Laura Cramer and Starr Hout launched Apiece Apart in 2008 with the idea to create a simplified wardrobe. While the best friends always loved fashion and lusted after Pheobe Philo designs and vintage treasures, they found the constraints of time and money made it hard to find the pieces that they really desired. Then, while day dreaming the hours away on a road trip through West Texas, Laura turned to Starr and said ‘wouldn’t it be amazing if you just had a few things you could pack in a bag and you could take anywhere?’ Apiece Apart was born.
The two women were already deep into in their own careers—Laura lived in Austin working as a buyer, and Starr was based in New York working in styling and design. But they made time for Apiece Apart, working around their jobs to hone in on the label, which focuses as much on the branding and greater idea as the actual designs.
Now Apiece Apart is their full-time gig, all designed and produced in New York (Laura has since relocated). While chatting in their sun drenched SoHo showroom, it’s easy to see how organically Starr and Laura work together. Whether they're discussing Georgia O'Keeffe (their muse) or Japanese architecture, they listen closely and build on what the other says. The result of their very collaborative and conceptual design process hangs on racks all around the room, and since launching e-commerce just last week much of it is set to send out to customers. Before trying on nearly all of their spring collection (I decided on the prettiest white crop top), I sat with the designers to learn how they built their beautiful brand.
Were you two always into fashion? Starr Hout: I would say that fashion has always been our hobby, since we were young. Laura Cramer: I recently found this notebook from when I was five or six where I had sketched out a whole collection of clothes including prices! SH: I had 42 Barbie dolls that I would dress incessantly...
So did you pursue fashion as a career? LC: Both of us come from a very interdisciplinary background. We met back in 1999 at NYU undergrad at the Galatin program. Starr was doing art history, and I was doing design and theory. We both grew up loving fashion and designed our own stuff, but we had both taken a liberal arts path. We met and had an instant kismet of ideas and inspiration, but it took us until 2008 to do something together! SH: We used to fax each other drawings, always having pow-wows about fashion and our inspiration, but we were at the same time really focused on our careers. So what happened in 2008 that led to launching the label? SH: That was the year of our 30th birthdays, which happen to be a day apart. We did a road trip to Marfa with our boyfriends at the time, now our husbands. We were in a gigantic ‘85 Benz with beautiful leather seats, the dog in the middle, and just driving out to West Texas. It was the stuff of story making! Laura had this idea there like, ‘wouldn’t it be amazing if you just had a few things you could pack in a bag and you could take anywhere?’ We were both ready for something new.
What happened next? LC: I had gotten to a point where I was just sick of what I was seeing. As a buyer, I’d walk into stores and everything had a zipper or a bow and just felt fussy. The well-made vintage pieces that maintained their aura was the stuff I ended up holding onto. I wanted to start my own label, but even when I told Starr my idea in Texas I didn’t think it was a reality. The next day when she got back to New York she called and said let’s do it! Then we started really getting the idea together.
How did you decide on the name? LC: It was another example of our beautiful collaboration. I recently found the emails we sent back and forth about the name, and it was very organic and easy. SH: Apiece Apart, a piece of your wardrobe, a part of your life... When did it become your full-time jobs? LC: We both worked for the first four years. We worked a lot of nights and flew back and forth to visit eachother. It is such a hard business, and we were financing it ourselves. Banks aren’t ready to invest in a small fashion line. We were investing our own money, and as orders doubled so did the expenses. At the end of 2011 we took time off to really investigate our business plan and put together a team to support the growth. SH: We took time to analyze what we were really doing, and how we can retain a difference in our product from things that are already out there.
What is that difference? What is the ethos of the brand? LC: We always say elevated basics. We are committed to the concept of simplicity. Clean clothing for women so that they are wearing the clothes; they don’t wear them. The challenge is maintaining our point of view in the middle of all the changes in the market place. SH: It's about a simplified wardrobe to help with your life. Our woman is active, busy, with a lot going on. We aren’t interested in giving her the It dress of the season. We give you a tabula rasa- the building blocks for your wardrobe. There’s a Da Vinci quote we love, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” At the same time, we read Gentlewoman, we love fashion!
Do you follow the fashion world closely? LC: I think we come from more of a lifestyle place. We are more interested in architecture and art and color theory, less than the cut of a dress. Of course we appreciate interesting women wearing clothes well; it’s beautiful. SH: It’s never fashion for fashion’s sake.
What’s your starting point for a new collection? SH: We start with a lot of pictures. We’re not looking at fashion trends as a way to dictate the collections. What we make is genuinely what we want to wear. LC: Since I lived in Austin in the beginning, we got used to communicating from afar. It was a lot of shorthand, quick emails with images. The one that stick go to the top! It usually starts with a place.
Tell me about the inspiration for spring/summer ’13. LC: Japan and Scandinavia was the start, not so much wanting to travel there but the concepts. SH: We have the inspiration images, and we can make boards, but there is always something that hooks us. For this collection it was the Japanese tearoom and the Norwegian sauna. We found that Scandinavian modernism was really similar to Japanese design, and it totally fit with our clothing. It comes through in the shapes and the details, raw edges, folding, origami, and the colors
What is the design production process like? SH: We both draw, which is helpful. It’s like a flower that blossoms. The collection really develops on its own through the premise we created. Laura does the prints herself. What women inspire you? LC: We have a joke that every season Georgia O’Keeffe is our muse. Even the desks in here are inspired from her Abiquiu home! She was a pioneer with a strong sense of self and how she wanted to project herself to the world. That combo of femininity and masculinity is something we are always thinking about. SH: And our moms are huge inspiration too. My mom takes care of horses all day and dresses utilitarian with a long braid and Hunter boots. Laura’s mom is in Texas with lots of color and celebration.
Are you guys interested in collaborations? SH: There is really exciting stuff on the table!
Any fun plans you can share? SH: We just launched e-commerce, which is huge! Our entire life as a business has been wholesale and personal sales, and now it is so gratifying seeing who is buying what. LC: We’ve gotten such great feedback so far!
Shop Apiece Apart online now.