Saint Louis Fashion Week visiting designer Rebecca Taylor on her “groovy” roots, booming namesake and designing for the flirty, feminine set.
As it was scheduled for a date merely three weeks before her New York Fashion Week Spring 2012 show, I wondered whether my planned interview with Rebecca Taylorthe Kiwi-come-New Yorker behind the 15-yearsstrong, multi-million dollar fashion labelwould actually come to fruition. But, following a busy day of meetings, fittings for her upcoming Lincoln Park clothing parade and fabric reviews for her Fall 2012 collection, she gave me a buzzright on schedule.
We talked about everythingfrom her signature “fantastically girly” aesthetic to her celebrity clientele (which includes Reese Witherspoon and Sarah Jessica Parker) to her multiple St. Louis ties; she joined forces with Chesterfieldbased Kellwood Company in January of this year, and shell make a personal appearance at Saks Fifth Avenue for an exclusive showing of her Fall 2011 lineup during Saint Louis Fashion Week (Oct. 13 at 7pm). All the while, I couldnt help but wonder how this mother of three is able to swing quite so much. Then again, as she planned our interview for the 20 minutes in which her highlights were setting at the salon, it seems she knows a thing or two about time management.
Jill Manoff: Looking back on your childhood in New Zealand, would you say that fashion was always in your world?
Rebecca Taylor: Yes. I always, always loved fashion. My mum made all our clothes growing up; she was an amazing seamstress, and was very “groovy,” as they said in the 70s. She had four children, and she dressed us all in patchwork denim, overalls, jean jackets and eyelet dressesthings that are very referential, actually, to the sort of clothing I design today.
JM: When did you know you wanted to make clothing, too?
RT: For girls in the 80sin New Zealand in particularthe options were really to become a teacher, a nurse or a secretary. We didnt have “Project Runway,” and I didnt know who Miuccia Prada was. I just knew I liked clothes. I didnt realize there was a way I could parlay that into a career until I was about 19. I was on unemployment, and the government was like, “Youve got to learn a job! You can be an electrical engineer, or you can be a costume designer.” I loved the theater, so I took that joband, while there, I learned how to make patterns. Then, I just knew; I could see it with such clarity. It was suggested that I apply to fashion design school, which Id never heard of, but I went in 1990.
JM: Why did you eventually decide to base your business in New York City?
RT: Through my design school, you could get a visa and work in the US for three months. Twenty years laterI never left! One thing led to another, and I started working and meeting people; in 96, I got married to an American. The city is so amazing commercially. I cant imagine doing what Ive done anywhere else.
JM: “Feminine” and “vintage” are typically used to describe your line. How would you describe it?
RT: I think there are very few feminine designers in New York nowadays; the trend has gone very urban. So, we try to stay true to our identity, which is definitely very feminine with a little bit of a vintage vibe. But, I try to keep it really modern and fresh. I often liken it to a kittenits soft and beautiful, but its got claws.
JM: Who would you say is the Rebecca Taylor girl?
RT: I have 14-year-old customers and 65-year-old customers. Its more about an outlook on life than an age. Id like to think my girl is fiercely independent and not ashamed of being feminineand really enjoys it. Shes also usually a career girl.
JM: What was the inspiration for your Spring 2012 collection?
RT: I go through a lot of photography books. Im very into back details at the moment, and Im loving a very early Kate Moss look. Its a little bit cleaner than usual, and it has a slight 90s vibebut it could change at any given minute. You start with a concept, and then it evolves and evolves.
JM: What made you decide to bring your Fall 2011 collection to St. Louis?
RT: My new partners in crime, Kellwood, are based thereand Saks is so supportive of us. I always think its so important to get out in the “real world” because New York is such a bubble. Theres nothing more gratifying than going to a store and meeting our customerseveryday people who love Rebecca Taylor.
JM: How would you describe your own style?
RT: Im a little bit tomboyish. Im likely to wear old army pants with a vintage Victorian shirt, and I wear a lot of striped t-shirts; I always have. Jean Paul Gaultier in the 80s had such a huge influence on me. In the summer, I wear a lot of patchwork Liberty dresses; Im very bohemian. In the winter, I get a little bit more urbanlike skinny jeans; I have three children, so I have to be kind of practical, you know?
JM: You must be one busy woman. Whats your secret for “having it all”?
RT: Im so, so freakin busy, its crazy. But I cant complain; I feel very blessed. But, can I tell you something? Women cant have it all. Its not easy, and I wouldnt want women who are having a hard time to look at me and think, “Well, she finds it easy”because I dont. We all struggle, trying to balance family and workand you give up a little bit of both to make it work. I just try to give up as little of the family as I possibly can because theyre my priority in everything I do.
JM: What new things can we expect to see by Rebecca Taylor in the future?
RT: Were definitely opening more retail stores next year. And were starting a handbag collection for department stores. Were going into shoes in a more serious way, as well. Im very happy with where we are now. Anything else that happens is really icing on the cake. I feel like weve got everything I could possibly have dreamed of, and more.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Saks Fifth Avenue