Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Last week at the Hu’s Wear opening, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with the designer Devi Kroell, who is enviably elegant and composed while remaining totally normal and approachable. We’d like her to say “Lanvin” over and over again, in her lovely accent, perhaps in place of fairytales before bedtime (can we bring those back, please?!). Pieces from her sumptuous Spring 2009 collection are available in the city exclusively at the just-opened store.
Tell us about this amazing spring collection.
DK: I presented it in September [in New York, at Milk Studios]. We did a presentation in basically, an architectural landscape, inspired by the work of Donald Judd. We wanted people to be able to walk around. We had twenty-five girls, all standing on different sculptures. My pieces were inspired by architecture, shapes, sculptures…I was interested in volume. Everything about it was to be very modern, the colors were kept muted. We didn’t want to go overboard with color. The direction of the spring collection was very much about following what I did with accessories, which was very puristic shapes.
The fabrics are incredible.
DK: There was a lot of research that I did with various mills in order to get the textures. [Gesturing to the silk shirt she was wearing] The silk gets woven in a certain way that after it’s done weaving, the threads are kept very long and you have to take one of these long sabers – is that what you call it? – to cut off the strands.
Made in the States?
DK: Everything is sewn in the garment district. It’s important now, to support our economy.
DK: Especially now, when all the stores are closing, rumors have it that fifty percent of all the factories are going to close by the end of the year. Designers are reducing their orders. It is really a pity.
Why essentially launch yourself as a ready-to-wear designer, now?
DK: It was a good time for me. When I started handbags, there was a gap in the market and I felt that all the needs weren’t being addressed. I felt the same thing again now. Yes of course not the best time with this economy, but, we do have buyers, people do buy our clothes, and I think we’re growing. It’s really more of a personal choice. I needed to do this in order to be able to grow in all the other areas we started – with the handbags and shoes – it was part of my personal evolution of where I wanted to be as a designer. Now more than ever, it’s relevant to have great design and great quality because people really are looking for that. In a way, the recession is good because a lot of unnecessary things will disappear…it makes room for better design and people will focus attention again on really important things.
What about lower-priced design at stores like H&M and Target?
DK: I think it’s really good. Not everyone can afford the high price points and I think it’s important to have everyone be able to afford, even if it’s a knockoff. I take it [knockoffs] as a compliment I have to say. I was given the opportunity a few years back to do the Target collection – the bags retailed for $30. Yes they were plastic and yes it wasn’t the same, but we were so happy to be able to do that. We could touch a different customer.
How has the economy changed the way you design? How does the retailer opinion influence, or not influence, you?
DK: I have been keeping an eye on price points. For example, I try not to choose fabrics that are too expensive that will make the garment too expensive, or I try to choose leathers that are reasonable for handbags and shoes. So that affects how I design. But what I do not do is…I try not to listen too much about what other people think you should do, what they think is going to sell. Because in the past, Ive learned my lesson. A lot of retailers have told me, you know, ‘you should do that, because it will sell, people look for that’ and so forth. And there’s always a lag of time, between the time somebody tells you what is selling and the time your product actually hits the market. By the time it comes out, these people, who are not visionaries, told you something a few months back, and then it comes out and it’s just not relevant anymore. I came out with some product in the past where I didn’t feel that it was my soul, and I didn’t really love the product, but I did it because I was told that this is what I should be doing. So it kind of took me away from what I’m really about and what my things really are about. It’s really a fine line to walk, and I’m not ready to do that again.
Wow. That must be really hard – to do that balance.
DK: I’m not ready to give up what I’m really about to please the retailers. Because at the end of the day, if it’s not really you and you can’t stand behind it, then you know, there’s no relevance to it. The funny this is, once you do that, that’s what sells. People want the passion. People can see that this is something special, something that they haven’t seen yet. Because you try to do something special.
What are you thinking about when you design? How did you approach spring versus fall?
DK: When I think about the clothes, I think about the whole world the clothes are to exist in. What shoes would fit this, what bag would fit this. Everything is designed to work together. For spring I stuck to very fluid shapes, shapes that were kind of falling on the body, with a kind of relaxed feel to them. When it’s warm, you don’t want things that are clinging onto your skin. Whereas for fall, I went into more of a tailored direction. Fall is really more about color. I was tired of this gloomy depression!
Aside from your own line, what labels do you wear?
DK: Now I only wear my own clothes. My closet is full of them now that I’m designing my own! But before that, I used to mix and match a lot of designers, more directional pieces, a lot of Lanvin, I really love Lanvin. I like to mix them with a lot of Martin Margiela pieces or some Hermes pieces back when Martin Margiela was designing for them.
What’s your favorite piece from Spring?
DK: It’s called the easy dress. Belted or with nothing at all. There are only two color splashes [for the Spring 2009], which are the green and the fuschia.
What should every woman own?
DK: A great jacket. It’s a piece you could wear either for your professional life or when you go out, it really depends on how you accessorize it. And a dress, one that take you from day to night. I’m a firm believer that you need clothes that can do that. Yes, there are times when you need a special piece that’s just cocktail, but most of the time, you have to wear something during the day and then you basically go out in the same thing.
You were saying earlier that you were really taken with Washington.
DK: I was really surprised. I didn’t think it would be such a beautiful, European city…it’s very European in that there’s not a lot of skyscrapers all over the place. The streets are so cute and the cherry blossoms all over the place….and everything is so clean! I’m sure you don’t even realize living here but…I live in New York and things in Manhattan are just dirtier. And the summer with trashcans all over the place, outside waiting to be picked up and of course they’re not picked up…it’s not pleasant.