Katie Ermilio is one of our favorite up-and-coming designers. Her clothes are so feminine, elegant and special, but also wearable and versatile. Katie was born into a family of clothiers, but refers to herself as an "accidental designer," as she grew what she calls a "little hobby passion project" of making made-to-order pieces for private clients into a full-fledged career.
In just a few years she's gone from a Vogue intern to having her own clothing line and now, at 25, she's getting ready for her second-ever fashion week presentation (which Andrew Mukamal is styling). Yesterday, we stopped by her model casting to chat about fashion week prep, designing wedding dresses while still in college, and what's in store for spring 2012.
What do you look for in a model? I don’t go into it with any sort of idea on the exact girl that I want. I just sort of choose based on who I respond to in the casting. Obviously, they have to be around the sample size that we make so they’ll fit the sample and it’s always nice to keep them about the same hight, so you have a cohesiveness. Just a girl that has a little something extra and I also love a good personality, someone who’s fun to work with and is laughing and bubbly. That always makes the experience so much more fun.
Can you tell us a little bit about what's in store for Spring 2012? It's still coming together at this point. We won’t be entirely ready until...three months after the show. [laughs] It's bright--there's a lot of color once again and it has a little bit of a sportier feel than last season. My sort of tagline for it is that everything has a minimalistic base with like femininity layered on top of it and once you see the clothes, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Starting out with a very simple sheath with very hard angles and a racerback and then doing like huge draped panel on top or something like that.
Also, I’m doing knits this season! I’m so excited, I live in cashmere sweaters. I used to steal them from my dad all the time. He has all these big oversized cardigans. I'm actually doing a bunch of knit pieces--little tops and shorts and sweaters and bodysuits.
How did you end up working with Andrew Mukamal? He styled my show last year. We met out--I forget how--a while ago and became friends and he's one of my dearest friends and I love his style, so he’s doing the show again this year and I’m super excited!
I know you do a lot of custom, made-to-order pieces. How did that start? That was sort of how I got into the business. I’m kind of a designer by accident. I was working at Teen Vogue and had a dream job situation and while I was in college I started making dresses and stuff to wear to my internships. My dad is a menswear designer so when I was finished wearing the clothes--I have this very set pattern of how i wear clothes. I’ll pick an outfit I love and exhaust it and wear it like three months straight and then it's retired. So I would retire these dresses, then my dad would have them in his office in Philadelphia and men would come in for suit fittings and their wives would come with them and buy the dresses or the husbands would buy them for their wives. My dad would have me come home from school on the weekends--I was at NYU, so it's a pretty short bolt bus drive away--and I accidentally built up this private clientele and by the time I was at Teen Vogue, it had sort of snowballed from this little hobby passion project into something that really could have been a career.
And now you're doing more wholesale? The goal was always to go into wholesale and have my stuff in stores because I see the way my clients respond to the clothes, so I’ve always thought to myself these stores can be a platform and an outlet for more women to reach the stuff than I could ever possibly get to, like that's the dream. So we just had our first wholesale season for fall 2011 and it was amazing. We’re so excited.
How did you end up doing bridal? Looking back on it, it’s crazy to think that people trusted me to do their wedding gowns when I was in college, but they did, so I’ve been doing it throughout my career. When Ali [Katie's PR rep] set up re-sees for this collection last season for editors to come in, I had one of my old pieces hanging in the showroom and this editor Julie Wilson--who just left Real Simple for Huffington Post--she bought the dress and then I had in Kerry Pierri from Stylecaster and she bought a dress as well, so I ended up doing a bunch of brides this summer. It’s been so much fun. They’re actually all getting married in September, so it’s going to be very busy. Who cares about fashion week, I have brides to deal with. I mean, please, we have to get these girls down the aisle! Also, it's a great way for me to get back to the root of why I love making clothes, so it's probably just as exciting for me as it is for them.
How did interning at Vogue help prepare you for running your own fashion business? I always say that I grew up in a clothing business and I learned what it meant to be a designer by working at magazines. I always had a really strong work ethic. I come from a small family business. My first internship was with Tracy Reese and then I went to Women's Wear and then Vogue and then ended up working at Teen Vogue. Every internship experience I had gave me like a Cliff Notes version of different segments of the industry and it was invaluable going into a design career knowing the way that you function and you work with magazines and how important they are as a vehicle for your product to consumers and how PR works in the machine and how everything's so interconnected. It's so hard to know the nuances of that if you don't get to live its, so I literally thank my lucky stars every day that I got to be there and see it all from the inside.