Like many of us, Colin LoCascio grew up watching Fran Drescher on TV as "The Nanny." The show's been off the air for over two decades, but Fran Fine's wardrobe still serves as a point of reference — and inspiration — for many. For LoCascio, though, the connection to the flashy girl from Flushing is even deeper.
"My mom grew up in Flushing," the Queens-born and raised designer says, on a call this summer. "[Drescher]'s an icon. But from a fashion standpoint, I mean, she's always been beyond."
Her outerwear on "The Nanny" is a frequent source of inspiration for LoCascio. (A furry coat she wears in one episode with big sunglasses has been on his moodboard "for years.") And when he launched his namesake ready-to-wear label in September — after building a following around his eye-grabbing, colorful, richly-textured designs, only available via custom order, for the past five years — there was a faux fur wrap coat with hand-sequined flame graphics along the lapel, sleeves and hem named after her.
"I still get chills when I think of her in the first episode [of "The Nanny"], when she comes down the staircase in the red sequin gown," LoCascio says of one of his personal favorite Fran Fine looks. "I don't know how people don't get chills or teary-eyed thinking about that — of her showing up at that house [after] her boyfriend dumped her and then she just descends into this crowd of really, really wealthy, snooty people. I mean... I'm getting chills just talking about it."
LoCascio had always knew he'd go into design, but he thought he'd make products — specifically, toys. Even then, though, there was an underlying fascination with fabric: He'd gravitate towards "stuffed animals and soft toys," because they were fashioned out of softer materials, not plastic or wood. It wasn't until he got to art school, at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), that he was able to more formally dabble in other mediums.
"You're not allowed to declare your major until going into your sophomore year, so everyone — regardless if you're architecture or fashion or graphic design — takes the exact same core classes [their first year]," he explains. "It was really an amazing experience where you're really working and collaborating with people of all disciplines."
During that period, LoCascio got an assignment: make something wearable out of paper. "I just really got interested in the idea of the body as a form," he says. The way RISD approached fashion "was more of architecture for the body or engineering for different forms," which really interested him.
At the same time, college was opening his eyes to the dynamics and dialogue of clothing. Growing up, he'd gone to schools where he'd have to wear a uniform, "so I guess I never really realized the social aspect of what you wear and how it has a lot to do with how people see you," he explains. Plus, he was being introduced to some of the big names in the market by his peers: "I remember I had a couple of friends who had Givenchy purses and I had no idea what that brand was, so I Googled it," he says.
"For so many reasons, me being in school felt like a rebirth or a new chapter in my life — I guess maybe also that has to do with being new and fresh and not knowing much about fashion and being intrigued by it," he adds. By the end of his freshman year, LoCascio declared apparel design as his major.
His first proper Colin LoCascio collection was his senior thesis, which was written up in WWD and Style.com. And until Fall 2020, that was his only line — he wasn't designing regularly under his own name, as he'd started freelancing for Marc Jacobs and other brands as his day job. Still, those pieces caught the eyes of celebrity stylists and allowed him to start growing his profile.
"It started as people pulling the thesis, and then shifted to commissions and people asking me to make stuff for stage or for music videos," he explains. "I was still working for different companies — I moved around and worked for a couple of different designers, all the while still loaning out or making different pieces, whether they be commissioned or just one-offs."
Most of this happened through Instagram, then through indirect referrals. For example, "I did a custom for Ashanti for Pride, this sequin rainbow bodysuit. Then Cardi's team saw and contacted me," he says. (He describes Cardi B as another one of his muses — fitting, considering there was talk online of her possibly playing Fran Fine's daughter in a reboot of "The Nanny." LoCascio's response: "I would die. I mean, I can't. I don't even know. I don't know what I have to do, but I need to make the look for the show, if it happens.") Over the years, Gigi Gorgeous, Bella Hadid, Paris Hilton and Lil' Yachty have also been seen in his designs.
"That's what I love about working with people: Each person is so different and brings their own followers and their whole life story to it," LoCascio explains. "One of my proudest moments as a designer is having all of these different people repping [the brand], which I think speaks to volumes about how big customer bases are. I have worked as a designer for years now and I think it's so funny when everyone's like, 'So, who's your customer? Give us your five-minute pitch speech on who she is and what she likes to do and how old she is.' And then when you see how my pieces, or a brand in general, can reach all these people, it just speaks to how diverse the world is and people's tastes are."
Though most of these celebrity-approved, press-generating looks were riffs on the collection he presented his senior year of college, he says that line laid the groundwork for what would become his ready-to-wear — and many of the same codes can be seen today.
"I was always fascinated by true novelty fabrics," LoCascio says of his early work. "I never worked with black — which, at RISD, a lot of people were going the minimalist, Alexander Wang kind of way," he says of his early work. "Kind of like Fran, I grew up in Queens and my friends, my family are really loud in what they wear. I remember as a kid, my mom going to work wearing a two-piece, kind of Fran conversational print with like different faces — a matching blazer and pants. I think that's always been my taste. And then when I was at school, it was really about curating that."
Even as his collection started gaining notoriety, it remained a side hustle. He kept working full-time for other fashion brands, most recently Kendall + Kylie. On top of a guaranteed paycheck, this has given him an understanding of how to build a viable company. "I felt like I had definitely established my point of view as a designer, what interests me or what I liked, and it had been clear after I graduated that people liked it... But it was definitely important to me to learn how to actually run a business," he explains. "Fitting, grading into different sizes, sourcing fabrics, working with factories — all of that was stuff that I've been picking up as I've been working as a designer."
For the last year, LoCascio has been working on launching his first proper collection under his own name. Fall seemed appropriate because he'd become known for his faux furs; plus, by that point, "I felt like I had really developed my voice and like I had learned so much about running an actual brand — what that would look like and what that entailed." Prices start at $110 (for a printed mesh top) and go up to $3,500 (for a faux fur trucker jacket embellished with ostrich feathers and sequins, pictured at top).
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic affected LoCascio's launch plan, but not necessarily the timeline. He brought the collection to Paris in February, but because of the outbreak in Italy around Milan Fashion Week last season — and many buyers cutting their trips short or canceling appointments — he says he wasn't able to get it in front of as many people as he'd originally hoped. "I really wanted to launch with a partnership with a few different retailers and that hasn't worked out," he says of his original idea. He quickly pivoted to a direct-to-consumer model, "which I think is a really beautiful love letter to the customers who have been emailing me for years now."
It's also given him license to do things his way (like he has, since he was in school), whether that means nixing plans for a pre-spring collection because it no longer made sense or releasing new pieces in drops, since breaking with the traditional calendar and other industry standards — many of which could be really taxing on an early-stage business — isn't looked down upon as strongly as it once was.
"Everyone is defining what works for them and what works for them in the moment," LoCascio says. "[It's] more of a collaboration and true conversation with their customers — how they're buying, how they want their products presented to them."