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Life With I Love Factory!

There's no denying the millinery world's sudden hold on fashion, as well as broader pop culture. From Mad Men to Gaga, hats and headpieces are everywhere. I feel like we're constantly finding new milliners we like, new headpiece concepts we're intrigued by, and new ideas about how to incorporate them into our wardrobes. That's why I was so excited to spend some time with Brooklyn-based millinery I Love Factory. Duo Christopher Garbushian and Laurel St. Romain have designed hats for a ton of celebrities (including the aforementioned Lady) over the last two years. They've also received plenty of editorial attention, from Japanese Nylon to Teen Vogue to Tavi, who wore their cone hat in Pop. I Love Factory's pieces have even appeared on Gossip Girl.

There's no denying the millinery world's sudden hold on fashion, as well as broader pop culture. From Mad Men to Gaga, hats and headpieces are everywhere. I feel like we're constantly finding new milliners we like, new headpiece concepts we're intrigued by, and new ideas about how to incorporate them into our wardrobes.

That's why I was so excited to spend some time with Brooklyn-based millinery I Love Factory. Duo Christopher Garbushian and Laurel St. Romain have designed hats for a ton of celebrities (including the aforementioned Lady) over the last two years. They've also received plenty of editorial attention, from Japanese Nylon to Teen Vogue to Tavi, who wore their cone hat in Pop. I Love Factory's pieces have even appeared on Gossip Girl.

Garbushian and St. Romain live in this magical apartment/work studio in the Ditmas Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. They call this space the Tree House, and as you can see from the images, it's a pretty spot-on descriptor. Living and working in one spot is pretty difficult, but Garbushian and St. Romain have managed to be roommates and business partners by creating a space that's open and inspiring.

From the framed still of the tights and shoes Proenza Schouler's Fall 2008 runway to Grey Gardens-inspired paintings created by their ex-intern, Scummy, it's a wonderland for hat makers, that's for sure.

(PS, my questions are bolded, Laurel's answers are in plain Roman style, and Chris' answers are italicized.)

Fashionista: First of all, this is really yummy, with the blueberries… Laurel: I love blueberries and champagne, or strawberries and champagne.

It's really good… let's start with how you guys met. Chris: We met through mutual friends, actually. I was on tour at the time and I came home for…

Fashionista: What were you on tour for? Chris: I was working on event marketing promotional marketing and I was traveling around the U.S. So I was in New York only for like a couple of weeks at a time and one of the times that I came home, Laurel had just recently moved here to New York and she was hanging out with a group of people that I knew and she knew them from Texas. I knew them from other friends. And that's kind of how we met. We met through them pretty much. We got introduced and we were kind of like friends instantly. Laurel: We made out the first time we met. I think we did. We could never do that now, though. Yeah, I mean, now we don't do that… We were both crazy. At the time, that we met, I was like a crazy party kid.

How old were you, like 21? No, no, this was maybe like three years ago. It was kinda recently. That's so crazy. I thought you'd known each other for like ten years. We met a little before, but you [to Chris] left in between. So it was like I knew you, and you knew me, but we didn't get to hang out until you came back. And for the first year, it was only when I was back that we'd see each other. But yeah, that's how we met.

And how long was it before you guys decided to do something together? I knew that she was really creative, and I'd seen a lot of stuff she'd done when she was living in Austin. And I really liked it, and I wanted to do my own thing. We had talked about it for a while. We were in a Bob Dylan concert in August of 2008. And maybe it was Bob Dylan; we just wanted to do something.

Did you make out after that? (Laughing) No, we'd already stopped by then. That was only in the beginning. Let's see…When that happened, it was the end of 2006, when we first met, and by the time we'd figured out we wanted to start I Love Factory, that was the Bob Dylan concert in the summer of 2008. So that was a ways after.

Chris, you collected hats growing up. Laurel, did you collect hats as well? I didn't. I had no interest in hats whatsoever. Until recently. What'd you want to do before that? Were you a designer, or…? I originally wanted to do interior design. I always loved that.

I can see that, from this place. Yeah. I love that. I wanted to do more than decorating even, just interiors like the actual set-up of interiors…like, where's the kitchen going to go, where's the bathroom going to go. I don't know, I kind of got sidetracked by aesthetic things. And I did want to do clothing design, but I feel like a lot of people are doing that right now. If I was going to do it, I wanted it to be something really special. But I just don't really feel there's a market for it right now.

And Chris, did you always want to do hats? I can honestly say that yes, I was always collecting hats since I was really young, but I never had any idea that you could become someone who made hats. The word wasn't even in my vocabulary yet. I really had no idea.

Tell me the story of how you came up with the name I Love Factory. We were sitting on this couch, but at the time it was facing this way and the TV was over here— Which was the worst setup. …And she had kind of just moved in, pretty much. And after we went to that Bob Dylan concert, we were like, “We're going to start something. We're going to start doing headpieces and hats, we're going to start making things.” Because we made them just for fun, just to go with my outfits when we would go out. Like, a big giant heart, or just something stupid. We were like, “Let's do that, but let's do it right.” We need a name, we have to have a name, and we couldn't think of anything. We were naming, like, cruise ships. Like one of the names we thought of was “Purple Majesty.”

That's amazing. Yeah, for a cruise ship!

Or like Purple Unicorn or something. Ooh, I like that one.

Maybe your shoe collection could be called that. We were sitting on this couch, and Laurel had just found out from Kid Robot that she'd be able to work with one of the factories local that could do our labels, just like the little I Love Factory labels that we could sew onto everything. And I was just being myself, being stupid, and I said “I love factories…” And she was instantly like, “THAT'S the name. That's what the name has to be. It's gonna be I Love Factory.” And at first I was almost a little like, “Oh, really? Um, alright…” Like I wasn't totally onto it, but after that she designed our logo for us, and after I saw a logo, I was like, “Oh, I like it.” And it's funny because, there is no factory. Like, we are the factory.

You are the factory. And that's why I love it. I Love Factory. But I remember when I was at work with [my friend] Hannah and I was like, “Your friends are in Teen Vogue!” That was really quick, right? When did you start getting press? We launched in October with Womens Wear Daily in 2008, and Teen Vogue interviewed us for their blog the following February, February 2009, and we were in the September issue of Teen Vogue. That was our very first editorial placement.

How did WWD come about? How did they find you? A friend of ours was working in PR and she was really excited about what we were doing, and she was like “Oh, I have a contact at WWD, let me send pictures of your stuff to them and see what she says. You never know.” We didn't really take it too seriously because we didn't know what her affiliation was with this person, and she ended up emailing the woman and the woman got really excited about them… and these were like initial pictures too. These were like, mock-ups. The editor she spoke to was Caroline Tell. I think she's the head of accessories there.

And from there on… can you talk about your rise to the top? I went to school-- I majored in PR and marketing, and as soon as I saw what we were doing, I thought “Wow, this could be really interesting,” And we were really getting out there and talking to people about it. And coming out of WWD, DailyCandy [wrote] about it on their website, and then it was on Gossip Girl, and then New York Magazine. It was just one thing after another and another. And we were like, “Wow, we could really run with this and see where we go.” And I started reaching out to people I knew from the industry because I styled for a while, and they were really receptive to it, and we just started meeting more people. And once we started talking about it and getting it out there, people were really interested in it.

Do you feel like styling is a big part of what you do in terms of creating the hats? Because it seems like you both have a stylist's eye. And that's interesting to me, because not all designers do. Do you feel like that's a big part of creating the hats, that you're creating a persona for each hat?

I think more so in the photoshoots. I feel that in the design, to me, it's more about the cohesiveness, and how does it translate from one collection to the next? Like, can you tell it's the same brand but not the same product? And that's really important to me, and all the designers I love keep that aesthetic. Like one of my favorites is Miu Miu, and I love that it's always so different, but you can always tell it's Miu Miu. And same with Prada.

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You guys should do hats for Miu Miu. Oh my god. I don't think I could even do it. I'd die. I'd just drop dead.

Seriously, they'd be so cute. That's one of Laurel's favorites.

So I know you have a million things on your plate, but what's a typical day like? We have to make coffee. Café Bucello. That's the coffee of choice of the factory. I make it really strong, because I like my coffee black. But we start kind of early—unless we have something really pressing we have to do, we'll wake up at eight—but normally we'll wake up around nine and start working on things. I automatically get up and the first thing I do is go through all my emails I have from the day before or the morning and answer everything and forward everything on to Laurel. We look at our calendars and see what's coming up and who we have to meet with. If it's like yesterday, which was a typical I Love Factory day— We don't speak. …We don't speak at all. It's like we're not even here together. She's upstairs, I'm contacting people about venues… And I'm upstairs sewing, listening to Nirvana or something. I'm sweatshopping upstairs. And he'll come upstairs like, “What? You weren't even making noise!” Like, “You just finished all those?!” But overall a typical day would be us waking up, having coffee, talking about what we have to get done for the day… we have like a little meeting or we walk outside over to the coffee shop and talk about it. And then we'll come back and Laurel will be upstairs working on the order for Korea and I'm down here figuring out how we're going to do the invite for the party and who's going to be there, and all the logistics. I work really closely with the people who throw all our events, a group called We Came In Peace. They do our party every year. They do our events, and they're also working with our friends The 2010 right now. They're really high-concept, and it's always scary to work with them, but in the end you're really happy you trusted them. They're really just above. I have a really hard time explaining my aesthetic and my concept to anybody, and especially when no one's seen it except Chris, so I just put together this random assortment of pictures and they just look at it and they get it. They just totally get it without me having to say anything; they say it better than I could ever say it.

That's awesome. We should interview them! They'd be interesting to interview. Kim's totally a character.

Were you friends with them before or did you meet them through this? I knew them both from Austin. We all went to school together.

I feel like everybody I know from Texas is part of a tight-knit community. Do you feel that's true here? Like, when you meet someone from Austin, it's like “Oh, my people!” And it's all connected? I do definitely feel like it's all connected. I don't know if I feel like necessarily they're all my people, but a lot of them are. And they come and go. Some of them really are like family. And then they go.

It does seem like people move back in forth between here and Austin a lot. It's interesting. And I lived in Austin for seven years so a lot of people I met there are really close. But there are a lot of people that come from Austin and if I didn't know them when I lived there I don't feel like that. I'm not the type of person that is like “you're from the same place as me so I'm bonded to you!” but if I knew them while I was there, there's definitely nostalgia.

There's just something about people from Texas. I notice it too. It's a lovey state. Especially Austin. Chris went to Austin, and he never wanted to leave. Even when it's hot it's really nice and there are bodies of water you can jump into… And the style is really relaxed and you can be crazy. We used to go to college in polka-dot knee-highs and green apple backpacks and crazy outfits. And nobody really cares, everyone's just like, “Oh, another Austinite!” Keep Austin weird! You can do whatever you want. I do love that slogan.

So when you guys are putting together your collection each season, do you go from a hat or one specific thing? Or is it different every season? It's always different. For the most recent example, the one we're working on now to be shown in September (so it's Spring 2011), my main thing I had in mind is we always did black and white. And everyone's constructive criticism was “Can you do anything else?” So I was really driven not to use black or white, so I didn't use either. At all. Just a little bit of white lace. That was my main thing, so I had the challenge of doing no black and white, and I wanted to use completely different materials so I chose to use all leather, and I'd never done that before. I wanted it to be really different but as I said earlier, keeping the same aesthetic we'd had for the past three collections. And it was a challenge. But that's kind of where I started for this collection.

How do you guys feel about not having a millinery background? Do you think it really matters that you didn't go to school to learn how to make hats? If you could go back would you want to do that? No…I didn't even get a degree in design. I had a bachelors of science in textiles and apparel, all the explosive properties— Like how fabric burns. --I wanted to know something else. I feel like so many people go to this fashion school and this fashion school, and everybody thinks they're going to be like Karl Lagerfeld when they come out. And I just wanted something that was going to make me different and stand out more. And I think that background gave me more knowledge, where it wasn't just design. And I think that extends over to millinery. And I know how steam is going to affect each fabric. And I know if this fabric sews to this fabric, and which thread to use with this one. And with millinery, I definitely don't know everything. There's a million things I don't know. I mean, I couldn't make a fedora if you paid me…

What fun stuff do you do that has nothing to do with hats or fashion? That has nothing to do with fashion? That's hard, because a lot of the crazy stuff we do is us getting, like, dressed up in ridiculous outfits and going to the lighthouse.

Wait, what? Oh, we have to talk about this. We should show the video. We're going to have to show you this house. This house is in New Durham, New York. It looks like the Beetlejuice house. It's about three and a half hours north of here. It's our friend Steve's house, the one I was telling you about who lives in the Chelsea Hotel. He's older than we are. He's a producer. Do you remember the Mary J. Blige music video, “Everything”? Where she's on the beaches, in Hawaii? He directed that. He's directed a lot of her videos, actually, in the late nineties. If I was an older gay man, I would be Steve. Laurel would be Steve. Really. We have the same aesthetic. If this house was my house… His is a little more boy, a little more dusty. I'm like a sucker for these sorts of things. His house was built in 1850. It's a civil-war era mansion. It was used as a Scandinavian girl's boarding house from like 1876-1912. There's this magic. I know you said you don't believe in ghosts, but this house is haunted. It's haunted, Lauren. It's so haunted. Laurel went out one night to try to take pictures while the rest of us were sleeping, and it's so big you can all have your own bedrooms… And whenever you get there they assign you a bedroom and in your bedroom is the costume you have to put on. I had to wear a green dress with yellow flowers all over it. I don't wear dresses. I am so not this kind of gay.

How do I get an invite to this house? I'd never gone before. He'd never gone before, and yet he knows all this history. I've been and I don't know what I'm talking about right now. All the previous owners left articles behind, or pictures. And it's called The White House, because the Scandinavian architect who built it on this hill built a yellow house, a red house, and a white house. And the only one left standing at the top of the hill is the white house. And you should see the sun rise every morning. Oh, it's so beautiful. In his formal dining room he makes everyone who sleeps the night there pain their own picture of the house. So there's a room full of people's interpretations of the house. So pretty much the whole time…Well, I know this has to do with fashion so let's cut to it…but the whole time we were there we were dressed in these crazy outfits… Laurel had a wig on the whole time we were there that she wouldn't take off… The entire time. A white Martha Washington wig. I went swimming in it. I was wearing like a man-skirt, a sweater I turned into a man-skirt, with a white wreath around my head… I looked like a tree nymph… We all had these characters we'd become and we didn't even plan on doing it. Just the magic of the house and Steve's energy overtakes you, and you just start acting like this person. We had one straight guy with us…and by the last day— We got him in a dress and heels. And he's a music boy. Like, hip-hop. He's not the type to do this.

You have a really interesting, exciting life. Sometimes I don't feel like that. But I guess it is.

You've made it really cool. You've created this world. We definitely have. We say this to each other all the time. We're both big kids, and we want to live in this dream world. And obviously you can't always do that.

And you're obviously very hard workers. So it's like you work hard, and then you have this fantasy world apart. And I feel like I Love Factory is a direct product of this dream world. You put the hats on, and you're part of it. It feels like a dream world.

Do you ever clash? When we started, it was like that. We clashed. We definitely clashed. When we first started, we didn't really know what we were getting into, so there were no rules. We were both making stuff at that point. We were both sitting up all night creating things. But as things progressed, we really found what we feel comfortable in and what we do best. I cannot go out there and… I can go out and wear a hat, but that's as much as I'm going to promote I Love Factory. It's not in my DNA to go out there and be like, “I have a brand.” That's so not me. That's him. I could never do that. I'm not good at pitching to people. It's not me at all. I want to be in a 1920's slip with my unwashed hair, sewing to Nirvana. And once we started clashing there, we saw we needed to give ourselves roles to stop the clashing. It was mainly the first collection. We didn't really know what we were getting ourselves into, we just knew we wanted to start something, and we went out together and picked out all the same things. And immediately in that initial going out to pick out fabric and trims, we were agreeing on everything. If she looked at something, I liked it. If I looked at something, she liked it. And it was like, “Okay, this can work.” We came home and laid everything out, and we had to create like 10-12 samples for Gossip Girl, and we'd already done three pieces, but we hadn't really created a full collection yet. So we went out and got a lot of the same trims we'd created those three pieces with. And we stayed up for a few nights, all night long. Laurel was working full-time at this point; I was just styling so I worked sporadically. And we'd stay up all night, and she'd be making something and I'd be making something, and we'd show each other and it was like, “Okay, that's cool, let's do it. That fits, this works, because they're all the same trims.” But Laurel has more of that aesthetic eye as a designer to make things cohesive that I don't really have, and I get almost more overwhelmed and frustrated when it comes to keeping everything the same. I kind of just want to make things. I don't necessarily want to have to be within these limits. She's really good. She has the concentration and patience for that. And I more have the ability to go out and talk to everyone, like, “Hey, how are you? I have this design.” After the first collection we figured it out.

Do you have interns that help you or anything? Does that mean you're doing all the construction>? A lot of it, yeah, but for this last order, probably 90%. But I usually do and it's just because I do it faster. It's just faster for me, and it's hard for me to have interns, because I'm the type of person who makes something, and he'll ask me how I made it, and I'll be like, “I have no fucking idea.” I'm sure I could make it again, I can't tell you how, I just have to be in the mode. And he can help me do things—like we don't want to put anything on a headband that's just elastic, or leather. We wrap it all in satin. And he helps me with a lot of things like that. Eventually we do want to get interns, it would be helpful, but we want to have our studio first. We used to borrow that guy [Scummy] as our intern, because he was Kim and Andrew's intern…they have the best interns. Their last intern was literally a mail-order bride. She was on Oprah over the summer. That was our intern. But Scummy made all these masks for us… I just went to Bensoni's studio last week, and Sonya still has her mask on her desk at their studio. That's who our order is for. They're opening a boutique in Korea. They're going to be selling I Love Factory at the boutique. Their stuff is so nice. They're so sweet. We want to work with them again.

What are you doing for fashion week this year? We're actually looking for a gallery space. We want to do something similar to last year, but not that dark and crazy. For spring we want it to be lighter, and when you see the collection it'll make more sense.

Thank you so much for doing this! Thank you for coming!

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