Runway To Retail/Factio Magazine editor-in-chief
Melissa Maynard with Nanette Lepore
Melissa Maynard with Nanette Lepore
New York based designer Nanette Lapore has recently has unleashed several new initiatives in which she hopes will aid her $140 million business into a global lifestyle company. Among the designer’s ambitious ideas is a swimwear collection and a footwear line, both set to launch in 2011 and a handbag collection will hit stores this fall along with an e-commerce website. For the past nine years, Lepore has been actively opening freestanding stores in the U.S. and abroad. With no plans to open any new stores the rest of the year, they continues to scout locations in cities such as San Francisco, Dallas and Atlanta. “We never had a plan. Now we have a plan. We achieved things I never thought would happen with the brand, and if we continue on this trajectory, we’ll have a broader global presence,” said Lepore.
We were able to catch up with the busy designer to discuss the business of fashion, the creative process, and check out her day in the life.
How would you describe your style as a designer - are you mostly self-taught? Is it part innate or do you have a mentor/good schooling? A lot of the design development has happened over years of doing it. In the beginning, it's very insecure as a designer and you worry you're going to run out of ideas and then you reach a point as a designer where you realize it's just endless and you can keep expanding and coming up with new, new, new. It's a process and a developmental growth, luckily for me my business grew slowly and I was able to grow with the company to achieve more as I went along.
What was the first store to carry your pieces and what was the feeling like to see people buy your clothing?
I believe it was probably Barney's Co-op and it was really really fun to go in there and see my clothing was in there and it was selling! It was moving off the racks and I'd go in there and there'd be nothing there and the next day we'd get a re-order.
Regarding the creative process, how difficult is it to find a balance between the business aspect along with artistic aspect considering everything is so time sensitive based on the seasons?
As far as the business goes, I don't really have to pay attention to bills and money because I have my husband and we have an amazing bookkeeping department. It's my responsibility to keep us timely. I'm realizing it's a miracle that I'm able to do it because I'm very disorganized (laughs). I have a new design director and it will really make a change of how we do things. We've stayed on a timeline remembering ‘oh, today's the day we need to order that fabric’ but it's never popped up on your computer -- it pops up in my head like "oh yeah, we have to do that" and I'm always last minute, too. I'm usually working on the line the night before it's due so hopefully I’ll be able to get myself in a more efficient timely mode. It's worked out ok so far, we don't ever miss our deadlines, but we cut it close.
Where do you design - is there a specific place in your studio? What's your creative process like?
Often times I’ll sketch at my desk or at a pattern maker's table when we're discussing something. One of my biggest designs- a great top I sketched it on a napkin and handed it over to the patternmaker. It became the perfect top and it lasted forever! I have a patternmaker whose been with us for about ten years who only wants the messiest artiest sketch she can get her hands on because she has fun interpreting it in her own manner. Often times, what you make isn't pretty so you have to start over with it on a mannequin - working in front of a mirror with a garment on a dress maker dummy and that's where it really happens. When things are finished and they're not cute - that's when the really hard part of becoming a designer kicks in because taking something that's from not attractive and figuring out what's wrong with it and figuring out the one little thing to make it perfect, that's a skill I've honed over the years.
Do you ever find that you can't shut it off? For instance waking in Madison Ave. looking in some of the store windows, is it hard not looking at fashion thinking “I could design that or get inspired by it”?
I can shut it off, but it is a constant thing, actually I can but I can't. If we take a weekend away or a vacation - one time a year, I take a family vacation in May and don't let myself shop. But every other trip I take is usually based around a flea market or a shopping trip in another city.
Describe a day in the life - is everyday really different or are there some days better than others?
I think that everyday you discover something new; fashion gets a rosy picture painted but you have to have nerves of steel and be a bulldog to be in this business. Everyday is a new problem, everyday something new arises that you couldn't possibly think would happen and it does - not just in design but when you have to maintain your business and do your production. The design part was so minor for me so it got the least amount of attention so now that my business has grown and I have a huge staff of over 120 people in NYC, there's a lot of support. I'm able to design. Before that it was more about keeping the business running, making sure the clothing fit, making sure the cutting room didn't cut the wrong fabric, a pant you didn't need, etc. Things like that happen constantly in this business so that's what I was dealing everyday for the first ten years - keep the mistakes from happening.
How did you get through it? What gave you the stamina to persist? I would imagine so many people would give up at that point.
In the beginning, I was over $100,000 in debt and I had my own company for a few years, but I wasn't well known enough to get a job as a big design director making a huge salary, so I knew the only way to pay back the debt was to stay in business and make the company profitable - out of fear and panic – it was money my dad loaned because he had mortgaged his house…There was a lot of pressure and I had to make it work. Also, I love it! In the end as much as its torture and pain, I love the idea that you've made this thing with your hands. The idea of creating something from nothing, from a swatch of fabric and the process it goes through even though it’s tedious and difficult and it's very rewarding when you see it completely finished with the process that starts 8 months in advance. It’s such a long process with so many things going on but at the same time it's an amazing thing.
Do you wear your own designs a lot?
I do, lately I've been mixing it up and letting myself buy other designers because it's ok now because I love shopping. I hated the idea for years I couldn't shop. Now I can afford to buy designer things so I’m doing it and I enjoy it.
How do you see your business progressing? We're happily feeling like we have started to understand the footwear business so there's tons of growth potential there and next would be handbags. I just want to expand the line and fill in with a line of basics like more jeans...building on what I have and trying to get my infrastructure in my company to do that and then more retail, more stores in Europe and more overseas growth.