Why Rachel Comey Loved Getting Fired

1_RachelComey01_221Photographed by Winnie Au
“I think I was really naïve…naïve and ambitious!” After 15 minutes of talking, the notoriously shy (and totally beloved) cult designer, Rachel Comey, peeked out from her shell. “I saw a hole in the market,” she says, “and just went for it.”
Just so you know, that "hole" was a lack of smart, daring custom menswear in New York City a few years back (‘member that?). “There wasn’t much happening at all,” says Comey. “There was maybe one store below 14th Street for menswear.” So, the art-school grad got busy, crafting delicate and utilitarian, exquisite and simple, pieces for the likes of David Bowie and Gogol Bordello. Basically, it got all the ladies jealous. From there, she jumped into womenswear and the arms of a fan base that loves Comey for her ability to create soft, warm designs with an expected, intelligent twist. For someone who started out “really naïve,” she’s become just about the smartest, most acute talent in fashion today.
Yet, all that goodness almost never happened. Gifted and driven with experience in sculpture as well as set, gallery, costume, and graphic design, Comey’s future as a fashion leader could have been derailed by that most nefarious of career killers — a steady paycheck. But her vision and talent couldn't be contained by her day job as a design consultant. Eventually, it bled out over into a series of eye-catching extracurriculars that, ultimately, forced a turning point in her career and helped her become the Rachel Comey you know and love. As she told us from her busy, large — but still very intimate — studio that, like everyone who takes a leap of faith, she just needed to be pushed to the edge.
2_RachelComey02_148Photographed by Winnie Au
Art-School Confidential
"Getting into fashion was a gradual process for me. So, I studied sculpture in college and pursued it a bit afterward, but it just didn’t contain all of the different creative aspects that I'd been craving. See, what I love about fashion is that's it's a collaborative process. It's really a production. Also, there’s just something so satisfying about seeing a garment or piece of footwear you once sketched come off the line and go out into the world and have its own life. It's so wonderfully utilitarian compared to art. Also, with the fashion calendar, it’s always moving. It’s never stale."
Fired Up
“Initially, I was still working in a full-time job as a design consultant while I was doing my designs on the side. At some point, I agreed to be in a photo shoot for Time Out that focused on my shirts. I expected it to be a tiny, little postage-stamp thing that nobody would notice. The week the issue came out, I went to work, and it had been copied and put all over the office. That ended up being my last day at there (I wasn’t supposed to be working on stuff outside). In the end, though, it was great. If that didn’t happen, I might never have committed to my collection — I’d probably still be there!”
Card Shark
“I learned to be frugal in the very beginning — I still cling to that. I mean, I didn’t hire anyone full time until about six years in. See, I started my business on credit cards (I didn’t have any funds or anything), and I used to transfer my debt from one to another to another to fix my balances. I’d keep a meticulous notebook about when the free transfer was up, to keep it all from crashing down. You know, I still have a stack of those old credit cards on my desk.”
Setting Up Shop
“I’d never dreamt of Rachel Comey retail until recently. I’ve always loved being behind-the-scenes, focused on the manufacturing, design, and product development. Now, though, I’m looking forward to creating an environment for our collection and being able to interact directly with the customer. I love expanding into new categories. That’s what’s great about owning your company — whenever you just feel like doing something, you just do it.”
Advice for the Aspiring Visionary
“One thing that I never really did, and I wish I had was more apprenticeship. I’d still love to go apprentice for Miuccia Prada or something like that. But, honestly, it's all about having faith in your instincts. Now that there are so many influences available online — everywhere we turn there are new images — trusting your gut and taking your time to explore things for yourself is more important than ever. Oh, and don’t be afraid to fail!”
For more in-depth interviews with inspiring visionaries, click here.
Hair and makeup by Andrew Colvin

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