With a capsule collection that’s getting maximum attention from seasoned buyers, newcomer Chelsea Sutrisno is off to a great start. Fashion is in her blood: her mother was a designer. At the tender age of 24, her resume reads like a who’s who of Vogue advertisers. While her first collection is small, her impact next season is going to be huge. We chatted over cheesecake and iced coffee one evening for this tFS exclusive interview.
tFS: Chelsea, where are you from?
CS: I was born in San Francisco, but I grew up in Indonesia. When I was 12, my family moved to Los Angeles.
tFS: How did you get into designing?
CS: I went to the Fashion Institute for Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. After I left school, I went to work for BCBG, at their corporate office. I designed for BCBG, but not clothes. I did their packaging stuff, their labels, and instructions as to where to place their hangtags type of thing.
tFS: How did you end up coming to New York?
CS: I came to New York almost 2 years ago. It was fun and great working at BCBG, but then my boss left to go back to Lebanon. It wasn’t the same without him. I was getting a little bored still living in L.A, so I told my mom I wanted to try summer school in New York. I did merchandise marketing at F.I.T., and then I got an internship at Chanel.
tFS: Chanel? You must have been so excited!
CS: It was amazing, the best – the most beautiful office ever. It was a short internship, only a month and a half. I was doing internet marketing for their fragrances and beauty website. It was so fun. After Chanel, I didn’t want to go home, so I got a job at Gucci doing public relations. Gucci was fun – it was really different from Chanel. Less formal. When I was there, we did a party for Rihanna for UNICEF. I worked there for more than half a year.
tFS: What inspired you do your line?
CS: P.R. wasn’t really challenging enough, and I thought about going into merchandise marketing. But I really wanted to design. I thought about it a lot last summer, and I knew if I didn’t try, I would just go back home, and I would never do it. I started sketching in late August/September 2009. I hooked up with my patternmakers, who also do The Row and Helmut Lang, so they are amazing. By Thanksgiving, I was done with my sample collection. By the first week of December, I was ready for the photo shoot for my website.
tFS: That is crazy fast! I love the photos. Who did them?
CS: I wanted it to be for fall of this year so that I could show for spring this year. My photographer’s name is Andrew Kim, and his girlfriend, who’s done make-up for Vogue and Allure, actually did the makeup as a favor because I couldn’t find anyone. People just bailed at the last minute! The hairstylist, Dina, was amazing as well. She did the whole shoot for free.
tFS: So what happened after that?
CS: I got so nervous, because I had never done this before. I was doing the sales myself. It was pretty stressful, because I have a small capsule collection of only 9 pieces, so buyers wouldn’t pick it up. I showed to Denise Williamson at Williamson, and she was interested but she said that I had to have at least 15-17 pieces. My aunt, who used to be a buyer for Prada at Nieman Marcus, put me in contact with Rachel Goldberger. I missed her during Fashion Week, so I sent her some samples when she got back to Dallas, and she said it was great for a first collection, but I needed to have more pieces. Eventually, I got picked up by Gallerie Lafayette in Dubai.
tFS: Are you going to expand the line?
CS: I’m definitely going to expand the collection for Spring/Summer 2011. And probably add some color, since my collection is all black. Now that the buying season is over, I’m concentrating on building a larger collection of at least 15-17 pieces, so that it’s more substantial. Next season I’ll still present a black collection, but I’ll give buyers a choice of other colors.
tFS: Who would you say is your ideal customer? Who do you design for?
CS: When I have an event to go to, I always wait until the last minute, like a half hour before I have to go. My whole thing was, creating clothing that already looks fancy, but is easy to wear. All my dresses are really comfortable, because I use a really thick double knit. And all you have to do is put it on, zip it up, and you’re done. It’s very body conscious. You can gain weight and it will be alright, because it stretches. And it’s all black, so you can accessorize it as you please, because black is like a blank canvas. I guess the type of person that I want to dress wants comfort, but also to look good. My mom was a fashion designer, but for a mass market label. My stuff is contemporary high-end womenswear. High end, but not over the top. The stores I would love to be carried in are Barney’s, and Opening Ceremony.
tFS: What do you look at when you’re sketching and planning your collection?
CS: When I was sketching, it was all over the place. I really love the Olsen Twins. I would go through a lot of websites, a lot of blogs, and a lot of magazines and rip all the things that I liked. I looked at everything and noticed that what I had ripped out looked alike, so I guessed that was my aesthetic. I like what I like. I designed dresses with long sleeves because it was for winter and it’s cold. That’s where I come from. I drew what I liked, and what I would want to wear.
tFS: Are you going to show at the next fashion week?
CS: For Spring/Summer 2010? I would love to. I’m going to see how it goes, but I would like to have a small showing. Maybe not at Lincoln Center – that would be too big – but I definitely want to do something.
See Chelsea’s whole collection and contact her at www.chelseasutrisno.com
Photos by Andrew Kim, courtesy of Chelsea Sutrisno.