This Big Deal Fashion Designer Let Us In On Her Life
More likely than not, you own something Cynthia Rowley has designed. That's just the kind of influencer she is--her fun designs are not just in clothing but also home decor, accessories, and so much more. We got the inside scoop on what she's all about: You started sewing when you were just seven years old. What made you decide to take this early love of fashion and make it a full time career?
I started out sewing just for fun, more as a hobby and a creative outlet. It wasn’t until later that I figured out it could actually be a career. Even all the way through high school and into college I was still, you know, experimenting and trying different things [career-wise]. It wasn’t until I [had been] in college for a couple years before I figured out, “Oh this actually could be something I would want to do with my life.” I didn’t feel the pressure of having to decide too early on.
You started out in the Midwest. Did that influence your style or do you think moving around later in life did?
I hope not. No, I’m just kidding.
Was there anything really growing up that influenced how your personal style and how the style of Cynthia Rowley the company has evolved?
I grew up with an artist mom and a science teacher dad, so I tried to be as inventive as possible with things. I try to look at things not as a fashion designer but as a maker of things. I am constantly trying to invent new things and see things in a different way. So that’s probably the only thing that remains from that. I guess those ideas are engrained early on.
So was straying from the norm something that developed from an early age or what was it constantly evolving that from then until now?
Growing up in a small town, and not really having a real sense of what a fashion designer really does, I think I’ve always had a little bit of an outsider. As far as the Fashion Week presentation, I really was trying to do something that would be really different, but also, you know, maybe a little bit of my practical roots too. I was thinking, you know, we are in an industry that is all about newness, evolving and, trying to be as forward thinking as possible, so why do we put on the same runway presentations year after year? Why has that not changed? Why has the way that we present collections not changed at all? So I’ve done different things, but I really liked the idea of making a film that showed the collection in a way that is kind of more of a narrative. We then just had a celebration where people could have fun, but it was also in a venue that was a real visual feast for people. With all of the social media that we use, it’s important to always make sure that there is a visual feast for people to really capture. So that was all part of it.
What’s your typical day like in that kind of work environment?
Well we are just about to move our offices. We work in the West Village, which I think in itself is a more creative environment. I used to work on 7th Avenue, and I just didn’t think it was that inspiring to be in that area. I do love being in New York, period, and I’ve been here a million years, but I’m still really in awe of the whole city, everything about it. We are just about to move into a new space that was an old mechanics garage, so you can drive a car into our work space, which is really cool, and I'm working on designing a car. There’s outdoor space, and we have a green roof. There might not be such a thing as a typical day because it is always different, and I work with all creative people, so even the accounting people I try to encourage creativity. Even with the one that you would think would be the least creative, I try to encourage creativity too. We do a huge range of products for the collection, but then we also do many other things. We have an eyewear site, Rowley Eyewear, we have beauty that we do with Birchbox, and we have wetsuits and surf gear. We do so many things, that everyday is really different. I think the most satisfying thing is to have an idea and then be able to make it a reality. So whether it’s a shoe, or when we got this new space I was like, “Oh well there’s a curb cut, we have to have a car,” to be able to have that idea and then to be able to actually do it is really the most satisfying thing. And so the more I can do that every day, the better.
What really influenced your decision to go into those specific areas? Because your company has such a wide range of products, the cosmetics to the eyewear to the home accessories, there’s just so much there.
I sort of hate the term because it has become kind of cliché, but you know, as a lifestyle brand, I don't see any boundaries at all. We did Band-Aids with Johnson & Johnson, and we’ve done a lot of different things that I think most fashion brands haven’t done. I just think it’s a combination of wanting to be more accessible with the brand but also offering as many different choices and different products as we can. I just don’t see any limit.
Absolutely. Where do you find inspiration for these lines within your life?
I do a lot with art. We have an art website called Exhibition A that is limited edition artist prints, and we have a candy store called CuRious Candy. We have two candy stores called CuRious that offers candy and party products and all kinds of things, so it’s really, I think everything inspires everything else too. I think the art inspires the candy, the candy inspires the clothes, the clothes inspire the party products, you know. Everything inspires each other. It becomes like a big snowball affect.
And then back in the 80s, you invited some of the most important fashion editors from that time to your first runway show, which was held in your apartment. Even though no one came, it was such a gutsy move. What really inspired you to do that, and how has that confidence stuck with you throughout all these years?
I guess it’s the confluence of naiveté and fearlessness, so when those two things come together, you should be able to do anything. Right?
Do you find that your designs impact your clothing choice or do you think its visa versa where your clothing choice is impacted by your designs?
That’s a chicken or egg situation. Yeah, I can’t really say.
What is your advice for girls who aspire to be like you and launch a career in the fashion industry?
Well now is the best time. It’s so much easier now, I feel like, than when I started. I just feel like you should just do it if you have an idea. It’s the best time.