Nanette Lepore started 2014 off with a bang: Bill de Blasio's wife Chirlane McCray and daughter Chiara wore her clothes to his mayoral inauguration, a huge coup for an American designer.
But for Lepore, who has long fought to save NYC's Garment Center, this is only the beginning. "I really want to work with him to keep reminding him of the importance of having the manufacturing capability, because without that, we really lose the opportunity for people that come from nothing or who don't have a giant nest egg," she tells me over lunch after her fall runway show, held on Wednesday.
Lepore started her business over 20 years ago with just $5,000, something she explains is no longer possible with overseas production, thanks to the high minimum orders and costs that can go into the millions. According to her, local production is key to a quick turnaround -- and in turn, higher sales.
"If I have something that's selling really well, we can re-cut it and have it back in the stores in three weeks," she says. "I can't do that when I go overseas.
"I have this jacket I wanted, we sold out of it right off the bat from our resort collection and it was going to come in four months later," she continues, explaining that anything embellished or hand-cut has to go through China. "By that time, the demand is gone."
Which is why Lepore intends on continuing her fight to save the factories and hopes to work with de Blasio more in the future. "Without the factories, you don't really have a fashion industry," she says. "That's what the city government was missing, they didn't realize you can't just have designers in their studios, you need all the people that actually help make the stuff."
In a way, that fight inspired her fall collection. "It's the idea of handwork and weavings and all that, but from no specific place," she explains. "Just all of my favorite things, brought back to New York City to be handcrafted in New York."
Indeed, it felt like a mashup of different cultures, not totally unlike walking into the living room of a well-travelled friend. A tiger motif adorned the heels of shoes and accented belts, also popping up in the stitching on sweaters; beading on bags felt inspired by South Asian cultures. A charcoal gray dress and cardigan, both with metallic beading, were particular standouts. And it wouldn't be a Nanette Lepore show without some serious print -- the team created one this season from an embroidery she found at a flea market.
Lepore showed her collection at the tents again this year, bucking the trend of designers who have left Lincoln Center this season. "It was a tough decision," Lepore says. "It was a traffic problem for a lot of people, but I feel like [IMG and the tents] do so much for me and it makes my life easier."
She goes on to call the process of putting together a show off-site a "distraction" for her already busy team. "It's so nice to walk into a place and have everything ready for you," she says. "I love the convenience of it.
"I wish we could get everybody closer to the same page," she continues. "Why can't we put it back in Bryant Park? Then if there [were shows] off-site, we're sort of in the middle instead of all the way uptown."
I ask Lepore what she thinks about the Culture Shed, the proposed new site for Fashion Week. "I just think that there's a few people that are going to benefit from that nicely, and I wonder why we need to push that," she says, choosing her words carefully.
"If it really does make sense or not, I'm not sure."