Behnaz Sarafpour Celebrates 10 Years in the Industry

This week, fashion designer Behnaz Sarafpour celebrates 10 years of her namesake collection. We recently sat down with the designer to reflect on the last decade--from the paint splatter dresses that put her on the map to her work with the Alexander Calder Institute--and speculate on what's to come. (We've also put together a time line of her biggest moments.)
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This week, fashion designer Behnaz Sarafpour celebrates 10 years of her namesake collection. We recently sat down with the designer to reflect on the last decade--from the paint splatter dresses that put her on the map to her work with the Alexander Calder Institute--and speculate on what's to come. (We've also put together a time line of her biggest moments.)
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This week, fashion designer Behnaz Sarafpour celebrates 10 years of her namesake collection. We recently sat down with the designer to reflect on the last decade--from the paint splatter dresses that put her on the map to her work with the Alexander Calder Institute--and speculate on what's to come. (We've also put together a time line of her biggest moments.)

Fashionista: Congrats on celebrating 10 years of being in business! First off, so much changed in the past decade. How different is your business from Day 1? Behnaz Sarafpour: When I started in 2001, the industry was looking for fresh, new talent. The big fashion corporations had been the focus for such a long time, along with the big, established names. The industry was really excited to see new people coming in. We had a fantastic response from both the press and retail side. I think because fashion has become more popular with the general public every year, there is what seems like a flood of new talent.

The Target Collection in 2006 seemed like a seminal moment for you--especially since you were one of the first designers on board. How did it affect your business? When I started doing collaborations a few years ago, it was not the norm. I did a lot of things where I was the first one doing it, and it was scary. In the designer market, we have an image that we work very hard on. We know what we want to relay to our audience. The fear with collaborating is that it will dilute your image, hurt your image. I definitely took a lot of risks with being the first. I guess as you can say I took an “educated guess.” And now everybody's doing it. Celebrity dressing has also become huge over the past 10 years. What do you think about that? From day one, press came to us and said, "We’d like to do a story on you, can you tell you us what celebrities you dress?" That press angle had only recently become the norm. Are there any celebrities whom you've dressed again and again? I would say that there is certainly a few that we work with regularly, but it's more a certain type of woman. I feel like their sensibility and our sensibility need to mesh. Someone who has a very youthful sense of elegance, but who is also a little bit sporty.

Let's talk about retail. These days, it seems that buyers are less and less likely to take a risk with a young designer. Do you think you got in at the right moment? You know, going back to when I started, people were looking to take risks. It was right after 9-11, and there was a bit of a recession going on economically. But they were still looking for newness. Now, it's a bit more challenging. Just with the way the economy has been, many buyers are more conservative about their selections. There's a funny thing about that though. I want to--I have to--do something that's different and creative to maintain interest. But at the same time, there's always the fear of doing something that strays too far away from what's been bought in the past. Is there a particular piece that you think really embodies the brand? A signature? In my very first collection, the very first piece I designed was a trench coat, with a kind of sexy fit to it. That's something that sort of has become a staple of the collection. Every season we have a trench coat. And I did a collection where one of the inspirations was Damien Hurst's spin art paintings.

Has the way you approach your work changed over the years? When I started my collection I was consulting for Barneys, designing an in-house collection for them. I wanted this creative outlet for myself. It wasn’t so much about commerce; it was more rewarding personally. Everything sort of gelled together, and a couple of years into doing my collection, this became my full time day job. I had to make a commitment. I got to do something that was creatively rewarding but also learn how to make a business out of it. There are very few designer companies in the world that are run for pennies--that don’t rely on bigger companies to support them.

When you look back, what's most important to you? When I started, critics referred to my work as intellectual fashion. I'm so honored by the interest from the creative community--FIT, V&M, the Smithsonian. It's made me actually see what [the critics] see.