Photo Courtesy Ryan Rickett

On Wednesday evening,  Barneys New York Fashion Director Julie Gilhart hosted a launch of Rozae Nichols’ new line, IAN, in conjunction with the launch of The Huffington Post’s newest local blog, Los Angeles, under Managing Editor Willow Bay. As one would expect from Barneys in Beverly Hills, it was truly a chic and elegant event, complete with champagne and canapés. Willow Bay, Rozae Nichols, Arianna Huffington and Julie Gilhart sat as a panel and answered questions. In case you’re wondering how Arianna Huffington and Rozae Nichols fit together, it all started with “Take Your Daughters to Work Day.” Arianna’s daughter and a classmate were interested in fashion, so Arianna made a request to visit Rozae’s studio about 5 years ago. Rozae showed them around the studio and explained the business of designing and developing a collection. Thus deepened a mutual admiration.

I asked Julie Gilhart if she has difficulty getting designers to think more in terms of sustainability. She replied that it’s something the designers need to be inspired by, that they have to want to do it without too much influence from her, and that ultimately the design has to be gorgeous. She explained that it’s great design that sells, and that designers pick up on what their competitors are doing. So if they see another designer selling well with something eco, they’ll be more inclined to move in that direction. Quite a far cry from the Wal-Mart way of influencing suppliers! In high-end fashion, design is everything. Although retailers like ecouture may help shift consumer interest by making it easier for people to find great design that’s also responsible.

Photo Courtesy Ryan Rickett

Behind Every Designing Woman…

Well, maybe not all designing women are as lucky as Rozae, but she does indeed have a very supportive husband who puts up with her many late nights at the studio, and respects her artistic talent. Thus her new line was named after her husband of 25 years, Ian Morrough, and inspired by their common love of minimalist modern art. They’ve traveled to many art destinations like the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, TX and the collection echoed the spare, angular lines of Donald Judd’s aluminum boxes, below. The pieces also featured quite a bit of exquisite laser cutting, as in the pieces Rozae and Julie wore to the event. Rozae explained that she was inspired by structures and dimensional materials like honeycomb and corrugated packing paper. I had no idea laser cutting could even be done in Los Angeles, and certainly not at the level exhibited in IAN. The collection is also available at Barneys.com.

Think Globally, Produce Locally

Rozae discussed how she developed her passion for local manufacturing, and how she nurtures Los Angeles-based artisans to develop their latent talents. Few designers have the patience or the emphasis on craft to do this, but they all benefit from Rozae’s work in developing local artisans. Having worked in her studio, I know firsthand how exacting she can be in striving to help her artisans achieve their highest potential. The work was demanding but so very fulfilling, creatively. Rozae primarily uses local factories for all of her lines and is able to get a level of quality that one would expect from a Milanese factory. In her first job out of fashion school in the 1980’s, she was sent to China to visit factories the company was working with. She told us that what she saw there was the antithesis of beauty, because it came at the expense of human suffering.

When she opened her eponymous line, she chose to work solely with domestic factories, to ensure that workers were treated as fairly as possible, which she continues to do with IAN and her other lines, even as labor standards have improved in China. Rozae explained that she feels it is important for manufacturing to exist in developing countries as well, where work is sorely needed. But she enjoys benefitting from the immediacy and flexibility available only when using local factories, while also supporting the local economy. What I find disturbing is how an increasing number of high-end designers are charging the same prices they charged when manufacturing in the US or Europe, but on clothing now made in China, where wages are drastically lower. The fashion industry is a very difficult one to succeed in, so any profits that can be found are taken, and of course designers can’t lower their price points solely because they’ve found cheaper manufacturing. As long as the quality is there, they need to also have an appropriate price point for the stores they’re carried in. However, personally, I don’t buy designer-priced clothing that’s made in China.