Beauty and Elegance: Erin Fetherston’s Simplicity Takes Her To New Heights
November 29th, 2012
This story originally appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of DOWNTOWN Magazine.
By Todd K Plummer. Photos by Poul Ober.
Erin Fetherston has made a career out of simply being herself. Her eponymous designer collection has afforded her enormous success—and a gorgeous TriBeCa loft to boot. Although she seems to know what the pretty girls want to wear before they know themselves, Fetherston is still an easygoing California girl at heart. She might be a work-hard, play-hard designer who hits the social circuit as hard as her clothes hit the runways, but Fetherston still wants to stay true to her own vision and make beautiful clothes. And now, just as she’s beginning to enjoy changing up her signature blonde blunt bangs, Fetherston is really enjoying keeping her audience on their toes.
“It’s been good for me to change it up,” she says. “I think it’s always important not to be too attached to anything.”
A California Girl In Paris
Playing with clothes—the ideas of costume and imagination—were interests of Fetherston’s from a young age. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area during the ‘90s probably had something to do with Fetherston’s creative slant. But as a teen and later as a student at Berkeley, Fetherston felt her peers didn’t take her fashion aspirations seriously. “I thought fashion was as valid as any other art form … architecture, performance art, music. Fashion had a bad rap when I grew up there.”
Respite came during her summer and winter breaks from university, when she would retreat to New York City and pursue various internships to learn about the fashion industry.
“I did a lot of different internships that gave me exposures to different roles in the industry, which gave me total clarity that the only thing I wanted to do was be a designer,” Fetherston says.
After years of waiting to sink her teeth into fashion, the opportunity finally came when she left the country and enrolled in a fashion design program at Parsons Paris (then a branch of Parsons The New School For Design, but now a division of the Paris College of Art).
Finally in her element, Fetherston surrounded herself with a group of like-minded peers and began to build her designer collection. After graduating, she decided to fully invest in her passion—to “make clothes and see what happens.” Looking for a break, she wrote to revered lace mill Solstice, which soon responded with a €1,000 donation of lace. Then she got to work, spending long hours in her Paris apartment making a collection that was intensely crafted, dyed and cut by hand. Because of the intricate handiwork of the clothes, Fetherston, at the suggestion of a journalist friend, decided to showcase her collection off-calendar during the Haute Couture shows in January 2005. And to her surprise, there was a great turnout and the collection was very well received.
“I look back at the collection now and it just totally looks like a student show,” she says. “I can’t even believe I had the guts to do it. But for whatever it was worth, it was a good way to get started. And you’ve got to start somewhere.”
Although Fetherston’s designs over the years have become more sophisticated than her first “student show,” her preoccupations as a designer are the same. Her aesthetic focuses on the feminine, the romantic, the flirty and the pretty—always sexy but never raunchy or vulgar, which, as a young designer building a brand during the 2000s heyday of Kardashian-, Hilton-, Lohan-driven fashion mania, is something of which Fetherston can certainly be proud.
Erin does ERIN
Six years after her Paris debut, Fetherston is one of the most celebrated and successful young designers in New York. In 2007 she received the prestigious Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation Award and scored a coveted spot as a finalist in the Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund competition. These two honors put her in the company of such great names as Laura and Kate Mulleavy of Rodarte, Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler and Alexander Wang.
It‘s been good for me to change it up … I think it’s always important not to be too attached to anything.
As a guest designer for Target’s Go International series in 2008 and then Juicy Couture in 2010, she extended her brand to a much broader audience than her ready-to-wear collection (with so-pretty-it-hurts dresses going for as much as a so-expensive-it-hurts $2,000) allowed. The two collaborations were wildly successful, and relating to a mass audience resonated deeply with the designer.
“I took a look at the stylish, inspiring girls in my life, and I didn’t see them going out and buying designer price-tag dresses,” she says. “I feel like when you love clothes, you don’t feel compelled to spend thousands of dollars on a single dress. That kind of takes the fun out of it and makes it too serious. Because then you say, ‘Oh, this is special. It’s for a special occasion, it’s delicate, I don’t want to mess it up.’ ”
So in 2011 she made the difficult decision to put her designer collection on hiatus and in its stead launched ERIN by Erin Fetherston, a contemporary collection with much greater accessibility—dresses begin at $350.
“I staged a complete shift,” she says. “Nothing about my approach has changed, only my intention to make beautiful, thoughtfully designed clothes that are a little more accessible. I wanted ERIN by Erin to be the main event, and approach it with the same love and care that I would put into a designer collection.”
And so far, she has. There’s something so much more natural (Californian?) about ERIN by Erin, the way the designer relates to her girly frocks and party dresses with the renewed commitment to keep things accessible. It’s a post-recession economy we are living in; people are bored with fast fashion and turned off by hefty price tags. And based on the success of ERIN by Erin, Fetherston might be on to something.
Despite Fetherston’s affection for Paris and the experiences she absorbed there, she eventually realized the need to move to the core of the fashion world: New York City. With her line’s production based there and showing in New York Fashion Week, Fetherston knew she had to make the move to New York, the city that’s “the place to be a young designer.”
But after leaving her beloved Paris for the Big Apple, Fetherston struggled to find her ideal apartment. “It took me a year to find my apartment when I moved. And I was moving from Paris where one can be quite spoiled,” Fetherston admits. Used to spacious, old apartments with floor-to-ceiling windows, fireplaces and views of the park all around the City of Lights, Fetherston had to overcome a few hurdles before she found her new home in Lower Manhattan’s TriBeCa.
“I looked everywhere and when I found my [current] place, it felt like the idea of Paris meets New York,” she says. Fetherston, in true California style, likes the idea of being connected to nature, but “in New York that’s not the easiest thing to come by.” That love of nature coupled with an affinity for older apartments with a bit of charm, made TriBeCa a perfect fit.
“I like TriBeCa because I feel like it’s Downtown, near all the places I want to go,” she says. “But it did feel like a residential refuge in the Downtown landscape.”
And so far, the new digs are working out well. In a neighborhood perfect for biking, shopping at vintage stores and just relaxing with friends, Fetherston feels at ease.
“I feel like TriBeCa keeps getting better and better since I’ve lived here,” she says. “Smith & Mills is so cute—perfect for a drink or for brunch. My favorite restaurants down here are Tiny’s and Super Linda. Those are great places for dinner, very well done and charming.”
Along with settling into her new neighborhood, Fetherston has been exploring life outside of fashion by striking up a romantic relationship with Gabe Saporta, the lead singer and primary creative force behind the New York-based synth-pop band Cobra Starship. The two were first spotted as a couple in early 2011 and have been side-by-side ever since.
A beautiful TriBeCa apartment. A musician boyfriend. An increasingly popular clothing collection. Erin Fetherston is, as the saying goes, living the dream.
“I work all the time,” she says, proving that dreams don’t come easy. “But I love it—it doesn’t feel like work, so it’s like a dream come true. Gabe and I always joke: little boys want to grow up and be rock stars and little girls want to be fashion designers, so kids get so excited to meet us as a couple.”
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