When models stomped down the runway for the Cynthia Steffe Spring 09 collection, you could tell a change was in the air. The Cynthia Steffe girl had rediscovered herself, largely due to the arrival of Creative Director, Shaun Kearney. A veteran of Donna Karan, Kenneth Cole, and Max Mara, Shaun had the perfect pedigree to take over a label who prides itself on luxurious fabrics and smart details on a savvy price point. And, of course, who can forget their samples sales, which instill a Rebecca Bloomwood type madness inside any girl (see my coverage of that here). A Brit-It designer living in NY, Shaun has his finger on the pulse of everything cool and I can guarantee he knows exactly what you will want to wear before you do. Shaun gives us the gloss on his inspirations, his next collection, and his adoration of Marc and Alexa.
One of my favorite things about the brand is the price point. How do you manage to find a balance of great fabrics and designs without sacrificing the price point?
It’s important to me to make clothes that look great, but that doesn’t mean anything unless people can afford to buy and wear them. As a brand, we’re democratic about design and materials. I use fabrics that I respond to, whether they are expensive – in which case they are reserved for special items – or more affordable. That’s why in a single collection we will offer, for example, a metallic jersey tank for $95 alongside a gold coat in luxe textured boucle for $495. Style today isn’t just about quality or cost, it’s about taste and having the confidence to mix high and low.
Looks from Holiday and Resort
When you took over where did you envision the line going? Did you want to change the Cynthia Steffe girl or just build on her?
I wasn’t sure at first, to be honest! The line used to have a very coordinated collection mentality, and I am more about pieces that can be mixed and matched together. For example, one of my favorite looks for holiday is our gold sequin mini paired with a boyfriend T-shirt. My goal all along has been to bring our girl up to date and show her what is required for a modern wardrobe – and in the process, maybe she got a bit cooler and sexier. I think we have gained a new Cynthia Steffe customer while retaining the old one.
New Cynthia Steffe label
You have a great pedigree of designers that you have worked for... What was the best piece of advice you received from any of those designers?
Listen and be open-minded. Be true to yourself and understand your customer. I think I have heard that from every one of them.
Will we be seeing accessories from Cynthia Steffe soon?
Yes, shoes first!
How else are you looking to expand the brand? I hear whispers about e-commerce and going international…true?
The whispers are true. I want to make sure the website is redesigned in line with our new aesthetic first, then we will launch e-commerce. Internationally, we are now selling to Harvey Nichols and Harrods in the UK as well as specialty boutiques throughout Europe, Asia and the Middle East .
How will that expansion influence your designs for your consumer?
There is so much crossover now in terms of style! I see girls in the UK mixing the New York polished look with London cool, and I also see New Yorkers edging it up with that London look. As a Brit living in the States, I guess it’s already instinctive for me to mix the two. The recognition we’re getting from overseas is license to continue pushing the envelope while remaining true to our roots as an American brand.
Which designers do you think are super hot right now?
There are so many other designers that I like for so many different reasons. But I particularly like for breaking all the rules on American fashion. He certainly paved the way for all new emerging talent who have something different to say about American style, which has been very refreshing.
Any insider scoop you can give on the Spring ’10 line?
All I can say right now is that she is feeling quite romantic this season, but not naive or vulnerable in any way, shape or form.
Anne Hathaway in a Spring 09 dress
What inspires you? I love looking at what girls are wearing in Asia, Sydney , London etc…Do you look at street fashion for inspiration?
Always. Trends come from the street. But music tends to inspire me the most… music helps me get into the spirit and vibe I am feeling for each season.
You’ve worked for some iconic New York designers…How has NY inspired you?
It’s inspired me to polish up my act a little and become savvier about marketing a product!
Everyone is buzzing about London this year, people are saying Paris is not as creative anymore, what city do you think is the “It” city at the moment for fashion?
We are quite fickle, aren’t we? Maybe I am biased, but to me London has always been the most creative. Sadly, it has not been able to attract or sustain the attention it deserves as many British designers feel the need to showcase their work in Milan , NY or Paris in order to be taken seriously. The anniversary of London Fashion Week created a lot of buzz, though, so it will be interesting to see what happens now.
If you could pick a celebrity to be your muse, who would it be?
Gosh, there are so many, but I love and how she can make something pretty look so cool.
Alexa Chung in Cynthia Steffe sequin skirt
I live for your . What are your tips on dressing well/looking expensive on a budget and scoring great deals?
Thanks, we love our sample sales too because we offer a lot of one-of-a-kind pieces, including runway samples. Getting up at the crack of dawn is definitely worth it! It’s great to see stylish women like you taking your bargain buys and putting them together in ingenious ways. Be open-minded about where you shop – whether it’s at a sample sale, a thrift store, or a friend’s closet – but also stay true to your own sense of style. Don’t buy something you will never wear just because it’s discounted, and always personalize your finds with great accessories or “wow” pieces that you already own to integrate them into your wardrobe.
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