I always love grilling designers on their inspirations, aspirations and how they come up with the collections we all covet but I have to say, I was particulary excited about this particular interview. As you’ve probably realised by now, I’m a bit of a Nanette Lepore fanatic and her colourful, summery extravaganza was one of my favourite New York Fashion Week moments this season. I’m a firm believer in the idea that fashion should make you happy and Nanette’s deliciously flirty aesthetic never fails to bring a smile to my lips. On top of that, she’s also one hell of a businesswoman who’s weathered all manner of financial and sartorial storms to reach where she is.
I caught up with New York’s cocktail dress queen to talk first jobs, social media and saying goodbye to jeggings…
LPA: Launching a fashion label is, and always has been, notoriously difficult. Why did you decide to do that rather than looking for a design job at an already established brand?
NL: My first fashion job was sketching in a closet…I was fired after 3 weeks. After an endless number of interviews and trying out another job for three months, I still felt out of place. Finally, I landed a job as an in-house designer/buying assistant for an Upper East Side boutique. It was the perfect place to learn how to run a business. My husband had always encouraged me to start out on my own and when I left my job at the boutique, I felt like I finally had the experience to get it right.
LPA: I can imagine things weren’t exactly plain sailing when you first launched your brand. Was there a pivotal moment or event that really turned it around?
NL: I had a lot of ups and downs when I first started. I was $100,000 in debt and had no clue how I was going to pay it back. Luckily, my line was picked up by one of the hottest showrooms that had a lot of big names. It was a big turning point for me.
LPA: Nanette Lepore has remained one of the most sought-after fashion brands in the world for over two decades now, what do you feel has been the secret to your long running success and popularity?
NL: The secret to my success is that I love getting dressed in the morning. As a woman, I push myself to wear something that feels new and exciting every day. A lot of designers have their own kind of uniform that they wear…but I could never do that. I figure out what women need next by looking in my own closet.
LPA: When beginning the design process for a new collection, where do you look for inspiration? Are there any particular places or references you always go back to or is it different every season?
NL: I love to travel before working on my next collection. It gives me a chance to clear my mind and find inspiration in unexpected places. My sister and I like to go on adventures. We’re thinking Cuba this year! How do you feel the fashion industry has changed most dramatically since you’ve been a part of it? The number of designers in the field has quadrupled since I started. The pressure is mounting on young startups. Every line, even the smallest ones, is expected to be a brand with lots of divisions (shoes, handbags, perfume, etc.)
LPA: Has the rise of online press and social media dramatically affected how you run your business? During the early Nanette Lepore years, they were pretty much non-existent…
NL: We’re having a blast with social media at the office. It changes even faster than fashion does!
LPA: Talk me through a typical day in the Nanette Lepore studio…
NL: I rarely sit down! I usually spend my morning working with my patternmakers and focusing on fit. Then I’ll meet with different members of my design team to work on new prints, fabrics, colors, shoes, handbags, accessories, sweaters, swimwear…the list goes on and on. Later in the day I’ll check up on my stores or maybe have an interview or a fitting with a celebrity. Every day is different but it’s always busy. How do you balance the creative and business aspects of your work? I balance it by making my husband CEO. He’s the business side so I can focus on the creative.
LPA: What do you feel is the key to dressing well? Are there any particular garments or styles you would ban if you could?
NL: Confidence and taking risks is key. I love mixing up all my clothes to find unexpected combinations. I don’t like to rule out any styles…but I do think it’s time to say goodbye to jeggings.
LPA: What advice would you give to someone hoping or planning to launch their’ own fashion brand?
NL: Start out with a wholesale business rather than launching your brand new line with a fashion show. You’ll save money and stress…not to mention walk away with more customers.
Love Ella. X