Steven Alan might be the trickiest Life With subject yet. He doesn't just design men's, women's and children's collections; he doesn't just run a showroom representing over twenty of New York's hippest designers; and he doesn't just operate ten of his own stores - he also hangs out with his seven-year-old son.They like to eat things like seaweed with rice and salami and tuna and rank their favorite chefs. But when he's working, Alan works hard, scouting the best new designers to fill both his showroom and his store while maintaining one of the most cohesive design visions around. After the jump, I try to understand just how he wears so many hats, so well. (And since the Life Withs get longer and longer as I get more curious, check back tomorrow for Part II.)
Where did you grow up? Manhattan. Born and raised. I left to go to college at Arizona State and then USC, did entrepreunership there. Fantastic program. I almost went there. It's great. And I almost stayed in California, but my parents had this jewelry store here in the city and I thought, at the time, I didn't know if I wanted to do real estate development or retail but I'd written about this retail concept in school and thought I'd do the latter. So my parents let me manage the store and then I started doing this export business with watches in Switzerland, Japan, traveling a lot and I just thought it'd be so great to just travel and find stuff for my own store. So what's a day in the life of Steven Alan like? Well, I get up early. 6:30. Really early no matter where I am, even if I'm on vacation, but I live in Chinatown. I'm not a coffee person, I'm a big breakfast person. But I don't tend to eat a big American breakfast. If I'm home I like yogurt and granola or something but if I go out I like to have fishy stuff. Like salmon, avocado, tomato on a bagel. I did actually have coffee this morning. I have a seven-year old son named Max and when he's there I'll make him something but he's not a big breakfast eater and I was number ten on his list of top ten cooks. But he likes really strange combinations of things - like the other day he wanted salami with rice, seaweed and tunafish. For breakfast? It doesn't really matter. He'd eat it for lunch, dinner, snack whatever. It's the Max special. One of Alan's co-workers comes over to tell us this is already the most interesting conversation she's ever overheard. Then I come into work. Here? We're in Alan's showroom in Tribeca. I'll stop by the showroom and check in with Lynn, the showroom's director and see how things are going.
So what do you do on the showroom side? My involvement with the showroom isn't so much about the day to day but there's a lot of interaction with the designers. They come to me to sell things in the store and I also approach them and then they're coming to me for the store. There's a lot of overlap. Is that how the showroom started, just you meeting designers who needed help? When I first started I had a little store on Wooster Street and I wasn't making anything, just going to trade shows and buying and there was nothing really special or amazing but then I found that what I really liked to do was finding new designers - discovering and promoting them and that became kind of all I did for awhile. Where'd you find them? It'd be friends of friends, "Oh my friend makes great skirts," or, "My friend just graduated from Parsons." And the first one I really found was Rebecca Danneberg and she was getting a lot of press because she was making this kind of low waisted pants with wide waist bands in nylons, denim, twills and it became this - well, do you remember when the hipster thing first started? Nope. I grew up in Northern California - it was kind of like anyone who didn't wear Abercrombie was a hipster but I don't think that's what you mean. In California, there was a company called Funk Essentials and they started making these pants with a really low rise and we carried them. And then there was Daryl K. and a few others and at that point a lot of stores would come into my store to scout for theirs, because I didn't have a showroom at that time and then Japan got huge. They'd just come here and buy so much stuff because they didn't want anything mass and then yen was great so we sort of built up this great reputation in Japan. Did you have a base there, or a store? At one point we had four women's stores and six men's stores. But then some of the designers we were selling - Sofia Coppola had Milk Fed, Built By Wendy - wanted me to represent them because it didn't really exist, this idea of showrooms for small designers. Not the way it is today. And I found that I really liked that though it was hard since a lot of them didn't really know what they were doing. So that's how we started - a 150 foot showroom on this mezzanine in my store. And eventually we moved onto Mercer Street. So then what? Then we opened a barbershop. A barbershop? Yes. Explain, please. It's kind of a story. The best things are. Ok, well my mom was getting her haircut at this hairdresser's in the east village and the lady told her she was interested in opening her own salon so my mom goes, "Oh you should talk to my son!" And I'm like, "Mom, I'm not opening a hair salon." And she goes well you should meet her anyway. So I met her and i was like, "If I open anything it's going to be a barber shop," and she was like, "Ok, I can cut guy's hair." So we went and got all these old barber shop chairs and stuff. Someone comes over to ask for the Urban Outfitter's outlines.
I do a project for Urban Outfitters called Lark & Wolf. Yep. I know. I have some. I like it. Thanks. So the barbershop? I was selling my stuff. The stuff I made. Wait, when did you start making your own stuff. Well after we moved I kind of had this empty space so I just started making things for myself. Why? I couldn't find anything I liked. And then it really evolved and a demand grew and I was like, "Ok, I guess I'll take this seriously now." But I'm not a technical designer. When I started I would just go to midtown, look around, buy a roll of fabric. Maybe ten yards and ask them where I could make it into a shirt. And it was kind of hit or miss. Sometimes they'd be great and sometimes terrible. Through that process I found the ones that were best at what they do. The best factory for pants, best for shirts - the best ones in my opinion. Did you sketch what you wanted? I can't even sketch! That's the problem. I'd ask someone who worked for me to draw a shrit. And then be like make the pocket smaller, do this, do that and then take it to the factory and they'd make a rough sample and we'd just keep going. Because I can look at it and see what I want to tweak. My dad's a jeweler and that's what he'd do with clay. I have that eye but... Can you sketch now? Not at all, want me to draw a cat for you? That looks like a goat.
TO BE CONTINUED...