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Lois (pronounced ‘Loy’) Samuels was one of THE top models of the 80’s and 90’s. Her lithe body, flawless skin, and gorgeous smile have been captured by top photographers such as Ellen von Unwerth, Ruven Afanador, and Steven Meisel.  She’s been in editions of Vogue worldwide, and has worked for such clients as Banana Republic, Oililly, and Isaac Mizrahi. She’s modeled the couture collections of designers such as Christian Lacroix, Issey Miyake, Givenchy, and Armani. She even published a book of photographs, Jamaica Through My Eyes, in 2005.

Last year she debuted her new clothing line ‘The Vessel’, with a small collection of minimalist separates for S/S 2010.  The line has done well, and Samuels came back strong (in spite of a blizzard on show day) with a line of Michelle Obama-worthy clothing for F/W 2010. The Fashion Spot was recently invited to Samuels’ showroom in the Fashion District to view the line and talk shop.

tFS:  What is your inspiration when designing The Vessel?

LS: My inspiration for the collection is menswear and the uniform, so you’ll see that inspiration throughout. I make a lot of shirts. I think every woman should have a real, tailored shirt, so I have the shirts and shirtdresses in different forms.

I use a lot of wool…wool gabardine, silk charmeuse. All my cotton cashmere pieces, I have made in Wales. The reason why I’m working with it is because it just ages better. With 100% cashmere, it gets really beady. At least when it’s cotton, when it has that blend, it stays intact longer.

This is really day to evening wear. You know, you can go to work in something and know that you still look fine if you have a dinner event.  You can add some jewelry to it. I envision the Vessel as multi-seasonal.  I really want a buyer to invest in something for fall, but still wear it in spring and summer.

Samuels pulls a chesterfield topcoat from the rack, showing me the perfect cut, and says, “This is an interesting piece. I was playing with fabric, and this is made of coated cotton, which is going to age amazingly. You’ll have this forever. It wears really well and it ages really well.”

tFS: What are your price points?

LS: For retail, we’re looking at $200 and upwards to $2000, and the $2000 falls into the category of the capes.

tFS: Who do you see as your perfect customer?

LS: I see my collection for a woman – any kind of woman. I even made my invitation to the show portray a sketch of a faceless woman. It’s not specific, it’s ageless. So many times when people advertise, the collection is so specific, like they have a specific image that they stick to all the time. Even at the collection show we had different age groups. We had Coco Mitchell from the 80’s, Irina from the 90’s – a blend of different types of women. That’s one thing I really, really want to represent in the collection.  Three people have told me that I should send a dress to Michelle Obama. I said ‘Ok, what size does she wear?’

tFS: Will you be adding accessories?

LS: Yes, yes. I actually have a line of jewelry. It’s quite small. Two rings – a square and a circle – as well as a necklace to go with them. It’s very simple and just…to the point, and goes with the collection perfectly.

tFS:  I’m curious – did you wear a uniform to school?

LS: I did, so that’s a great inspiration. I feel like in the real world, once you get out of school, there’s so much chaos. You need to have some sort of calm in your closet. You just need to go in your closet and know what you’re going to wear.

tFS: Your collection is very low-key and muted, but every so often you pop in some color like a red sweater or a royal purple cape…

LS: I think you sort of need to. I mean, I love those muted tones, but I like the idea of adding a little subtle color. But if there’s going to be color, it’s going to be rich.

tFS: Do you find that your experience as a model has helped you to cross over to design?

LS: Yes. Before I even wanted to be a model, I wanted to design. When I was 14 I was sketching and going to a lady in my little town, Santa Cruz, to have clothes made. Her name was Miss Winnie, she was a Chinese-Jamaican lady. You would get the fabric and show her the sketch, and she would make it for you. She made the uniforms for school, church dresses, and everything. So designing is something that I always wanted to do, but modeling came first.

It was the most amazing experience. To have the opportunity to work with such wonderful designers, to discover what style is as you discover yourself. Learning what you feel comfortable in…I feel that it has been a factor in making me more sophisticated. To create fashion is just perfect – I really don’t have to go shopping now!”

Photos by Faith Bowman

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