Steven Cateron was tasked with a hard enough challenge when he was tapped to reinvent the Rebecca Taylor brand back in January. Its namesake designer had left the beloved contemporary label she founded just before it was acquired by Vince last November, and it had branched out into several sub-labels — mostly denim under La Vie, workwear staples under Tailored, classic shirting under Chemise — that had become hard to track.
Then, of course, the Covid-19 crisis shut down operations across the United States, especially and including fashion studios. That meant that Cateron would have to get to know his new team over Zooms and FaceTimes, and that his first full collection for Rebecca Taylor, for Spring 2021, would be designed from home. Thankfully, the Los Angeles native was already familiar with the brand: He speaks fondly about spending time at his first fashion job in New York, at Theory, admiring the sensibilities of designs like Taylor's.
"It was the time of Phoebe [Philo] at Chloe, Stella McCartney — these great, very feminine, cool brands that definitely had this modern romance about them, and I felt like Rebecca Taylor was a part of that group," Cateron says. "I always had an affinity for what she was doing, because there was this craftiness to it, and I could see what historical references she was getting at; I could tell she worked a lot with vintage."
Cateron, too, has a love of vintage, a through-line which makes itself apparent in his first outing as Rebecca Taylor's creative director — the Art Deco pleating on a caped dress, the delicate floral silks of a matching skirt and shirt set, the squared-off neckline on a summery playsuit. The challenge was in marrying his more minimalist experience (he's a 12-year veteran of Club Monaco) with the brand's more fanciful touches to create something completely new.
We hopped on the phone with Cateron to hear about how he pulled off that hat trick, where he sees the brand going in the future and what it was like to undertake this process during a global pandemic.
First, tell me what appealed to you about taking this job at Rebecca Taylor.
I had been at Club Monaco for about 12 years. Vince was thinking about acquiring Rebecca Taylor. Brendan Hoffman, who was the CEO, and Caroline Belhumeur, who's the creative director of Vince, called me — Caroline and I had a history: We had worked at both Club and Theory together. I was like, "It could be so cool to work for this brand that has this legacy." It always had been owned and operated and created by Rebecca, the woman. [The brand] hadn't been on my radar in a long time, and I think just the world had moved to a bit more of a minimalist, kind of modern sensibility.
I was super excited about the opportunity and something different to play with, coming from Club that obviously had been very clean for a long time. So it felt maybe a bit more innate to my sensibility and the things that I love about fashion: working with vintage and feminine, but always with a certain tension or strength with it.
Rebecca Taylor has quite an established aesthetic, in terms of what the customer's used to. I'm curious to know how you're moving that forward while still remaining true to the brand.
I joined in January, and then the world kind of flipped upside down. [I was] really diving into it, thinking a lot about what the brand had been and how the brand had evolved. There were all these sub-lines that felt kind of confusing to me — there was La Vie and Chemise and Tailored and various other little projects. So I pulled it all back under Rebecca Taylor, because I wanted just one strong, consistent message again.
I think if there were ever a moment for this brand to kind of have a reset and push forward, it's right now. I definitely think there's a pretty movement happening again, and that's how I've been approaching it. There's obviously certain codes that I will continue to protect because I think they're quite precious to the brand, and I respect them and I appreciate the kind of craftsmanship that's always been put into the product. The product is always beautifully made, whether it's the eyelet or embroideries, the prints. But how do I push it forward, and make it feel new and relevant again? Or just be a bit louder, come out strong with some things and start to build some cachet? That's kind of a funny word for it — but a little bit more cachet around the brand for people to recognize and re-engage with the brand.
I would really love to hear what your approach was to this first question, both in terms of what you were just discussing with the aesthetic, but also as you mentioned, during this strange time to be in a new job.
It was definitely an interesting experience. We're all forced to work from home, which, to be a designer and creating products with a team that I probably had worked with for a month at that point, then being at home and doing sketch review through Zoom calls and sending each other vintage samples through Uber, was quite an interesting experience. A lot of the team and I, we were draping at home, which was great and exciting and a nice way to get to know a design team through FaceTime.
But a lot of it for me, being forced to be at home, was just looking around things in my house in kind of a new way and with a new light around them. I have a ton of vintage magazines, so I went to those first. I was just looking through old '60s and '70s magazines. It felt like there was such an energy and a spirit of movement around a lot of the shoots, the photographers of that time and the styling. I was using that as a jumping off point, and then relooking at some vintage that I and the designers had at home in new ways and playing with it — really trying to, obviously, honor some of the past and some of the icons of the brand, but looking at things around me in a new way and how can it be reinvented.
These '60s, '70s references come through more evident in the lookbook that we shot with Christian MacDonald, who has done a lot of shoots with Vogue and Wall Street Journal. I feel like he captures that almost '60s energy with the model; he really knows how to speak to a model and get her to move in a cool way. You really have got to hone in on those details on the garments, which helped to bring that whole narrative together in a nice way.
Do you have a favorite piece in this collection or a piece that you think really epitomizes that vision?
I mean, obviously, I love a lot of them! The trench with the draped capelet around the neck is just such a beautiful, unique piece to me. I love also that it broadens the brand DNA.
Obviously, the brand has always been known for dresses and tops, but how can I start to build her wardrobe out in a different way and build her closet and create more of a lifestyle? The jumpsuit in linen, it's got kind of that '90s square neckline and really heavily pleated shorts attached, so I just love that, because that piece, on that model, in that picture feels so kind of like a '60s editorial. The day we shot that lookbook, I was like, "Oh, this just came out so beautifully."
I really love the cotton plissé top with really big bat-wing sleeves and the cape around the neck, because it's sophisticated, but it's still quite playful and has a nice movement about it. But then, in person, it's just a cotton voile, so it's not so serious. It comes to life in such a nice way.
What is your vision for the brand moving forward?
I want to welcome a lot more women into the brand. I think a lot of it is servicing more moments in her life. So much of Rebecca Taylor had become very driven around occasion dressing and things like that. For me, it's looking at each piece in detail with this resolved romance that you'll start to see come to life more as we evolve the website and our Instagram — and obviously, as we open up new stores, the total 360 kind of view. That's really celebrating this romantic movement around emotion and individualism, playing with vintage, that I think the brand has always been so great at.
But also just bringing a bit more expression into the brand and a lot more storytelling — being a bit more bold than I think the brand has been in the past and not being afraid to take risks and just have more fun with it. The brand has always been pretty, but how can I celebrate that in a different way? And also, how can I bring a little tension into the mix, a little bit of an edge, so that it feels maybe more modern and more reflective of how real women dress today?
Obviously it's been a real labor of love, and so against all odds that have been so crazy. It's been such an amazing experience and the team that I'm working with, they're just so talented and I think everyone's excited for new challenges. I get more and more excited about the opportunity that I know this brand has in the market.
See the complete Rebecca Taylor Spring 2021 collection in the gallery below:
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.