In 2010, Tia Cibani sent the fashion world into a mini state of mourning when she announced she was stepping down from Chinese-by-way-of-Canada label Ports 1961 to start a family, handing over the creative reigns to her sister Fiona. But just two years later (with a brand new baby in tow!) Cibani made a major comeback with the debut of her first eponymous fashion line this past September at New York Fashion Week.
And the industry has welcomed the designer back with open arms: Earlier this week, Cibani was awarded the Fashion Group International’s Rising Star Award for womenswear–an honor previously won by fashion heavy hitters like Joseph Altuzzara and Michelle Obama’s other go-to guy, Jason Wu. We were lucky enough to grab a few minutes to chat with the designer, who–between attending fittings for her fall ’13 presentation next week and being a full-time mom–is at an all time life and career high.
Read on for the designer’s insights on motherhood, manufacturing locally, and how her own naivety got her where she is today.
First and foremost, congratulations on your FGI Rising Star Award! Were you totally blown away?
Thank you! I am blown away, I was so surprised. Very pleasantly surprised! I just think didn’t ever think it would ever come so quick.
It’s pretty impressive–last season was the first season that you showed your collection! That’s incredible.
It’s very flattering, I must say.
So let’s back up for just a minute. You started out at Parsons. How would you explain your path from being a design student to what was your career game changer, being creative director at Ports 1961?
It really was baby steps. It took a long time to get to the level that I’m experiencing now, I actually decided to take a break from school at first. So I actually didn’t finish my program, and instead, I moved to China to intern. It was only supposed to be a six-month gig… that turned into 3 years.
So you literally just packed up and moved to China?
I packed up and moved to China! You know what it was? Youth and naive-ness was a blessing, I think. If I hadn’t been to China, and someone told me now to get up and move to China, I would think long and hard about it! But being young and totally uninhibited, I was like, “ok!” It was great, though. I’m so glad I did it. It’s been a wealth of knowledge and experience that’s made me who I am today. It went from six months to three years to five years to ten years, and then after ten years, I decided, ‘I think I’ve been living away from home for long enough, and I decided to go back to the West–I longed to be back in New York–that’s when I launched Ports 1961. So I was working for the company in China, and they had a different division that I was then the creative director of, and then I proposed to the CEO at the time a move back to the United States and a relaunching of the brand–and there you have it!
While you at Ports, you were working with your sister Fiona. How was it working with family? Did it make things more difficult, or did you find it easier because you both shared an upbringing?
For the most part, it was easier, in that we know each other so well; we actually balance each other really well. She has a really sharp eye for quality and merchandizing, and she kind of keeps me in check in that way. And I like to kind of experiment, and it was a really nice balance between the two of us. So yes, it was a positive collaboration.
You’ve moved around in your career, in your life. You were born in North Africa, then you lived in Canada, China, now New York. How do you feel that moving around so much has influenced you as a designer?
I think it adds all the interesting layers that emerge in my work subconsciously and I think that the world in which we live today is much more connected, it’s more of a global village, and I think people appreciate that.So having all that color and different interests play a part in my creative process.
So in 2010, you left Ports 1961 to start a family. How would you say the balance has been between having a baby and a career? Was it hard going back to work, or was it a natural fit?
I find some aspects of it challenging. The thing about it is, I started this new project as I was pregnant. I didn’t even take a break to have my baby and go back to work. I sort of had my baby and 5 days later, I was in the office working! Luckily my office was in my home, and I could see my baby throughout the day and so for the first six months of the project I worked out of my home, and my team would come and work with me and we’d just set up shop in my living room. So that was ideal. I can imagine for another woman, if she only had six weeks maternity leave and then leave her six-week-old baby at home when she has to go back to work, I think it would be really tough. Really, I didn’t get to experience that, but now I’ve moved to an office space that is only ten blocks away from home, but leaving my baby in the morning, it’s really hard! She’s seven-months-old, and she said “mama” two days ago and it melted my heart.
As a designer who’s had such an international career, why is it so important to you that all your current designs are produced entirely in New York?
I think New York has a very lively garment industry and I want to be a part of it. It’s new to me. I never did produce in New York before and part of my thoughts were that I’d like to stay put in one place and not be traveling to Asia and having long trips away from home. So part of it was a kind of personal and selfish pursuit, and then when I started to meet people and discover the treasures that New York has to offer, I felt like I really would like to contribute to this and be a part of it and help it to thrive and grow.
Your design aesthetic focuses a lot on pieces that can easily transition from day to night. Why do you think that’s important for the modern woman, rather than in the past when clothes had a more clear-cut purpose?
I do think it is a reflection of the times, I think that the lines are blurred between what is daywear and what is eveningwear. I think people want to feel special at any hour of the day and putting on a pleated lamé skirt with a chunky hand-knit sweater can be very cool and day and it could translate into an evening outfit! I think it’s just about special daywear rather than it being very clearly daywear, very clearly eveningwear.
Can you give us any hints on what we can expect to see in your next collection?
Hmm… pleated lamé skirts! (laughs) I did a lot of pleating… I discovered this amazing artisan here in New York; I don’t even want to share the source ’cause I want to keep him a secret! He is so incredible and he did a lot of pleating for me, so I’m all over the pleats.
I’m wearing a pleated skirt right now actually!
Me too! (laughs) I’m not even joking! That’s so funny.