Interview with Daniella Kallmeyer of KALLMEYER New York
Named by Vogue UK and WWD as a designer to watch, Daniella Kallmeyer hails from South Africa by way of England, where she studied at the London College of Fashion. She earned her stripes at major houses like Alexander McQueen, Alice + Olivia, and Proenza Schouler, and launched her New York-based namesake brand in 2012. Committed to producing 100% of her line in the US, Kallmeyer is shaping up to be an international tastemaker for the socially conscious generation. – Allison Taylor
Tell me about starting KALLMEYER New York. What is one memory that stands out in your mind?
I originally launched the brand as DANIELLA KALLMEYER in fall 2012. Before starting, I was working for several other designers and I met with some colleagues and mentors about the concept for my brand. Everyone encouraged me to move forward, but it wasn't until my mom - who always has cautionary advice - told me “I think its time” that I knew it was right.
What are some of your most memorable early experiences as a designer?
That depends on how far back you consider early experiences….I must have been less than 10 years old when I made my little sister lie down on a giant piece of craft paper, traced her body, and made my first pattern for a dress which I sewed on my grandmother’s old sewing machine. I had to plug it into a massive converter box because it was wired for South African electricity.
Who have you learned the most from in your career thus far? Do you have mentors?
I’ve been so lucky to have amazing mentors and advisors from early on, as well as a great network of fellow entrepreneurs who support each other. I wouldn't be where I am without the knowledge I gained from some of my former employers like LucaLuca, Alexander McQueen. I still stay in touch with people like Trevor Ballin, who I reported to at Proenza. He has remained a close mentor and friend throughout his career and mine. Most recently I’ve formed a bond with Norma Kamali, and we just love everything each other stands for, even if our design aesthetics are totally different. Plus we’re birthday twins! I feel like she's my spirit animal.
You studied both Fashion Design and Theater Design in school. What kind of skills or insight did you glean from that crossover?
There was actually less crossover than one might think. I was only at Syracuse for two years before transferring to The London College of Fashion. We spent a lot of time stretching our creativity to the max at LCF, then reigning it back into function and quality. I suppose once I graduated and started working, it’s not so different from my experience in costume design: perfect your craft, study your reference, then put your own spin on it.
Can you talk about what it was like working for other fashion brands, like Alexander McQueen, Alice + Olivia, and Jen Kao? What kinds of things did you learn, and incorporate into your own practice?
Each experience was totally unique from the next. Everyone ran their teams differently, had different creative processes, and different resources. But the most important thing I learned to incorporate into my own practice was to create a system for the broader plan. Seasons run into the next and before you’re finished with the first, you’re late with the next. So perfect your craft, don't accept mediocre work, and plan for the future. But be flexible.
What was the inspiration for your Spring/Summer 2016 collection?
Clarity. I’m really inspired by refinement. It’s not a very specific inspiration, but it’s about perfection disrupted. And I’m inspired by strong, powerful, accomplished women.
Who is the KALLMEYER woman, and how does she inspire you?
The KALLMEYER woman is unapologetic, intelligent, confident, and expresses her beauty from the inside out. She is the woman we aspire to be, the one who doesn't need anything or anyone to stand taller, go farther, be more… but she is quiet enough in her strength to make room for others’ noise as well.
You’re dedicated to producing 100% of your product in America. What are the unique challenges that come with that decision?
Well for a start, price. It’s no secret that producing in New York is expensive, and not only am I dedicated to producing in America, but I’m also dedicated to providing luxury products for an affordable price. It’s also at the cost of my time. Most US manufacturers are not vertically integrated, so that sometimes means my fabrics, trims, sewing, and finishing all happen in different places. We are an extremely small team, but I believe it’s worth the work. We are keeping businesses here and providing jobs for people who get paid fairly. So hopefully as we grow, they grow.
Tell me about KALLMEYER’s first sales season. Was it difficult? Rewarding?
Sales are always a challenge, but it’s always rewarding when people love something you created. We’ve gained great momentum since we started, but we’ve also had to adjust our business and design practices to accommodate larger orders. There are always pros and cons to every part of growing a business, and sales strategy is no exception.
What’s the most exciting part of your business?
Getting to create a platform that is about more than what we put on the outside of our body. Constantly exploring and discovering newness, and sharing that with other creators.
As a South African-born designer, you have an interesting background. Do you feel that your nationality informs your design aesthetic?
Absolutely. Without sounding too pretentious, I never forget that I am a citizen of the world. I am so blessed to have so many cultural influences in my life and I think that has informed not only an open-mindedness with my design, but also my values as a human being.
What motivates you as a designer?
Finding ways to make the world better
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring fashion designers and fashion students, what would it be?
Stay in school. Academia is more powerful and more inspiring than you’ll ever realize. Be aware of everything always, and nothing is impossible.
What’s next for you and KALLMEYER New York?