Israeli-American fashion designer Nili Lotan has had a busy year. In addition to churning out hundreds of styles for retailers like Shopbop, she's collaborated with J. Crew and she just opened a concept store at 48 Walker Street in New York City. Her new boutique stocks her current ready-to-wear collection in addition to vintage military tanks, vintage military jackets, vintage accessories including jewelry, shoes, scarves and handbags and art and photography books. All of the store's items were personally sourced and curated by Lotan and represent elements that inspired her Spring/Summer collection, hence the store's name, Inspired By. For fall, everything will change and she will sell items that inspired her Fall/Winter collection.
We spoke with the designer about her background, New York and her new store.
theFashionSpot: Do you think being born and growing up in Israel has influenced your design aesthetic?
Nili Lotan: Israel, and more importantly, Tel-Aviv, certainly lays the foundation for my aesthetic, but all of the experiences of my life – the people, places, events – all of these moments have contributed to forming the mosaic of my design philosophy.
tFS: How would you describe the fashion scene there?
NL: Growing up in Tel-Aviv, the fashion scene was comprised of a very small percentage of people. For the most part, Israeli fashion is lifestyle focused – casual, laid-back, very to the point. But for those who followed the trends, we gravitated towards Paris’ high-fashion heyday, admiring the likes of Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga and the 1970s retro revival in the U.S. Today, I’d say Tel-Aviv remains fashionable and still very aligned with the European market.
tFS: What made you come to New York?
NL: I moved to New York with my first husband who came here for school.
tFS: How important for you is it to continue to be based in New York?
NL: Incredibly important. Israel will always be a part of my life and my heart, but New York inspires and enriches me. Even more so living in downtown Manhattan. Living in Tribeca really defines my lifestyle and cadence; I’m constantly surrounded by people who are interesting and passionate about what they do.
tFS: Can you tell us a little bit about you did when you first got to Manhattan and your background prior to starting your own line?
NL: Since coming to New York over 30 years ago, I’ve worked in the industry alongside some of fashion’s most respected designers and brands including Adrienne Vittadini, Liz Claiborne, Nautica and Ralph Lauren. At each company, I managed the design process at different levels, from working with a team of designers to acting as a director and overseeing the development of our seasonal collections for womenswear.
tFS: How has the business changed since you started your brand in 2003?
NL: In 2003 when I launched with my first collection, there were only five styles. They were timeless essentials that celebrated quality and ease. It was a very specific idea that I wanted to carefully craft and expand upon – the retailers loved it. Now in 2014, we’ve begun to focus our efforts on building upon the essentials that complement a woman’s ever-evolving lifestyle – casual, evening, workwear, everything. We have roughly 200 different styles per season and while it may seem like a lot, it’s a natural growth. Our customer looks to Nili Lotan for that perfect piece that seamlessly integrates into their wardrobe.
tFS: Can you describe your aesthetic a little bit and what you think sets your brand apart?
NL: As a woman designing for women, I understand every moment of a woman’s life. I design pieces that inspire her style, take care of her running around the city, make her feel comfortable, but also make her feel sexy. I want to be able to fill her entire wardrobe and answer punctuated moments in her day. She’s practical, sensible, laid back, attracted to comfort and ease, but also sexy and confident.
tFS: At what point did the idea to open a concept store become viable?
NL: Our store on Duane Street in Tribeca previously housed both the store and my design studio in a two-tier layout. There were areas to allow customers to witness the creative energy and process of the studio but also gave me the opportunity to get to know the woman that shops and wears my designs. When we moved our studio and showroom to 48 Walker, I started to miss that daily interaction and decided that I would turn the front of the showroom into Inspired By. I love that I’ll be able to once again share the conceptual process of design and my inspiration with the customer while creating an intimate shopping environment where they’ll feel at home.
tFS: What is your take on e-commerce versus brick and mortar?
NL: I love e-commerce. It’s incredible because you have complete control over how your brand and image are presented. My reach is exponential while still being an extension of the aesthetic I curate in my local boutiques.
tFS: What keeps you excited to work in the fashion industry?
NL: This industry is truly my community. The players may have changed, and fashion has certainly changed – and then of course come back again – but when I walk down 7th Avenue between 40th and 34th streets, I’m home. It’s my playground. I definitely believe that organizations like the CFDA, who have made a conscious effort to support and act as an empowering resource for designers and their businesses, have tremendously improved the mechanics of this industry.
tFS: What's one thing you know now that you wish you had known when you started your brand?
NL: Fashion is first and foremost a business! I’ve had 30+ years of designing and to be able to put as much energy into the creative side as the business side is nearly impossible for a brand just starting out. Had I equipped myself with a strong accountant and lawyer in the early days, I would’ve saved myself a wealth…of stress!