News & Runway

Designer to Watch: Rae Francis

Ariel Lilly and Christina Coniglio, the design duo behind up-and-coming contemporary brand Rae Francis, met while studying fashion design at The Savannah College of Art and Design. After graduating, each worked in a variety of fields including public relations, sales, and production before combining their talents to start their own fashion line. I was introduced to the designers recently when a friend of mine invited me to the Rae Francis Spring 2013 preview. I was immediately blown away by their wearable, no-muss-no-fuss designs — so much, in fact, that it took me mere seconds to place an order for the plaid top one of the two designers was wearing and for the Tervel top from their Spring 2013 lineup (both pictured below). It's all about easy details like cut-outs and slits with Rae Francis, which was founded just over a year ago.

We spoke to the talented design team about producing their entire line in New York City, challenges they face as a new brand, and more.


Designers Ariel Lilly and Christina Coniglio

The Fashion Spot: Where did the name Rae Francis stem from?

Ariel Lilly and Christina Coniglio: Rae is Ariel's middle name and Francis is Christina's fathers name

tFS: How would you describe your brand aesthetic?

AL: Rae Francis is a desk to dinner collection and the go-to for any young professional looking to let loose at five. It's classic and luxurious while still referencing the trends and adding an innovative twist. It's meant for the girl that appreciates beautiful fabrics and simple silhouettes that complement her easy breezy boho-inspired lifestyle.

tFS: What are the biggest challenges when it comes to working as a design duo? Best parts?

AL: We are very understanding of how one another sees things and each other's personal style. However, there is always a give and take when it comes to designing a collection and we always have the Rae Francis girl's best interest at heart. Best part is, always having a partner to bounce ideas off of and getting to go to work every day with your best friend is pretty awesome!

tFS: There must be countless challenges with getting your designs into production. What are some of the things that might surprise people?

CC: You never know what will look good until you see the sample. Honestly, there have been hundreds of designs we have sketched that looked amazing on paper, but they just don't always translate as seamlessly as you would imagine.

tFS: You design and produce everything in NYC. Can you explain why, given the added costs that entails?

AL: Supporting the garment district and the local economy is very important to us. We work with as many local companies as possible. Also, because our factory is so close to us, we oversee the entire process. Nothing gets shipped out without our approval, we are involved every step of the way. That is something that most designers can't say they are a part of, but a major reason why we feel that, although we are still small, we have been so successful.

tFS: As an up-and-coming brand, how challenging is it to get stores to meet you and consider stocking your designs? How have you gone about overcoming the challenges?

CC: It is certainly a challenge but we feel like stores are really appreciative that our line is made and produced in New York City. We are noticing a major trend in shopping locally and a lot of big retailers have contacted us just because of this reason. Customers want Made in America and, as consumers ourselves, so do we. Once the line is in front of a buyer and they get to feel and see the beautiful luxe fabrics we use, it's typically a breeze after that.

tFS: Can you give us some insight into what day-to-day work life is like?

CC: We wear every hat at Rae Francis. One day it's production and the next we could be greeting our customers at a trunk show, but that is why we love our job and why it's easy to wake up in the morning because you never know what the day will bring! We always laugh when people ask us where our office is located because we seriously work like traveling salesmen, we are always on the go.

tFS: To what extent do you find yourself influenced by seasonal trends?

AL: We tend to reference trends more then follow them. We want Rae Francis to always be current, but these are clothes that you should want to keep around for a few years without ever feeling dated.

tFS: What are some of the brands/designers that you admire?

CC: We always say that we are inspired by any designer that is made in New York and especially American designers like Donna Karan, Michael Kors, and Calvin Klein. We really look up to those classic companies that we feel have outlasted the fads and stuck to a clean aesthetic.

tFS: Who would you love see in one of your designs?

CC: This question is so hard! We would die to see anyone wear Rae Francis, regardless of whether it's an A-list celebrity or the girl next door from the midwest that spent all of her babysitting money on one of our pieces. We would be equally as excited for either!!

tFS: What can we expect for Spring 2013?

AL: The Spring 2013 collection was inspired by Florence Welch and the free flowing garments she wears onstage. We were also inspired by the street style at music festivals like Coachella and SXSW. The collection is bohemian and light; when we were designing, we imagined the clothes on a girl who would be attending any outdoor concert. As always with Rae Francis, there are plenty of asymmetrical hems, sheer inserts, and cut-out back details. The color scheme for the collection is certainly girly as it is mostly sorbet pastels, but our darker story is also amazing with a heavy terry and a vintage grey/purple pattern for our inner New Yorker.