a little business, and through friends I met my business partner in 2009. It was then that the brand matured from selling one-off pieces to clients and a handful of local shops, to developing our signature jersey fabric, and selling to some of the most beautiful stores across the country and around the world.
LPA: How do you begin your design process each season? Are there certain rituals you always undertake or places you look for inspiration?
RA: I almost always begin with fabrics… the soft hand-feel is paramount. Some of what I create each season spills over from the previous season and ideas that need more time to develop are then the foundation for a new season… what I like about this is that there is a natural flow from one season to the next, an organic evolution. I think that our customers feel that continuity too. There are few radical departures for me.
LPA: Talk me through a typical day in the Raquel Allegra studio…
My typical days are scheduled now – months in advance – with design meetings, production fittings, business meetings, and so forth. On an untypical day, where my schedule has opened up, I might order in from Urth Café with my team, talk about the things we’re into at the moment over lunch, catch up personally, indulge in browsing art prints and antique furniture on 1stdibs.com, maybe sit at the sewing machine which I keep in my studio to work out bubbling ideas… put some red lipstick on and play dress up…
LPA: The phrase “style icon” is one we hear a lot these days. Who, if anyone, do you feel truly deserves to be called “iconic”?
Besides the obvious list who are so influential that I can refer to them by one name; Marilyn, Audrey, Bowie, Madonna… there are some that are personal style icons… women I have in mind when I’m designing; Patti Smith, Kate Moss, Jane Birkin, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton. Style for style’s sake is boring to me. Style paired with personal integrity is interesting and can be incredibly inspiring.
LPA: Your brand has developed pretty much alongside the rise and digital media and the past few years have seen its adoption by virtually all luxury fashion companies. How has this affected your work and the way you run your business?
RA: I love sharing the way I see the world and what’s important to me so I’m a big fan of Instagram. Seeing all the different people tagging my brand is exciting to watch. As for everything else out there, it’s fun to use but I try not to let it get in the way of what I do with the brand or the company.
LPA: What is your ultimate aim for the Raquel Allegra brand?
RA: It’s all still very personal to me and mimics what I like to wear, what I find comfort in, and what feels sexy to me. The collections have always evolved and grown in parallel with my own discoveries about myself, and I don’t see that ever changing. It’s always felt important for me to give back, so as the business grows I plan to work more to see that transpire.
LPA: What advice would you give to someone hoping or planning to launch their own fashion label?
Explore new technology more than we do now. Recycle more, waste less. And ‘be the change’ you want to see in the world.
Inspiring stuff right! Check out these incredible looks from the Raquel Allegra Resort 2014 collection…
Love Ella. X