DESIGNER INTERVIEW: Couturier Rubin Singer

Saturday, March 19, 2016

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Rubin Singer, 3rd generation Couturier. Rubin Singer was in town for a trunk show at Neiman Marcus and to host the 5th event for Season 7 of Dress For Dinner.  Feel free to watch the video interview here or below. The interview is also transcribed below as well.

I love your Russian heritage. Before you moved to New York, did you actually spend anytime living in Russia? 
I had a complicated beginning as far as my travels as a kid. My parents are Russian, and they left the Soviet Union when my mother was 8 months pregnant and I was born in Austria; in Vienna. Then we moved to Paris when I was very young, not even a year old, and we spent my first 8 years in France; so I grew up in Paris. Then we moved to New York after that. I'm Russian, first generation, born in Austria, raised in France and New York.

Wow, so you have had a very worldwide experience. Did a lot of that influence you going into Fashion? 
Of course, I think everything affects you, especially at that age. Watching my father work, who was also a designer, my whole life influenced everything that I do. It's something that has been apart of my whole existence. Ever since I could remember, I was around clothes, and dresses, and fabrics. That's really at the core of who I am and how I design.

A lot of people are familiar with the term Fashion Designer, but you are titled as a 3rd generation Couturier. What is the difference between a Fashion Designer and Couturier? 
A couturier is someone who really understands couture. Couture is actually a French term, and it's bespoke. It's finely made. Haute Couture is the highest of all the fashion educations and practices. You have to go through several processes to be admitted into the Syndicale de la Couture (Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couturein France, but ultimately I have been raised in the fine art of clothes making, as well as design. Couture really is about the needle and the hand and what the actual garment is and how it's made and the whole culture around how everything is created. That's really why it's Couturier rather than a Designer.

I think it's really important to identify the difference, because people tend to throw out the term Fashion Designer to describe everyone in fashion, but this is special, this is different. Is this your first time in Houston?
I've been to Houston many times. We participated in Houston Fashion Week (Fashion Houston), twice or three times? I can't really remember. I come here quite a bit. Neiman's is an amazing partner. We do a lot of business here. We have a lot of clients that are from Houston. It's a great city to come and visit.

That's great. I know the Neiman Marcus shoppers love to meet all the Designers that come in person. It's something extra special, versus just wearing the clothes, you get to meet the person behind them. 
Yes and then there's a relationship to what you are wearing, and how the clothes are created and made and who's behind them. It's very important.

This is your second day for your trunk show. How is it going so far?
Fantastic. Tonight we have the fashion show and the dinner. It's going well. It's great.

How did you come to work with Recipe for Success for their Dress For Dinner event tonight?
Through Neiman's. They're huge supporters of both the organization and myself. They asked me to participate and I absolutely said yes. I'm really excited to be apart of Recipe for Success.

I've been supporting the organization for awhile, and I think it's amazing that they're able to bring in all of these designers and we have the chance to meet you! Your garments are very strong, powerful and unique. The girl who wears them needs to be bold and confident. You've dressed one of my favorite celebrities of all time; Beyonce. Other than being strong, how would you describe your client?
Strength really is a big part of it. It defies age, body types, backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicity. I have clients in Singapore and Japan. I have clients in Russia. I have clients in Brazil. I have clients all over the world. What the thread is -- no pun intended-- between all of these individuals,  is all of these women have an inherent desire to look special and to feel beautiful and to be modern rather than expected. There is a strong aftertaste of couture in the clothes because of my upbringing. Because of my history with Oscar and Bill Blass, and all of the things that I've been brought up participating in; watching and seeing. It's really about making that elemental aspect into something that is modern and that  makes someone stand out. So it's not for the faint at heart.

I love things that stand out! Something that is going to make someone look twice or even three times and ask "What or Who is she wearing?"  You mentioned working at Oscar de la Renta for awhile and then Bill Blass. When did you know that you were ready to venture out on your own?
There was one moment that happened at the last job that I had, where it was just time.  I just knew it. It was the end of that part of my life and the beginning of the next. I was ready.

We are glad that you did!
Me too!

We enjoy everything that you've been bringing to the industry! What kind of advice would you give to a young Fashion Designer or a budding Couturier?
Don't do it! (Laughs). It's a very challenging and difficult industry. It's unforgiving. It's very. very weathering. It's hard. If somebody is really impassioned about it, like truly impassioned about it, not just like, "I'm going to be a Designer," but if its a real passion. You have to put in an inordinate amount of hours and time, energy and thought, dedication to make something and to develop something. It takes a long time, and it takes a lot of money. It takes a lot, a lot, a lot of things.  The most important thing, in my field, is the endless barrage of opinions. Everybody's got one and everybody tells you what it is. You're work is constantly being criticized. You're constantly on display to be judged.  One of the most important things is that you listen, but you don't bend, unless you agree. To maintain your own sense of self, while being able to identify who, what, and what for are the clothes that you're making, is the most important thing to do as a designer. Really stick to your guns, don't give up. Listen, but don't always do. 

Words to live by! A lot of people see the glamour of it all; dressing celebrities, making a lot of money, features in magazines...
That's the end!

Yes! There's so much more behind the scenes.  I'm always amazed at how many collections designers are shelling out these days! I have no idea how you're keeping up with it!?'s really difficult.

How many do you do?
I do 4. I was doing 5 and then I stopped. I was also doing a bridal collection and it was too much, just too much.

Well with 4 a year, how do you find inspiration for each collection?
This is actually something that has been a big sort of debate in my head and in my office. You can't. You can't really have a fully developed concept and show 4 of them every year. You just can't, or at least, I can't.  I don't feel like I ever have enough time, and enough manpower, and enough material. Collections have to be concise and edited, you can't say everything. If it's a concept that I really believe in, I now spread it between two seasons. I have 4 sister concepts a year, and 2 main ideas that I do. That way I have 2 seasons to really develop each one, rather than trying to come up with things that are half-baked. 

And that's probably why you're really successful. And if you edit something out of the first half of your vision, but really loved it, you could try to work it into the second half. 
Exactly. You get to really dig into an idea, and really articulate it. 

Are you already thinking about your next collection?
I have too. Right before I left, I was finishing all of my fabrics for Resort 17 and we're working on Spring 17 right now too.

How much of your time is dedicated to design and being creative, versus the business aspect of the job?
The least amount of time is dedicated to design, unfortunately. As the business is developing, I'm actually carving out more and more time for my work and my abilities and time to reflect and to really design. Luckily, it comes very easily to me. But when you're starting out, when you're an emerging designer, it's tough. You don't have time to do anything. You're hitting the pavement hard; doing everything in order to make this thing something. I'm now at a point where luckily I can step away from all of that and really start focusing on the more important stuff which really is design. But it's always been disproportionately small compared to what I have to do for the business. 

I think that's another shock for designers coming out who want to start a brand right away.
There's so little design and so much everything else. It's crazy.

How big is your team right now?
We have 32 people working for us, based in New York.

I know New York is the hub for fashion, but have you ever thought about going anywhere else with your company?
It's where I grew up. It's the garment center of the country, it's where I belong. I'll come to Houston, but I won't move to Houston!

How much of an influence was Oscar de la Renta in your career?
Working with Oscar de la Renta was one of those really important experiences. It gave me discipline. It taught me how much of a professional I needed to become and how little of what I was. It really showed me restraint. He taught me how to do less, and because of that it does more. Editing, control, organization, methodology, all of those things were really developed while I was there.

Is there anybody else in the fashion industry besides your father and Oscar that you looked up to as a mentor?
My boss from Oscar is still my mentor, truly, to this day. There's a lot of designers from history that I reference and that are very important pillars of my aesthetic beliefs. But in terms of actual experiences, it's really my Dad and Oscar..

Are there any celebrities that you haven't dressed yet, that you would love to see your garments on?
Yes. There's two actually, both of them were in the same movie this year; Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett. 

Thank you Rubin Singer for taking the time to be interviewed for Live Life in Style!

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