Susan Standen's line of luxury scarves started simply enough: Her husband loved to buy vintage scarves from a place called Drakes in London, but they were becoming increasingly difficult to find. So Standen decided to make him a few of his beloved scarves by hand for a Christmas gift.
That might have been the end of the story -- if Standen's husband hadn't happened to be Dirk Standen, the editor in chief of Style.com. When Dirk started wearing his wife's handiwork around town, people paid attention -- major people, like Tom Kalenderian of Barneys New York and Sarah Andelman of Colette in Paris.
"We took notice of Susan Standen's silk scarves when they started showing up on the necks of dapper men's editors all over Europe," Kalenderian told us through email. "I was immediately attracted to these scarves, as they brought back memories of the fabulous mufflers you'd only find in London scouring the haberdashers of Jermyn Street or the Burlington Arcade."
So Standen quickly turned her hobby into a business. "[Barneys] contacted me and asked if I wanted to go and see them, so I basically whipped up a men’s scarf collection," she explains. "And then when I went to Paris, I took the same collection and met with the woman from Colette and she loved them. That’s kind of how it started."
Standen's scarves are now sold in both places, retailing for $300 to $700 per scarf.
While Dirk may have brought attention to Susan's scarves initially, it was her passion for the work that attracted stores like Colette. And the handmade, one-of-a-kind quality sets her line apart in a world bursting with fast fashion.
"At Colette, we love 'focus collections,' when the designer creates something new and special and concentrates," Andelman told me via email. "That's what Susan is doing, and I love the fact she started first for her husband Dirk. It made sense it should be for more people."
Standen, who studied fabrics and textiles in school, selects the prints and fabrics from mills in Italy, sometimes buying out entire stock. (Barneys' Kalenderian called them "silks fit for a king.") "To me, it's more about making something really nice, something that would appeal to me," she says. "This is a small business, but I love it because they’re all limited editions and I only make the scarves if I really find a pattern and a fabric that I really love, you know? It speaks to me."
And even though her business has grown exponentially in a short span -- she's only been doing this for three years -- every one of her scarves is still made by hand. Standen was able to find women who worked in the sample sewing business to help her with the work, especially the crucial hand-fringing. "For me, what’s important is keeping it very hands-on, and we need these businesses in America," she insists. "We don’t make things anymore and it's a problem."
"It’s not so difficult to learn how to do these things," she adds (fashion students: take note!).
And while Standen built her business on men's scarves, she's branching out into women's scarves for the first time. She was inspired to offer a women's line after seeing stylish women pairing her men's scarves with their own clothes. But one thing has remained constant: Standen designs her scarves to be timeless -- not to grab attention for just one season.
"Sometimes I think that myself and most of my friends, we've been wearing the same types of clothes for a long time," Standen says with a laugh. "You know, we're not street style people wandering around in crazy digital prints and colors. It’s more about refusal to do things that are too trendy -- it’s just about owning things that are more important than that."
She's most attracted to '70s-era style, referencing several classic style icons of the time, like Debbie Harry and Faye Dunaway. For Standen, capturing the vintage feel of her husband's beloved scarves is essential. "Even down to my little label and everything, it’s very important to me that it's very vintage-looking and authentic, and that it has a definite New York look to it, because I love old New York."
Standen's first lookbook for women, shot by friend Alexis Dahan, matches that '70s tone. Standen handpicked model Camille Rowe for her "Julie Christie" vibe. "The hard part of it was finding models that had the looks that I wanted," she confesses.
"I wanted somebody that looks like -- well, of course she’s beautiful, but had that look of an old movie star, that had character," Standen explains. "I didn't want her overly done, just looking like a really cool girl."
Standen's enthusiasm is contagious. "You really can transform your look with a scarf," she insists while giving me advice on how to work one into my own wardrobe. And her handmade, luxurious scarves are perfectly in step with the current trend of buying timeless, high-quality items.
Check out her lookbook here. Susan Standen scarves are available at Barneys New York and Colette.