BY KRISTINE KELLER
Identity is important to Samantha, Alex and Matthew Orley, the triumvirate trio behind Orley. The family brand—Alex and Matthew are brothers, and Samantha is married to Matthew—acutely use their own identities and personal narratives to cultivate their brand’s DNA. “We really believe that to stand out in today’s market, the work has to be really personal,” Samantha explains of the brand’s approach to design. “We try to imbue as much of our work as possible with a personal sense of narrative,” adds Alex. These narratives are elicited from their lives, digested during the design process, and produced in luxury knitwear, the designers’ fabric of choice.
The designers’ personal histories were recounted most recently through their Fall/Winter 2016 collection. “We started thinking about our grandparents and how our grandfather was in the navy and married our grandmother while he was on leave,” Matthew says. “Picturing him in his full naval uniform inspired the naval sensibility exemplified in some of the pieces.”
The designers have also dutifully considered the identity of their customer. “We started with men’s because we knew it was a less saturated market and we could speak to a customer that wasn’t being spoken to,” Samantha recounts of their early stages. Sweaters may have once conjured images of innocent schoolchildren, but in the design hands of Orley, it’s all about what happens after the bell rings. You can go to school, the pieces encourage, but you should also break the rules. A design paradox where elegance meets irreverence, it’s easy to see how the brand started carving a niche for female customers who also wanted to be part of Orley’s orbit.
“The pleasant surprise was that we found that there was a woman who felt like she wasn’t being spoken to as well, and we were addressing her needs,” explains Samantha. After learning that female customers were purchasing their menswear pieces, the expansion into womenswear was a natural progression.
The brand has evolved quickly since their humble beginnings in 2012, where they sold their first collection of five sweaters from Samantha and Matthew’s East Village apartment. “We didn’t think anyone would come to see it [the first collection], but we shot a lookbook and had some great appointments, and six months later we were picked up by Bergdorf Goodman,” Samantha explains.
In 2014, the brand was inducted to the CFDA Fashion Incubator, a two-year business development program for emerging designers. There, they received subsidized studio space in New York City’s Garment District, as well as year-round business programming, networking and mentorship. While in the Incubator program, the brand also participated in the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, an endowment to support the next wave of emerging American fashion designers. “With both programs, we’ve had the chance to meet a lot of people and build great relationships within the industry that have been incredibly impactful to our business,” Alex says. Both initiatives not only sharpened the brand’s business acumen, but also provided the designers with more confidence and tools to share the brand’s identity.
When asked about the low and high points of their career, the Orleys mention that perhaps it is better to ask about the “easiest moments,” because “building a brand is constantly difficult, but every once in a while, you have a moment that you celebrate.” For the brand, those easier moments of approbation have most recently taken the form of an LVMH Prize nomination and a CFDA Swarovski Award for Menswear. Now, this July, Orley will show their Spring/Summer 2017 collection during New York Fashion Week: Men’s, which the designers agree will allow a small brand like theirs to flourish.
It’s evident that the designers have secured a coveted seat at the fashion industry’s lunch table. If the preceding months are any indication, the head of the table could one day be theirs.