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But...how'd you actually get that made? With Samantha Pleet!
An interview with clothing designer Samantha Pleet!
I fell in love with Samantha Pleet’s designs in 2015, and have worn her clothing to all the most special occasions of my life. The day I got engaged, I was wearing Samantha Pleet. My baby shower. When I went to the hospital to meet Zoe for the first time. Filming Islands Without Cars! Her clothing manages to be romantic, literary, fantastical, folkloric without being costume-y, and yet always functional and comfortable. Vintage-inspired but never démodé! It’s a tightrope I’m in awe of, and I’m lucky enough that she has become an internet friend over the years and agreed to chat with me about how she became the sartorial powerhouse that she is today!!!!
On the Brooklyn Bridge, about to be proposed to in a Samantha Pleet dress!!!
Give me a little of your history with clothing, when did you start designing clothes? Were you a fashion major at Pratt?
I started designing clothes as soon as I could tie a knot because as a child I would tie fabric together to create dresses before I could sew. Then I took a sewing class at my local fabric store in high school and made a pair of raver jeans with my mom, it was 1999. I took some fashion classes during the summer at Moore Collage of art in Philadelphia and Painting at University of the Arts but chose painting at Pratt for Collage. Once there though I switched my major within the first 6 months to fashion because I was so inspired by the local music scene happening in Williamsburg and I wanted to dress the musicians I saw on stage and be part of what was happening. I found fashion was my gateway into that world.
Years ago I knew several women who were incredible designers but could not make the financial aspect of starting an independent clothing line work. One person could only handle so much volume without then needing some ... seed money? Angel investors? Or? Do you have any advice for aspiring designers, how did you get your brand off the ground?
We are completely independent, I’ve never had an investor or a business plan, I do it for my passion for making clothes and its always been about making enough to make the next idea happen. I started very small with just 3 styles because that is what I could afford to do. Then it slowly grew each season as I was able to make more sales and it took over a decade to get where we are today. It did not happen quickly. My basic understanding of business comes from the fairy tale of the Elves and of the shoemaker, you make one great pair and then you can make a few more. My advice to people starting out is stick with it, and know that it will take time and don’t grow too quickly.
Can you talk a bit about how you manage to make the fantastical so wearable? You manage it more distinctly than any other brand I've ever come across, other than maybe Fashion Brand Company, but that brand has a very different silly, horny ethos.
I design things that make me feel magical, that I could imagine myself and my friends wearing every day, not just for special events. I always design to become the piece of art, or the flower, or tell a story without just printing the idea on a shirt but becoming the character or flower myself.
How do you go about finding a theme for a new line? Where do you source inspiration from, usually?
I close my eyes and image ideas and do 1000 sketches and then from there pick the best ones. I have so many reference points now that it all comes together somehow. I really start out imagining what I would want to be wearing at that moment and that really helps me to fall into a place and time or feeling. I’ve read a lot of books and watched a lot of films and all those references are now in my head so I often do research on a particular character that I keep going back to films like Daisies or fairy tales like Rapunzel, or surrealist painters to find my inspirations. I let the idea develop organically, I don’t decide on an inspiration before designing the inspiration becomes apparent as I design, that would limit me too much.
How do you and your husband work together, what does Patrick run vs what you run? Are there very defined roles or is it pretty fluid?
It is very fluid, we don’t have clearly defined roles, we are both involved in the design and running the day to day together. creatively I will discuss my ideas and inspirations with Patrick and we will help me with prints and technical design etc. Patrick is an architect by training and is very practical while I am up in the clouds and messy, so together our brains come together and balance each other out.
It strikes me that the different seasons of your clothing seem inspired by what you happened to be particularly curious about at that moment in time. What are you currently curious about?
I am so curious right now about magic and biology, I love plants and learning about them since I moved to upstate New York. I'm always watching the flowers grow and I am so inspired by them. I design to be the flower or the nettle, mushroom or a fairy.
If your current clothing line were a song, what would it be?
Wuthering Heights always.
How do you hope women feel in your clothing?
I strive to help women realize the powerful, magical, beautiful beings they are.
What do you think is the most important factor in getting something from idea to out in the world for all of us to enjoy?
The fit, always the most important part! and how does the garment actually work. That's the hardest part.
You have a(n absolutely adorable) 6 year-old now. How would you say your line was impacted by the birth of your daughter? Can you recognize a distinct shift between the clothing you designed before her and after her?
So many ways this child has affected me. I feel so lucky to have such an inspiring child, she has such innocence and raw ideas. I value her opinion now more than anything. I think after she was born I did not worry about all the little worries I had before and I had to reorganize my priorities. I have to balance enjoying this time with her but still have such a passion for my work. She loves to come to the office and work on an art project while I work and we sew together.
I think looking at the world through the eyes of my child brings back a lot of lost wonder and magic from my life.
I let life roll along and go with the changes and I love to experience all the times some are hard some are joyful. I love to ride the waves of life.
Do you think you'll make kids' clothing again?
Maybe…we will see. I do want to make some here and there! I would love to just make mini version of my favorite pieces. I’ve started making them for my daughter Valentine, so you will start to see them trickle out.
Where do you hope to take your line next? Is there an element to always needing to grow a brand, have more wholesale accounts, etc?
We are interested in growing creatively, exploring fresh ideas and bringing magic to the world. We still like to grow slowly, our ethos is that the business growth will come naturally if we focus on the creative aspect. I still have so much more to design and I'd love to revisit shoes and denim again, and possibly even some jewelry pieces in the future. I’ve cut back on wholesale because I wanted to have control over my production and not be strapped to the typical fashion deadlines.
What's your favorite part of being a clothing designer, and what part could you throw into the river and never see again?
I love to be able to bring my dreams to reality every day and collaborate with artists that inspire me.
Honestly I would throw the wholesale business in the river as it was holding me back creatively and giving me too much stress over deadlines. Now I can be on my own schedule so things will come out when they are ready not when the retailer wants them.
If you could dress anyone, who would it beeeee???
Here is my favorite new piece from Samantha’s latest collection. I have worn it approximately 700 times already, with no sign of slowing.
Check out the rest of her line here. Thank you, Samantha!
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