Plan de Ville's Founder and Fashion Director Catherine Smith sits down with Julie and Jason Alkire to learn about their design process, their inspiration for the fall/winter season, and their words of advice for aspiring designers.
“The first season was a wonderful moment. It was the first time that our collaborative work had come together in a full ready-to-wear collection. It gave us the courage to build on our narrative and stay true to ourselves creatively.”
YOU ARE STORYTELLERS, AND THAT IS REFLECTED IN EVERY STEP OF YOUR DESIGN PROCESS – FROM INSPIRATION TO TEXTILE DEVELOPMENT TO CONSTRUCTION. WHAT IS THE STORY BEHIND THIS COLLECTION?
“This season is reminiscent of our visit to Overlook Mountain, located just outside of Woodstock, New York. Atop is the deteriorating cement compound of the Overlook Mountain House hotel, built back around 1870. We kept envisioning how current inhabitants would reside off the land in present time - how would she look and dress? That’s when visions of these beautifully disheveled wildlings began to appear from the framework, and illusions of deceased rose floral arrangements and decayed evergreens began to form the entrance to this grand lobby.
The story behind this collection is really brought to life through the fabrics: heavy crepe silk prints, needle punched wools, fox and dip-dyed furs, python and embossed lamb. A limb from a tree found at the grand entrance is printed on silk twill and silk organza, which is layered atop the image of deceased roses. A print of fox fur fades from its original color to black and white - characterizing the animal achromatizing from the changing of season, while the outline of the creature emerges in layered embroidered tree branches on black silk organza.”
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR FIRST SALES SEASON FOR HAUS ALKIRE.
“We began HA as a custom order business – and we did it to gratify our personal creative expression needs. The direct feedback we got from clients was invaluable. Upon launching the full collection, we were fortunate to sell Louis in Boston and we started growing our wholesale partnerships in the seasons that followed. We only work with work partners that can offer the same level of customer service we offer to our own clients.”
YOU OPEN YOUR TRIBECA ATELIER TO PRIVATE CLIENTS – DO THEY INSPIRE OR INFORM YOUR AESTHETIC?
“TriBeCa is a great neighborhood – and the out-of-town traffic is perfect for our atelier. We really enjoy the intimate one-on-one setting as it allows us to provide a very high level of service. We customize and fit many of the garments to each client – and this in turn helps us learn more about how each style fits particular body types. We give people a view into our design world- and we’ve been told that our cocktail appointments are a must.”
WHERE DID YOU STUDY? WHAT WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON YOU LEARNED AS A STUDENT?
“We are both self taught for the most part. Julie learned at a very young age to sew and construct garments from her grandmother. Her grandmother was part of a sewing co-op in Texas a long time ago. Julie also had her own eponymous line for over a decade. I came into fashion via other creative endeavors. I began painting before I was even a teenager – began working behind the camera just before college – and spent a considerable amount of time in the advertising industry.”
WHO HAVE YOU LEARNED THE MOST FROM IN YOUR CAREER THUS FAR? DO YOU HAVE MENTORS?
“Sewers, pattern makers, fabric developers have all played roles in our success, and having respect for their knowledge has enabled us to bring unique designs to life. On the overall business side we owe Gary Wassner a debt of gratitude. He’s been a supporter since before day one. There are too many mentors to name, but having industry support from the CFDA, The Fashion Group International, the DENYC, Swarovski, Ecco Domani, and the Saint Louis Fashion Fund has been critical to our success.”
WHAT HAS WINNING AWARDS LIKE THE FASHION GROUP INTERNATIONAL’S RISING STAR AWARD FOR WOMENSWEAR MEANT FOR YOUR BUSINESS?
“The FGI win was an unexpected surprise, and it was especially meaningful as the ten other finalist included Rosie Assoulin, Houghton, Harbison, Ji Oh, TOME, Antonio Azzuolo, and Tanya Taylor. The industry recognition gave us a platform to reach a discerning group of buyers that had been difficult to break through to in the past.”
WHAT IS THE MOST REWARDING PART OF YOUR BUSINESS?
“Working together. We find our relationship as design partners is merely an extension of being husband and wife.”
WHAT ARE SOME CHALLENGES THAT YOU FACE IN YOUR BUSINESS? HOW HAVE THESE CHALLENGES EVOLVED SINCE YOU STARTED HAUS ALKIRE?
“There are a multitude of challenges, but brand awareness is one the most critical at our stage. We’ve been fortunate to gain support through word of mouth, and industry awards thus far. We’ve evolved from a handful of great clients three and a half years ago, to a strong core client base that supports us every season.”
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU AS DESIGNERS?
“Creating self worth – there is a very valid feeling in creating something that is appreciated by others – and being able to provide a positive feeling to a woman and help increase her self-confidence is a great motivator for us.”
IF YOU COULD GIVE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE TO ASPIRING FASHION DESIGNERS AND FASHION STUDENTS, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
“Learn from the world. Creating beautiful things is only step one – a designer needs to learn and appreciate the commercial aspects of the industry. Look for mentors, and never stop seeking knowledge.”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR HAUS ALKIRE?
“We’d really like to expand our menswear collection, and we have plans for accessories and shoes. We are always looking forward, but we really try to live in the moment. Today, we are just thrilled to have a voice.”