Steven Alan: An Interview26 October, 2014
I think a lot of designers usually work from a concept first, but for us, finding the fabrics and tweaking them – by working with the mill to get what we want – is where it all starts.
With a keen eye for classic design and a knack for reinventing iconic silhouettes, Steven Alan is a modern day fashion pioneer. Born and raised in New York City, he found his fashion design feet in reverse, beginning his career as a retailer and establishing himself as a clever brand curator before unveiling his début collection in 1999. Featuring his now signature reverse seam shirt and a slew of modern wardrobe staples for men and women, the collection cemented his status as a designer to watch. Today, his pieces are sold in more than 20 eponymous stores in the United States, and stocked in over 200 boutiques around the world. In 2013, he launched Steven Alan Home, a fresh retail concept fusing fashion and lifestyle, and continues to demonstrate a savvy buying eye, lining his store shelves with coveted brands including A.P.C, Acne Studios, Karen Walker and Demylee. Cereal caught up with the busy father of three in his Tribeca showroom, where we chatted about his design process, his inspirations, and why the convergence of fashion and lifestyle is the way of the future.
Cereal: How did you get started in fashion?
SA: My father is a jewellery designer and my parents always had a store, so I grew up with mom and pop retail and design. I always knew I wanted to do something creative, and initially, I studied photography and film, but figured I’d do business as well. When I graduated, I worked for my parents then decided to open my own store. I loved the idea of finding and discovering things then sharing them. In 1994 I opened the store, I started representing brands around 1996, and I started designing in 1999. Design was the last thing I discovered.
Cereal: Tell us about your design process. Where do you begin?
SA: The very beginning is the fabric. We have to see it before we even have concrete ideas in terms of silhouettes. It’s how I’ve always worked, and it’s just fun to start this way because then you’re pinning stuff up on boards, getting ideas, and designing pieces based on the fabrics. I think a lot of designers usually work from a concept first, but for us, finding the fabrics and tweaking them – by working with the mill to get what we want – is where it all starts.
Cereal: What else do you draw inspiration from?
SA: I grew up here in New York City, and I always think about design from a New York perspective. It really is an inspiration. I think wherever you’re from, whether it’s an inspiration or not, whether you acknowledge it or not, it’s your DNA. When you grow up in the city, riding the subway every day, walking the streets, it’s just what you know. Wherever our customer is, I think that’s a shared sensibility.
Cereal: Who is the Steven Alan customer?
SA: I think they are people who are interested in design, art, food, and fashion. There’s a lot of disposable fashion out there, and our customers appreciate that we take that extra step. Whether or not they’re aware of that fact from us telling them that we go the extra mile, the feel and the quality of the garments will make them aware of it.
Cereal: Tell us a little about your Steven Alan Home store.
SA: It’s only about a year old, and it was our old office, believe it or not. When we moved out, we weren’t sure what to do because we still had time on the lease and we didn’t want to do another clothing store on Franklin Street in Tribeca. So we thought, why not do a home wares store and just call it the Home Shop? We didn’t know what we were going to put in it. I wanted to just try a lot of things that hadn’t been done together, so we had cold pressed juices alongside sheets, carpets and candles and just kept changing the mix. It’s fun because there are no established rules on home, it can be whatever you want. We kind of use it as an incubator and roll those ideas out into some of the other stores in small ways. It’s kind of our testing ground.
Cereal: Why do you think there’s such a strong movement towards combining fashion and lifestyle these days?
SA: I think it’s happening because home is such a huge thing now. More and more – down to tiny details like the soap people have on their sinks, the taps they use in their kitchens, the candle they have burning when they have company, the music they choose to play – everything is fashion, everything is converging. It’s more interesting than that; it’s not just lifestyle and fashion that are merging, it’s also that fashion itself is getting broader. The idea of just one brand and one collection is a limited experience. Even though we design and always want to design more, I feel like there’s a place for other designers, especially if you want the customer to have the best possible experience. You simply can’t be the best at absolutely everything. So for me, it’s really fun to curate and merchandise alongside our own products. Because we started as a multi brand store, I’m very conscious of what we carry. We never want to overlap, and so I try to keep our collection as pure as possible. We design into voids that we think are being missed.
Cereal: What’s next for the Steven Alan brand?
SA: I take pride in innovation, so I’m constantly looking for new ways to reinvent classics. I love subtle details and finding new silhouettes. I think the brand is always evolving. It’s 20 years old now, and we just try to get better and better at what we’re doing.