by Lisa Stasiulewicz
Rachel Comey has quietly been building a fierce following in the New York fashion scene. Her eye for detail and the vintage feel of her clothes is reminiscent of a pared-down Marc Jacobs, but the playful personality she infuses into her creations is all her own.
Rachel, who has a background in sculpture and even once owned an art gallery, started her fashion career designing costumes for performance artists and rock bands. She didn't get serious about the rag trade until she landed a job as a design consultant at Theory, where she worked a season ahead on color, print, and trend direction. Her entrepreneurial spirit prevailed, and her own line soon followed. "It all happened very organically," Rachel says. "People started asking me to make them things, and finally I thought, 'maybe I should start a little something.'"
In 2001, she did start a little something by designing her first line of menswear, filling a need she saw in the market for slimmer silhouettes. Her approach to lean is not purely economical or artisic, however. "It's just me objectifying [men]," she says. "I just put them in what I want them to wear."
Known for using traditionally feminine fabrics for her menswear, she welcomes the challenge of making men look masculine while wearing a softer washed charmeuse. The unexpected side effect was the number of women who bought her garments, leading her to design a women's line in 2003. "I really wanted to explore more textile opportunities with women," Rachel says. "It's really opened up a whole new world of fabric."
She still approaches her work like a sculptor, focusing on the raw materials and working with them to develop the final design. "I'm very into the craft and into experimenting with different fabric techniques," she says. The designer spends most of her time hand-drawing the prints, and researching and designing textiles, working with everything from pima cotton and washed linen, to alpaca fleece. Her shapes tend to be very personal. "For women, I work off of what I want to wear," which includes flowing silk dresses, shrunken blazers nipped at the waist, and lean cigarette pants.
For fall, she kept things cozy and casual for the ladies, with chunky, hand-knit alpaca sweaters and belted flannel shirts layered under tweedy, over-dyed coats in brooding colors like crimson, navy, black, and deep sea green. The men's silhouette is a bit more relaxed this season, but nonetheless the collection is filled with, "special pieces to dress you up a bit," Rachel says. The flannel shirt with a knitted shawl collar and the patchwork bomber jacket are standout pieces. Layering is still key, as she showed button-downs under graphic t-shirts, topped off with delectable classic navy pea coats and bombers.
If you're still mourning your summer dresses and sandals, you can look forward to an, "earthy, fruity" collection from Rachel in the spring, full of botanical prints, crisp short suits, and silk jersey dresses. Shorts were a centerpiece, with the "Dad" modeled after the short shorts Rachel's father used to wear mowing the lawn. Dresses come in prints called, "pollen," "crooked garden," and "weed." You can almost smell the fresh-cut grass.
Designer Rachel Comey is fast becoming one of New York's most talked about fashion names. Thanks to a thoughtful approach to smart, fresh cuts for both men and women, this former sculptor has made crafting the new silhouette an artform.