Welcome to Part II of Life With Steven Alan (here’s Part I) wherein we discuss:
- How to land a coveted space in the Steven Alan showroom.
- How to land an arguably more coveted space in the Steven Alan store.
- Why girls should dress like boys.
- Whether or not he’ll ever stage a proper show.
- How you can thank his high school for your favorite wrinkled button down.
I don’t believe that’s your best attempt at drawing a cat.
This is real. This is not me because I hurt my arm. I have something wrong with me in terms of my ability – like my son is seven and he can draw a better cat. So me trying to do this stuff was weird but you find a way to overcome these things. So yeah then people started taking me seriously and then I started doing women’s versions of my guy clothes. I thought that was cute. I think it’s really cute when girls wear their boyfriends things. I was never really into, and definitely not for the store, those super cleavage-y tops, anything super sexy, those embellished tops. And there were time when that was a big, big thing, you know Sex and the City and times where the whole Mediterranean, super babe look was huge. But we still had a following.
By avoiding trends?
Yeah, I mean it’s really easy in retail to be like these are going to be the trends. This huge celebrity is doing a line and we’re going to sell it but that’s just not us. Unless, of course, it’s a really great line regardless of the celebrity attached and then sure.
Can you name one? One that you thought was great enough to sell?
Milkfed was really great at first, Sofia Copolla’s line. It was really cute. She was working with Mike Mills and I thought the graphics were really cute. She got it.
If you had to choose between the retail and the design
I would probably design. But I like having stores, I like that direct feedback from the customer. Like, I don’t want to be the designer who just has shows and sells to the stores because I need that interaction.
You’ve never had a show?
I did last year, but I didn’t produce it. I was nominated last year for CFDA men’s designer of the year, the GQ thing, so they produced my show. And I was actually going to have a show this season, for fall, but the economy didn’t seem like the right time to have a show.
So maybe in the future?
A presentation maybe, probably not a proper show. There’s something about male models that’s weird. About “perfect men” on a runway is weird. Is that sexist maybe?
Yeah last week’s Jeffrey Cares was the first time I really saw a bunch of male models on a runway and it was really different.
There’s just something stiff and contrived about them. When I was younger I had really curly hair but I never combed it. There are those guys who are really perfect but you can see it in my clothes, I’m just messy.
What were you like in high school?
I went to private, public and art high school. We transferred out of the public into Browning because my brother was dyslexic and I wanted to go to school with him. But htat was an all boys school and it was really intense, I just didn’t like it, it was too strict. So then I went to this super liberal high school, co-ed, no uniforms and there was this amazing city kid messiness that’s always resonated.
So that influenced the things you like now?
Definitely. The art school was un-zoned so you had people from all over the place and you have to apply.
Ok so let’s get back to your day. Breakfast, showroom, then what?
So after the showroom I go over to the store. I check in with the bookkeeper, the planner, the buyer, production, the girl who runs the website. Usually I have ideas of things I want to find for the store so I’ll go over my plans with everyone. Then I head over to the design studio, where the corporate offices are and find out what they’re going, play with swatches, fabrics, stuff like that.
So that’s what you do all day.
I’ll have appointments, go to other showrooms. I have to wear all these different hats – figure out what I want to buy for my store each season, what to put in the showroom, what I want to design differently.
And you’re also working to sell this stuff to other stores right?
So how big of a role do you play in determining which designers get to be in your showroom?
Big. I’m totally involved in all of it. We had two meetings before this with designers who wanted us to rep them.
How do you decide who’s in?
We take on the designers we think will do well. And we try to keep them consistent. We can’t carry each and every one in all of our stores all of the time. I mean our stores are pretty small and we represent over twenty designers but we would. Like an artist who has a gallery, to me, if I had a gallery, I’d want to have an artist that if you looked at that painting or sculpture you go, “Oh! Is that so and so?” You just get it because it’s personal, without even seeing the signature. And that is really hard, but it’s one of the things that we really look for. And you don’t see that on Seventh Avenue. Even if lines are very successful, they’re geared toward trends and you see the collections every season and you’re like, “Is that the same designer?” It’s like the wind. So we pick people who we feel change, but change within the context of who they are. And of course they need the ability to produce, ship, they should probably be financed.
Do you help them with that at all?
We don’t finance them and we don’t introduce them to money people. We will introduce, or we have a good relationship with factors which are like banks, they loan money. I think that if we recommend someone, even if they’re not meeting minimums, they’ll make an exception if they believe that we believe in the designer. And we’ll do press to an extent. Internally, we have a lot of editors coming to us, but we don’t really pitch stories. We recommend our designers hire someone else for that.
OK what about in your store. What does it take to hang on Steven Alan racks?
A lot of the same things. And quality. That’s a big thing for me. I don’t like cheap disposable clothing, you can get that anywhere and it’s pretty stylish. But that’s not what we’re doing. And what we’re selling, it’s all really different but it’s within the same – I mean you might like this but you’re friend will like this. You know? There’s a group of five girls and they’ll all like something but the next group of five girls won’t be into it at all.
There is an incredibly cohesive feel. It’s one kind of girl who wears everything in here, the showroom, and out there, in the store.
Yeah and her boyfriend.
Let’s talk about the mass clothing thing. You’re doing lines for both Urban Outfitters and Uniqlo now.
Yeah. I mean we have designers who’ve done it for Target – Gryson, Loeffler Randall – and Urban Outfitters was someone who I thought, if I was going to do a younger line, they’d get it. And I didn’t want to do a seasonal thing. If I’m going to go in and work with the design team and cultivate it to a point where the customer really gets it, I’m really going to do it. And the experience has been great.
How does the design process work? Do you work with them? Do you do your own thing and they approve?
We do all of the designing in house. And then another company does production. We do talk to Urban, it’s a collaborative process. We’re in touch with the buying team to see what they want, what they need.
They actually approached me a long time ago, when they were just talking about starting collaborations but I was kind of unsure and wanted to feel it out. But ti’s been a great experience. I went to Japan and worked with their technical team there and they have tremendous resources and it’s such great quality – even though it’s so inexpensive.
It’s pretty great stuff.
Ok, let’s play favorites.
FAVORITE MAGAZINE: Monocle
FAVORITE BOOK: Catcher in the Rye or The Fountainhead
FAVORITE WORD: Max
FAVORITE FOOD: Japanese
FAVORITE SONG: Anything Dylan
FAVORITE PLACE: New York
FAVORITE DRINK: Something citrus-y