Our talk with Swarovski Award Winner for Womenswear, ROSIE ASSOULIN
BY KRISTINE KELLER, CFDA
Rosie Assoulin has a deep-rooted understanding of women’s fashion, which makes sense, considering she has fashion coursing through her veins. The 31-year-old designer’s father brokered many impactful fashion deals and her mother-in-law is the founder of a successful jewelry company. She notes of her fashion heritage, “I was very privileged to be raised around a dinner table where people talked about business and discussed things that they were looking to create in their own work. My father had a huge impact on me and the business in terms of teaching me to trust my eye and the energy of those around me.”
For Assoulin, trusting her eye means trusting her gut. Customers’ purchasing decisions and desires are mercurial, which for some creates an inscrutable challenge when designing a collection. How can you predict what a customer will want to pull from the closet six months from now? It’s easy to see how Assoulin understands these nuances in her customers’ preferences. She brings her instinctual self-insight into the design process, understanding that she, too, is a layered woman with different moods, attitudes, occasions, and needs a wardrobe that can just as readily adapt to these different versions of her.
Assoulin seems to create her collection with the multihyphenate in mind, considering the various places a customer’s day might take her and what that means for her clothing. “There are touchstones within my own life that my wardrobe has to identify with,” she says. “I have to get through the day looking professional, but I may also be on my hands and knees all day in a fitting, followed by meeting my friends and picking up after my kids.” And she understands that while customers want to be comfortable, they also want to challenge themselves and try new pieces. “That’s part of being alive,” she says of this ingrained pursuit of novelty. “Find your own thing that works for you and feel comfortable, but don’t be too static,” she adds.
“I’m constantly balancing the tension between easy and larger-than-life pieces. I want our clothes to feel approachable and relatable, but not too much where it’s monotonous. I’m drawn to exciting, dramatic, bright colors and volume,” the designer continues about her approach to design. She notes that some of her pieces “may take up four feet of room in a closet, but they are exciting” and will create indelible memories, and then “there are those dresses that you know you’ll pull out every summer for a BBQ even ten years from now and it’s a great classic piece. Those are stories in my head that I know a lot of women can relate to and have a need for.”
Streaks of New York City life are visible in the creativity and unpredictability of her collections. “I live and work downtown, but I produce [my collections] in the garment district. Those are very different energies and it’s inspiring.” And though the designer notes that she loves trends and pays attention to them, calling herself a “fashion fanatic,” she understands that there is enough on the market that she needn’t produce for the sake of it. “I always ask myself after any decision or fitting session, would I wear this? I need an organic, authentic connection,” she says, “there’s so much stuff out there. I don’t need to be making more if there is no purpose or desire for it.” At a time when the market appears oversaturated with trends and fast fashion, Rosie allows her customers to break free from conformity and avoid banality altogether. In fact, it’s this thought process that contributed to her creation of trousers, one of her favorite garments that she’s ever designed, after noticing a void in the market.
When asked what defines her customer, she explains how vast her customer base is. It’s quickly apparent that just as each piece in her collection stands on its own, each customer stands on their own in her mind, too. “There is no one attitude. There are so many different energies and that is what makes the world go round. Even with our castings – we like to show lots of different people who bring different energy, who have their own different background, philosophy, or whatever it is, that they are proud of.”
It’s clear in Assoulin’s voice that she relishes her customers’ differences. She continues, “It’s not something that we need to erase. There’s no sameness, we can all be who we are and that’s okay.” She will say though that though her customers range, they all share one quality: a spark. Perhaps that’s an intrinsic character trait of her customers, but it’s also likely that her unique garments ignite this quality.
When I mention her CFDA Swarovski Award for Womenswear at the 2015 CFDA Fashion Awards and ask if it has impacted her trajectory, she doesn’t miss a beat. “It has given us a wonderful new audience of people who wouldn’t have heard of us, and maybe legitimized us for other customers who were only thinking about us. I can say without a doubt it’s been helpful with growth and more.” It is something she tries not to think too much about, however.
I felt shock and awe when I won, it’s a thing I have to put on a shelf and get back to work.
The designer has been hard at work on her next collection, which debuted on September 12 during New York Fashion Week: Women’s. When asked what advice she has for emerging talent, many of whom would dream to have their shows added to the Fashion Calendar, she says, “I always tell aspiring designers, if there’s no way to not do it, if you absolutely can’t help yourself, then do it.”
The designer’s early internships with fashion luminaries Oscar de la Renta and Alber Elbaz help inform her work, too. “I always felt like they loved women and let them be lots of different things and play different roles in the clothes that they designed. They approached the idea of dressing women and fashion in a very respectful way,” she says. Likewise, with Assoulin’s pieces, there is an inherent trust system built into her designs, where a customer can feel assured that they look their best. “I feel similarly [to de la Renta and Elbaz]. I never want a woman to feel foolish or uncomfortable,” she says. When designing, Assoulin envisions herself and women that she knows and loves, but also doesn’t feel the need to satisfy everyone. “I feel very free. While we have an ear to our customer, we also march to the beat of our own drum and do our own thing.”
Assoulin has her eye to her customer, too. In describing the feeling she has when witnessing someone wearing her designs in the wild, she says, “It’s a funny moment when you’re on vacation or in a restroom. I say, ‘I made that!’ I’m a nerd like that.”
“Watch out, I’m coming for you!” she laughs. The world awaits.