THE INTERVIEW: Fashion Designer Nanette Lepore

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

I have yet another great interview for all of you!!! Today's chat is with none other than Nanette Lepore herself! The super talented Fashion Designer (whose Spring 2014 collection should already be in your closet) was in town for Recipe For Success Foundation's Dress for Dinner event.  I was invited to attend an intimate lunch with the designer and her team the next day at Neiman Marcus' Mariposa restaurant followed by an interview.  Read on to see what Nanette had to say about keeping the label in the family and visiting Houston for the first time!
My first question is actually about your name, Nanette Lepore. I just love it! It's very pretty. Is there a French ethnicity to that and how did your parents come about naming you Nanette?
I think my Mom was obsessed with all things French because she named my sister Michele, and when she tried to name my younger brother, Pierre, my Dad said "There's No Way", but the last name is actually Italian.  It has a very French sound to it, but in Italy they say Lay-Pore-Ray.
Interesting! I just assumed it was French! So you didn't want to go with Lay-Pore-Ray for the name of your label?
No, Lepore. It sounds very French and it sounds very fashiony. I think my Mom gave me the name that said I was destined to be a Fashion Designer!
OMG, I was just about to say that! With a name like Nanette Lepore, that's definitely a brand.
Isn't it sweet?
That's a company right there! She knew people would say "I want to wear 'Nanette Lepore."
I know! They've recently conducted studies on how children live up to their names. 
That's intriguing and I'm inclined to believe that there is a lot of truth behind that!

Nanette being interviewed by PaperCity Magazine Editors before lunch
You're originally from  Youngstown, Ohio, correct?

I'm very familiar with Youngstown. I'm from Pittsburgh. 
Oh get out, so we're kindred spirits! It's very similar, with steel and gangsters.
Haha, yes! We used to visit my Grandmother and she'd take us to church in Youngstown! What made you leave Youngstown to go to New York to pursue your career? Well I knew if I wanted to be in Fashion that I had to be in New York. There's no way around it and I had a brother and sister that were already living in New York. They were both modern dancers, and were working in their field, so it was easy for me to make the move.

Lunchtime at Mariposa
But before you headed to New York, I read that you first received a degree in Ohio. What was that degree? 
It was a degree in Business Administration. It was a Fashion Merchandising program but I sort of fashioned my own degree. It was called an Independent Curriculum Program, so I combined Fashion, Design, Business and Merchandisng into one degree.
Oh wow, that's great that you were able to combine all of those and basically you already knew that you wanted to end up in Fashion.
Yes, I was able to transfer some credits from F.I.T (Fashion Institute of Technology) to Youngstown so I was able to make one big degree which was really nice.

The Nanette Lepore salon at Neiman Marcus
I'd imagine it's great to have the business knowledge too. Whether it's Fashion or something else, at the end of the day you're still running a business. It must help a lot! 
Yes, and you learn to be practical and not ignore the numbers. I took so many accounting courses I thought my head was going to fall off, but in the end everything comes in handy!
I'm sure! I love that you have such a diverse education! I also love that your team is composed of family members. I've been speaking with Jimmy (Nanette's nephew and Social Media Marketing Director) and he's so sweet. Why is it important to you to have family involved with Nanette Lepore?
Even the ones who aren't family are like family. It's just important to me to have camaraderie and a 'working together' spirit within the company. It's also really fun to have Jimmy onboard at the company. I love having family members. When you're with family, you sort of relate and think in the same way because you're coming from the same set of circumstances and background. It's really nice to have somebody there that "kind of gets it" and knows "what happened over Christmas". I love having that! It also adds to my feelings that I want my company to become a legacy brand that I'm able to pass to my daughter and nephew. I want my company to  be like one of those old European houses that establishes itself and passes through the generations of family members. I'm really happy to be able to do that.

That's beautiful! I'm sure they will be very proud to carry on the legacy when that time comes, not anytime soon of course! That is truly amazing that you'll be able to pass it along and keep it in the family! In addition to having strong family values I've read that you've been advocating to save New York's Garment District.  Why is that important to you?
Well it's partially because that's where I actually do my manufacturing. I really do and I don't want to have to go to China to do it. I'm really happy manufacturing in New York. I have so much control over the product, over the way things fit, and how quickly we can do reorders.  We're able to watch and make sure  and our pieces are coming in at a certain standard. But, I also want to fight for it because I feel that I have to give back to the future. I was able to start a business with a really small loan, $5000, because these factories exist in the Garment District where you can take 20 pieces and they'll sew it for you. They want you to succeed because they want to build a future too. It's all about getting people to understand that young talent needs the ability to actually manufacture and manufacture in a small way.  They need the big people in the factory to give the factories profit so that they sustain and be there to accept the work of smaller & up and coming designers.

It is very important for smaller businesses...smaller up and coming designers to be able to pay for manufacturing. They're not going to have the income that you have now and that of other established designers. That's amazing that you're also taking that on! You do so much!
Well, you know, that was sort of selfish (Nanette laughes) but then it turned into a really great cause! I realized that people weren't seeing it all the way through. They weren't seeing the big picture.  You have to hit people over the head to get them to understand your talking points and keep repeating, repeating, and repeating.  Everyone would say, "We are helping the designers", but a designer is not a painter. They need more than just a studio. They don't sew everything themselves.

Right! They need somebody to do it and they need to be able to afford it!  
Exactly! It's commerce. It really is commerce.  We need to help support those little factories that are 20 to 50 employees were a new designer  can bring them their work, they sew it and they send it back to you finished. Finally, they started an initiative to help the factories. They're starting to get the picture and so I'm really happy.

Well I'm glad to hear that you are having success with your initiative and I'm sure a lot of young, new designers are grateful! I already knew that your husband is a painter, but I just learned from Jimmy that your father is also a painter.  Are your designs ever inspired or influenced by any of their artwork?
I just think that my love of color and working towards things almost as a collage is where I draw my inspiration.  I really respect both my husband and my Dad because they are both constantly painting. Especially my Dad because he's 83. My husband takes any chance he can get to paint a picture. I do feel bad, because I don't ever give him enough attention when he paints. He just showed me one the other day in Mexico and I was like "Yea that's nice, get ready to go we're late to dinner". But, I grew up with color, so I think it's natural for me to want to just create a painting. Every collection feels like we're creating one big painting and so it's really fun.

Well I'm definitely loving this color palette with all the pastels. This collection is absolutely gorgeous and flirty! Just one more question.  I know that this is your first time in Houston, but is it your first time Texas?
No, I was in Dallas for the Neiman's 100  Year Anniversary. It's normally Neiman Marcus that pulls me to Texas and I'm hoping to be pulled again.

What have you liked so far about Houston?
I love the people. I've met so many amazing & strong women that are really accomplished and really powerful. I love their sense of style because there is still femininity going on. Most of what I've encountered here in Houston are the people and I'm very impressed...and the food. Good food. I heard  that you have great bakeries that make really great bread and all of that artisanal food thing happening which I'm a fan of too.
Yes, so good, but it makes it hard to loose weight here! 
I bet, always something new popping up right?
All the time! Well thank you so much Nanette for taking the time to chat with me. I know my readers will enjoy hearing what  you've had to say! Have a great rest of your trip here in Houston and come back soon!

Nanette being interviewed by Houston Chronicle's Fashion & Beauty Editor Joy Sewing
I loved the colorful macaroons and how they matched the flowers arrangements and the colors in the collection
Another picture of me with the lovely Nanette Lepore

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  1. Great interview doll!

    Check out my latest posts on Venoma's fashion diary
    XoXo Venoma

  2. Lovely interview with the icon Nanette Lapore! You're so lucky to have met her! I love her designs.


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