Seven Questions for Nili Lotan: The Designer Dishes on Her Collaboration With J.Crew and Considers Runway Shows

Israeli-born NYC-based designer Nili Lotan has been quietly churning out simple, stark, elegant designs since she launched her eponymous label in 2003. But it's hard to stay under the radar when J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler stops by your showroom and wants to collaborate. Lotan teamed up with the specialty retailer to produce a very small capsule collection of relaxed basics including a perfect striped boyfriend sweater that sold out immediately. We talked to Lotan to find out how she landed that plum collaboration, how her background in Israel and time in the air force has influenced her design, and if she would ever consider putting on a runway show.
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Leah Chernikoff
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Israeli-born NYC-based designer Nili Lotan has been quietly churning out simple, stark, elegant designs since she launched her eponymous label in 2003. But it's hard to stay under the radar when J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler stops by your showroom and wants to collaborate. Lotan teamed up with the specialty retailer to produce a very small capsule collection of relaxed basics including a perfect striped boyfriend sweater that sold out immediately. We talked to Lotan to find out how she landed that plum collaboration, how her background in Israel and time in the air force has influenced her design, and if she would ever consider putting on a runway show.
Photo: Taghi Naderzad

Photo: Taghi Naderzad

Israeli-born NYC-based designer Nili Lotan has been quietly churning out simple, stark, elegant designs since she launched her eponymous label in 2003. But it's hard to stay under the radar when J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler stops by your showroom and wants to collaborate. Lotan teamed up with the specialty retailer to produce a very small capsule collection of relaxed basics including a perfect striped boyfriend sweater that sold out immediately.

We talked to Lotan to find out how she landed that plum collaboration, how her background in Israel and time in the air force has influenced her design, and if she would ever consider putting on a runway show. 1. How did the collaboration with J.Crew come about? How did you marry your aesthetics together and when will that amazing boyfriend sweater be back in stock? I was introduced to Mickey Drexler and he came to see my collection at the showroom and it sparked his interest. Mickey loved what he saw and suggested the collaboration. He introduced me to Marissa Webb [J.Crew head of women's design] who together with the rest of Mickey's team picked the pieces out of my collection that they loved. The striped boyfriend sweater should be available again in mid July!

2. How did you get into fashion? And how does your background--for example, your time in the Israeli airforce--inform your design? I've always been interested in art and beauty and after my military service chose to study fashion design in Tel Aviv. Right after I graduated I moved to New York City. I am not sure that my air force experience influenced my design. I do know that being in the air force as well as all my other references of growing up in Israel has effected me as a person and influenced my sense of color and design.

Nili Lotan\'s Boyfriend sweater for J.Crew

Nili Lotan\'s Boyfriend sweater for J.Crew

3. You've worked for big labels like Ralph Lauren and Nautica--what made you decide to go out on your own? The decision to start my own label was a very spontaneous act. After many years of designing other people's vision I guess it was time to create my own. The line is doing great and is recognized and appreciated by many stores as well as women all over the world that share the same taste and aesthetics. I am very happy and feel incredibly accomplished.

4. Why don't you put on fashion shows (any more)? Till now I didn't feel it was necessary. I might change my mind in the future. It might enhance the brand recognition.

5. There are a lot of great designers that come out of the Middle East (Israel and Lebanon especially)--what is it about that area that makes good design? What's the design scene like in Israel? I am not sure it has to do with where we come from although where we come from informs our aesthetics. Out of all middle eastern countries, Israel and Lebanon are the most progressive and open minded to art and fashion in general.

6. You produce everything in NYC. Why is that important to you? Have you seen changes in the garment district since being in NYC? After traveling overseas for 20 some years and executing the design and production overseas [for other companies] I find developing the design and production in New York more efficient. It is much easier to control all aspects of creation and the results are more accurate and true to my vision and quality. With the quantities that I produce now it make sense. The garment district is certainly going through an evolution but I haven't seen major changes yet. I'm still loyal to and work with the same factories I started with.

7. Is this your first design collaboration? Would you do another? Yes, this is my first collaboration. The J.Crew collaboration was an organic one it was not a strategy. Who knows what the future will bring?