We caught up with New York-based fashion designer & CFDA member, Nanette Lepore at FFWD. Newsflash: Her colourful collections will soon be available in Dubai!
Welcome to the UAE Nanette, any plans to launch your label here?
Actually, we’re meeting with a lot of potential partners here in Dubai. I would love expand in the region because I’m known for my colours, prints and embellishments and I think that would do really well here. I would feel so free and happy to be in the region because I could make my collections as fun and colourful as I wanted - knowing they would be well received.
Are you planning a stand-alone boutique or a line within one of the major department stores?
Actually, I want it all! [Laughs] Harvey Nichols, Saks, Bloomingdales, stand-alone – everything!
When might the roll-out happen, Q1 or H2 next year?
We’d hope to be here by next Fall.
What have you made of FFWD so far?
I love the venue; I think it’s absolutely gorgeous. I wish New York Fashion Week was in such a posh environment! Everything at FFWD has been more high-end and professional than I expected. There’s also a lot of choreography to the shows, which we don’t normally have time for in New York. The work has been beautiful, I’ve liked what I’ve seen.
You’re delivering a speech this afternoon, what will be the key takeaway message?
It’s all about my story and how I started really small and built my business through having the opportunity to work with lots of small factories. I learned so much from the local factories that had been making and constructing clothing in New York for years. There are so many expert craftsmen I’ve worked with over the years. So, it’s about taking a smaller approach, understanding you really do need local manufacturing if you want to create a strong local community of designers.
Is that still present in the States or are the smaller producers being replaced by mass-scale manufacturers; are designers also outsourcing to China, India etc?
Well we’re right in the middle of a big controversy over it at the moment and I’ve spearheaded the effort to save the New York City garment district. Mainly because the factories and small suppliers are being pushed out by high rents. I think I’ve actually managed to make a difference with city government, believing that it’s so imperative to have these little opportunities to manufacture – if you want to build a big fashion city. New York is number one for small designers – it has more than Paris, Milan or London. The reason why is because we still have a tiny measure of factories that will produce anywhere from 10 to 1000 pieces. When I started out with a $5,000 loan, I would cut 50 of a garment at a time – the factories were always willing to do it. Having that opportunity to start small and build slowly, was really crucial. I’ve been working with some of the same factories for 20 years and they are truly great teachers.
Is the New York model one you are advocating Dubai adopt?
Well, I’d day that there’s such a glamorous side of fashion with the runway shows, but the other serious side is, of course, commerce. So, to complete the picture you need to take the manufacturing just as seriously as you take your fashion shows. The reality is, if you want to nurture young talent, you have to give them the tools.
Cost-savings are crucial for designers starting out and, in this region, the cheapest place to manufacture clothes on a medium to mass scale could be India. So, maybe our market is quite different to United States where geography is much more of a consideration?
When I started my business, about 80% of American clothing was made in America. Now, just 20 years later we’re down to about 18%. People are working back towards local manufacturing, thankfully. It’s not just about providing jobs locally but knowing what the future will demand. Because, if you give the manufacturing piece away, you’re not ready for the next wave. So, yes, I think there’s a certain reason why some people send their work to India – it’s mainly for handwork and beadwork for me, that’s hard to get at home. But when things are simply cut and sewn, I have a better product and control over things in New York.
You’re one of the CFDA’s 400+ designers, how did it feel to get the confirmation call that you had been accepted?
I remember I sweated it out! There was so much to do, you had to put together a nice portfolio, have letters of recommendation, go before the board – it was really stressful. I was honestly, so relieved. It’s also an affirmation that your peers respect you; it’s a nice stamp [of approval].
How’s your current collection coming along?
I’m trying to put together all the prints and fabrics for next Fall, right now. I’m a bit late because I’ve just finished the summer line and I have to come up with something new every 30 days. With next Fall’s collection, I’m playing with an international mix of embroideries. It’s like I want to create things out of real tapestries and woven fabrics - creating prints from that - which has been a bit challenging.
Sometimes your brand is described as ‘gypsy-inspired, feminine, silhouettes’, would you say that of it yourself?
I would say it’s a modern mix. I actually dress a lot of women for work. Lots of power women who want to still maintain their femininity, for example. Women come up to me all the time and say, “Yours are the only suits I can wear.” I have so many attorneys as clients and I also dress their daughters. That’s very rewarding to know I’m spanning the generations. There was one of my suits, for example, that was worn by Emma Roberts and Susan Sarandon.