You might not be too familiar with New York-based designer Doo-ri Chung. Despite her serious fashion cred (her first job out of Parsons was working in Geoffrey Beene‘s sample room with Alber Elbaz) and being able count First Lady Michelle Obama as a client, she still considers herself a “very small, very young” niche designer without a ton of name recognition. But that should change come February 15, when her capsule collection for Macy’s contemporary fashion department ‘Impulse’ hits 185 stores and goes up on line. Chung is the latest in an impressive list of designers to design capsule collectons for the mass retailer–a list that includes names like Karl Lagerfeld, Giambattista Valli and Matthew Williamson (to name a few).
We got a chance to chat with Chung yesterday as she previewed her collection–a wearable mix of Chung’s signature draped jersey pieces priced between $39 and $159–at hot Hell’s Kitchen resto Danji. In these collab-happy times (in the last few months alone we’ve seen Versace for H&M, Jason Wu for Target, and Missoni for Target work shoppers into a frenzy) Chung was still hesitant about doing a collaboration.
Fashionista: What made you decide to take on this collaboration with Macy’s?
Doo-ri Chung: You know, collaborations are tricky things, but when we really started thinking about what this could open up for us, I mean, it was kind of a no-brainer. The fact that we’d have such an accessibility to Middle America–to places we don’t really sell our collection. And, the fact that Karl Lagerfeld was also another designer that was on board, I mean, it seemed like a win-win situation.
But you were hesitant at first?
I’m still a very small, young designer. I’m still considered ‘niche’ and I’m always hesitant about being associated with someone that’s much bigger than I am. We’re still trying to make a place for ourselves, and I think having an association with Macy’s will definitely override that. But I think in the end, the partnership was beneficial for everybody.
So how did Macy’s sell you on the idea?
When I spoke to Nicole [at Macy's], whom I’ve known for many years, when she was like ‘We want to bring Doo.ri to everybody else, we don’t want to change your style, we’re coming to you so that you can bring what you do to the price point that you can never reach.’ We could never reach this price point! They wanted to do jersey, they wanted me to bring the very tactile aspects of what I do to Macy’s.
And you didn’t have to change your design approach at all to meet that lower price point?
I didn’t have to, they had to! I gave them what i wanted to do, something aspirational for me and ultimately, the fact that i didn’t have to do the production or the sampling part of it was fantastic. I wish I could work like this all the time!
You got your start working for Geoffrey Beene and with Alber Elbaz. What was that like?
To me, Mr. Beene is the most important American designer we have. He is so talented, and I was privileged to have had the experience of working with a sample room that created the most beautiful garments. And I worked with Alber and it’s amazing to see where he is now, and the fact that he’s stayed so true. I mean when I was working with Alber, that was still his style, just as I’m still true to my style when I was working for Mr. Beene. I specialize in jersey, and Alber definitely specialized in silks. Having that experience really allowed me to be able to do my own line, and stay true to what I do.
What was it like to work for Mr. Beene?
It was very intimidating. He had a retrospective about I think, two years prior, at FIT, and it was so gorgeous. And you know, I studied abroad in Paris, and I was very influenced by the French and Belgian designers. At that time, it was the deconstructionists: Margiela, Demeulemeester, etc., and in New York , it was all about merchandising and Anne Klein–it wasn’t very inspiring to me. Then when I saw Mr. Beene’s work, I was really inspired by the fact that he was an American designer, and I never even thought that I could even work for him. So, when I was given the opportunity to actually work for him, that was definitely a dream come true.
Are you inspired by New York’s fashion scene now?
It is so much more exciting, I have to say. New York has so many young designers that are doing amazing things. No other city has the kind of support structure that New York has for its emerging talent, and I think that’s so important. I mean, just by this type of collaboration, and the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, there are so many ways that young designers not only get recognition, but support from the industry, and that’s amazing.
Check out doo.ri for Macy’s.
She’s a niche New York-based designer