No one ever said starting your own fashion line was easy. Just ask 24-year-old Filipino-American womenswear designer, Ryan Jordan. Lada Gaga scooped up a few pieces of Jordan’s senior thesis collection from Parson and now he’s working on his first collection–which he presents tonight. But it’s not as simple as that. Getting a few pieces worn by Lady Gaga does not an overnight success make. Jordan’s learned that the hard way.
We spoke to the NYFW newbie as he prepped for his first-ever show.
How did you know you wanted to become a fashion designer?
Since I was 14, I knew it was the only thing I wanted to do. I grew up during the time that Tom Ford was the creative director for Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci and that really inspired me.
What were some of the steps you took to learn the trade?
I was in eighth grade and did some research to find out where Tom Ford trained and learned he went to school in New York at a place called Parsons. I wasn’t so much an academic in school so, I put most of my effort into learning about art and design. I started with a course at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, which is where I’m from, beginning my freshman year of high school. By my junior year, I had attended a Parsons pre-college program that gave me a good basis for my portfolio. I applied my senior year and went to all of the admissions days and finally got into Parsons’ foundation program the following fall semester. It was a dream come true. By the time I started college, I had already done six fashion shows on my own, repurposing vintage clothing that I had found around the Bay… I was always working on something. None of it was paid, but it all helped me learn.
Being at Parsons also gave me the opportunity to intern. I interned for V and for Prabal Gurung and Yigal Azrouël. Beginning of senior year, I got an internship at Tom Ford. Everything was coming together.
When you graduated, how did you go about finding a job?
At this point, I’m finished with school and not finding any design jobs due to the recession. A month or two after graduating, out of the blue, I get an email from an assistant of Nicola Formichetti, asking to see pieces from my thesis collection to be considered for Lady Gaga. I go to his apartment, taking with me each and every piece, and I literally drop it in their lap. I don’t know how they found me, but it seemed like fate. I didn’t know if any of it would fit her or go with what she’d be doing at the time, but I took my chances and left it with them. I look online a few weeks later and see Gaga in two of my pieces! It was mind-blowing. From looking for a job to no avail to this? Things happen, I guess, but it didn’t last for long. I requested an interview with Nicola himself and begged him to let me design pieces for any project he had. It was around the time of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way press tour and she wore some pieces I did which was incredible. I went on to design a look for Gaga’s MAC Viva Glam campaign.
What was it like designing for Nicola Formichetti?
When he interviewed me, he looked at my portfolio and thought I should go out on my own, but I told him I wasn’t ready. He allowed me to sell my items at his pop-up shop and freelance design for him for special projects like his video game and Mugler video. I had just moved to Brooklyn and was living with a few friends and would use the space as my studio to create these one-offs. Much of it was very last minute. I recall one time Nicola calling me asking for three garments for his Mugler line due the next morning. I was literally about to get on a plane to go back home and had to webcam with my pattern maker all night. Long story short, we did it. That’s the thing about fashion: You do what you have to do and in the end, if it works, it works.
After your stint with Nicola, what did you do?
I was tip-toeing around the idea of starting my own line. I was in limbo and became a mess. I got very depressed because working for Nicola and seeing my stuff on Gaga and in MAC ads, it was very surreal, and then suddenly, it was like I had dropped off the face of the earth…and to no fault of Nicola’s, Gaga was taking a break at the time. It was just very hard to go from a high to a low just like that. I ended up moving back home for awhile, which was one of the best decisions I’ve made because it helped me realize things. I am very close with my family and they helped me rejuvenate. I volunteered to help teach underprivileged kids about fashion and that also really helped me realize I needed to go out on my own and start my line to show these kids that they could, too. From that day forward, I started working on a business plan and defining my customer. It was a grounding experience and at the same time, being around my family, especially my mother and grandmother, it helped me to create my “woman.”
How does a young designer without a job go about finding backing for their own line?
I’m not going to say it’s not tough. None of it is easy–and it shouldn’t be. I always resented the kids at Parsons whose parents would back them. That’s not the reality for most. I have ambition, I have integrity. I think a lot of why I’m here today is due to the fact that I came out so early. I came out as gay when I was 13. I got that out of the way, I found support, and sort of moved on with my life the way that a lot of people that grapple with such stuff into their college years don’t.
I contacted friends I knew went to business school, and they helped me along with the plan. And honestly, it’s still a work in progress, but it was a start. We went to Silicon Valley and rallied investors to get enough cash for the first season. A lot of it happened from word of mouth and just showing what I had done.
When did you return to New York?
I actually moved to Bogota, Colombia, for two months to figure out production, especially for leather, before heading back to the city this year. That helped a lot because I got to touch and feel what went into my garments. Moving back, I found pattern makers and tailors in Manhattan that were very much in with the artisans in Colombia. I made my samples here, after sourcing much of it in Bogota, developing flats there, and using the garment district to bring them to life.
We’re speaking a day before your debut presentation. How long did it take for you to create the collection from concept to garment?
From sketch to execution, about a year. I always over-prepare so that I have time if anything gets messed up. One of the collection’s jackets took three prototypes before getting to the final–which is a lot, but it’s my first go, so I know to leave room for mistakes.
Did you do all the casting, makeup/hair, styling, and press by yourself?
Luckily with the investors that I have, I am able to reach out to others for help with such things. I’m there for all of it, though. One of the things I wanted was a good amount of minority models. I’m a minority myself, so it was important to me. Makeup and hair, I reached out to sponsors and a lot of the press is done by me.
What are you feeling right now a day before your debut? Ultimately, what results would you like to see from your first showing?
I’m excited, I wouldn’t say nervous. I’m just freaking out because I have my mother coming to see it and I haven’t shown my family any of it, so it will be a big surprise. Ultimately, I would love to get into stores I admire like FiveStory and build my brand from there. I’m just happy I’ve gotten this far.
Any advice for aspiring designers wanting to make it on their own?
Nothing in fashion is easy, but if you work hard and stay strong, you’ll overcome and make the obstacles learning experiences.