For some designers, the route to producing a clothing line doesn’t go through, say, a course at Central St Martins in London, and an internship at Calvin Klein. Instead, it goes hand-in-hand with a related day job: working as an editor or stylist at a fashion magazine.
W Magazine’s Karla Martinez, for example, launched Piamita, a line of breezy separates, in 2011 with friend Cecilia de Sola. So far, the collection, which is more accessibly priced (at $55 for T-shirts to $285 for a pair of relaxed trousers) than many of the high-end designer items spotlighted in W, has been selling well at stores such as Barneys New York, the Webster in Miami, and website Moda Operandi.
Martinez describes her designs as a side project. “We’re not out to be ready-to-wear designers,” she says. “We have a small niche in the market: we make very simple blouses and trousers that are flattering.”
Like Martinez, Alexandra Kotur, creative director of American magazine Town and Country, works on a clothing line outside office hours. Co-founded with a former lawyer, Parasol is a fuss-free collection of swimwear and cover-ups for women and their children. The clothes (prices range from $50 to $285) are made from chemical-free fabrics with a high built-in sun protection factor.
“It spoke to me less from a fashion point of view than a health point of view,” says Kotur. “I felt there was a need to help protect women from harmful rays. If you want to dress where you’re completely protected from the sun, you’re going to look like you’re wearing medical clothing. I thought, ‘I don’t want that, so let’s make it chic and beautiful – something that’s aesthetically pleasing that I would wear.’”
The result has a slight Riviera-esque look, and is aimed at women such as Kotur, a working mother with two young children who does lots of shopping online (Parasol’s sole method of distribution).
Meanwhile, Lisa Marie Fernandez, a former US Vogue contributing editor and stylist for magazines such as Numero, offers a different spin on swimwear: sexy suits in glossy gold (£330) or inky black with a leatherette finish (£305), sold on Net-a-Porter.
Kate Young, a former assistant of US Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, who has dressed celebrities such as Natalie Portman for the red carpet, has designed a collection of party-friendly pieces in collaboration with US retailer Target, launching on April 14.
But what makes an editor presume they can be a designer in the first place? Granted, they have certain advantages – Piamita has benefited from Martinez’s knowledge of and relationship with store buyers; editors can claim a bird’s-eye view of the market – but designers spend years studying their craft. Is it not deluded for an outsider, even one with an inside track, to even think they could do it as a sideline?
Beth Buccini, co-founder of Manhattan boutique Kirna Zabete and a former fashion editor at New York Magazine, says: “It’s an invaluable education to be a fashion editor because you have such an incredible market overview. You’re seeing everything and you know what’s out there, so it’s easier to figure out what the voids are in the market and easier to figure out if this vision that you have in your mind is viable.”
Thakoon Panichgul worked at Harper’s Bazaar before he launched his clothing line, which counts Michelle Obama as a fan. “When I was working at the magazine I would go and see designers,” he says. “There were things that they were doing right and things that they were doing that were not right, which was not offering things for real women to wear. For me that was very easy to see when I was working behind the scenes. I felt I had something to contribute, and that’s why I went into design.”
Not every editor-driven brand works: AKA New York, for example, a sportswear line started by three colleagues at US Elle in 2004, is now defunct. However, there are some notable success stories. Vera Wang was a senior fashion editor at US Vogue. L’Wren Scott, whose dresses have been worn by Nicole Kidman and Penélope Cruz, styled shoots for many years for magazines such as W and Interview. The US designer Kate Spade worked in the accessories department at the now-closed magazine Mademoiselle. Former UK Vogue editor Luella Bartley’s collections earned her an MBE, while Topshop’s creative director, Kate Phelan, joined the high street retailer in 2011 after 18 years at British Vogue. Then there’s maternity designer Liz Lange, a veteran of American Vogue, who celebrated the 10th anniversary of her Target line last year. She also creates a collection of non-maternity wear that is sold on TV in the US and Canada.
But as the footwear designer Tabitha Simmons, who is also a regular contributor to Vogue, says: “Retailers don’t take things just because you are an editor. They take them because of the product.”