Designer Christine Alcalay
Designer Christine Alcalay gives us insight into her influences and inspiration, her new collection, and some of the challenges the designer faced as she branched out on her own.
Cut On Your Bias: What excites you most about partnering with Cut On Your Bias and allowing your customers to be involved in the design process?
Christine Alcalay: I love the concept behind Cut On Your Bias. I feel as though fashion hit a hiatus about 20 years ago and it has been hard for it to bounce back. With social media, bloggers, and people taking the voice of expression into their own hands it only makes sense that it would be very smart for a label to have design decisions be a part of the conversation with their customer. Cut On Your Bias provides a platform for customers to make design decisions not available elsewhere. The point of design is to get the people into the clothes. How incredible it is for the consumer to make these choices and then the capability of owning something they are a part of. It seems perfect for my customer who is not interested in cookie cutter clothes sold in a cookie cutter way.
Cut On Your Bias: What sparked your interest in fashion? What were some of the first things you designed?
Christine Alcalay: When my mother and I arrived in NYC after emigrating from Vietnam our family was immersed into a variety of different trades. We worked late nights as a family stringing pearls, stuffing envelopes, and later moved on to sewing simple garments. As the years progressed and because there was a lack of income in our family to hire someone to take care of me, I spent many days assisting my mom in the sweatshops. I learned about garment construction at the same time that I was picking up my mother tongue and English.
My first few projects were for a Barbie doll I was given. I cut black lace and black velvet and made her a pair of skinny leggings complete with an elastic waistband. My creativity didn’t stop there. I was known to cut pieces of my clothes off if I didn’t feel they were attractive. There were sometimes sleeves missing or pockets detached if I was left alone. I have always been an entrepreneur. At the age of nine, when scrunchies were all the rage, I frequented my local fabric shop once a week and bought 1/4 yard swatches to make scrunchies in silk prints, rayon velvet, and wool tweeds. I sold them to my classmates starting at two dollars for something simple. To help make each hair tie custom and special, I gave my customers the option of hand-sewn beading that varied from pearls to glass or metallic beads. With these special details, I sometimes tacked on an extra few dollars bringing them up to five dollars. The news spread across my elementary school and before I knew it every single girl and teacher in my school had an original Christine Alcalay scrunchie. Still to this day I laugh when I come across a fabric hair tie.
Cut On Your Bias: Where do you go and what do you do when looking for inspiration?
Christine Alcalay: I am always looking beyond the current season I am designing. For example, I have already picked two fabrics I have fallen in love with for fall of 2013 while working on spring/summer 2013. My inspiration varies from movies and art to textile to history to food but at the basis it all goes back to for whom I am designing. I start my collection deciding on what I want the final image (photograph or lookbook) to be. I ask myself questions about how the woman feels when she wears these clothes. What are the colors she is drawn to at that time of year? How is she wearing her hair and what music is she listening to? If I were to take her photo, where is she standing when I capture her? … Etc. It goes far beyond the clothing but also evokes a feeling and emotion. The reason for this is because my customer is interested many things. She has an eclectic sense of art and fashion. She loves experimentation but also appreciates classic beauty and simplicity. From season to season she changes her lipstick color and changes with fashion because it is fun. She is fully aware that changing her clothing does not change who she is but only the perspective in which the world sees her. She is inspired and confident. I look into myself quite often to find an entire collection staring back at me. The rest of the process is excitement – putting the puzzle pieces together to get the final image.
So the question is where do I go for inspiration- I go wherever my muse takes me but I start with where I picture her in the end of the process. Photography inspires me, the people I work with inspire me, people on the streets inspire me, weather and its changes inspire me.
Cut On Your Bias: How did your experience working at Lacroix influence you as a designer? How has NYC and NY fashion influenced your design aesthetic?
Christine Alcalay: Paris has a huge impact on my design aesthetic. Women in Paris have a certain “je ne sais quoi.” While I was in Paris, I studied the women and how they dressed. The greatest opportunity was a short internship with Christian Lacroix. It was there that I felt I learned the difference between the clothes we wear and the haute couture articles of clothing made there. I understood the love of craft and skill. I take that experience with me as I work on my own collections. I don’t take short cuts and I am rarely completely satisfied. What I learned during my internship is that this was all part of my creative process.
I took my observation and brought it back to NYC. We have the best people watching in the world here. In this fast paced city where everything is literally at your fingertips, I find my inspiration cycles very quickly. NYC is the only place in the world where as soon as you’ve thought it – it’s already old. It keeps me on my toes by forcing me to see beyond the season I’m designing.
Photo Credit - Lauren Garroni
Cut On Your Bias: What were some of the challenges you faced when starting your own collection?
Christine Alcalay: As a designer based in NYC, I am dedicated to making my collection in NYC. The garment industry here is rapidly changing, and it’s very difficult to find the right people with whom to work. Clothes produced in NYC are more expensive than overseas but I am dedicated to keeping my work here and giving back to the NYC garment industry that inspired me in the first place. Being a newer designer, I find it hard to find the right resources and then get noticed.
Cut On Your Bias: Your collection is so cohesive and offers such a unique and bold perspective. When you design, who are you designing for or what are you looking to capture or express?
Christine Alcalay: My customer is very bold, confident, and strong in an ultra-feminine and quiet way. She likes to express herself through clothing and tends to have many varying garments in her closet tailored to her mood. She is sophisticated and loves to play dress up. It is only natural that the clothes I design are made to make a woman feel as though they can take over the world and evoke strength.