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Editor's Note: You know Bonnie Datt: She's been asking celebrities about their most regrettable purchase and recapping Project Runway on Racked since... forever. She's also a huge Nanette Lepore fan (seriously. die hard.), so when she asked us if we wanted her to cover a Nanette Lepore studio and factory tour, we knew there was no one better for the assignment. Here she is, reporting back on just how those famously gorgeous garments get from sketch book to runway. And yes, she gets to call her "Nanette" now.
Watching how the designers bring their visions to life on Project Runway is one thing; seeing it in real life is another. So when Nanette Lepore invited me to a bloggers' brunch—which included a visit to her design studio and two of the factories which help manufacture her collections—the fangirl in me was more than a little excited to see the magic that goes into creating her garments.
Things kicked off with an elegant brunch in the Nanette Lepore Garment Center showroom. Surrounded by the designer's Spring 2012 collection (including many of the fluorescent pieces we coveted at her September Fashion Week show), and the equally beautiful garments from her upcoming Pre-Fall collection, I joined a small group of bloggers who met and chatted with Nanette over Bloody Marys and quiche. The designer divulged that her upcoming Fall 2012 collection, which will be revealed in February at Fashion Week, was inspired by tarot cards and Oscar Wilde.
But as thrilled as I was to finally meet the designer who has helped fill my closet, it was the studio and factory tours which I was most excited about. Nanette Lepore is one of the few designers still creating almost all her clothing in New York, and one of the primary forces behind the Save the Garment Center campaign. Lepore explained that while other designers often have to wait long periods of time for their samples to come back from Asia, all she has to do is get into her office building's elevator or walk a few blocks to see them. This allows for better quality control and a fast turnaround on her garments, which also means the designer can make last minute changes to her Fashion Week designs.
Giving us a tour of her design studio, a few floors down from her showroom, Nanette allowed us an inside peek at the creation of her upcoming collection—its patterns, fabrics and even a few garments which were nearing completion. We promised we wouldn't leak photos of them before Fashion Week, but think deep reds, blues and greens. Also scattered throughout the studio were examples of the designer's favorite garments from previous seasons—some of which may eventually inspire updated versions in future collections.
From the design studio, we joined the brand's Special Projects Director, Erica Wolf, and walked a couple of blocks over to Regal Originals, a specialty factory which does pleating, shirring, smocking, embroidery and appliqué work. We learned that in the 1980s there were four hundred pleaters and stitchers in New York, but unfortunately Regal Originals is now the only unionized Garment Center-based company left who still does that type of work. Their studio includes machines that are eighty and ninety years old—many of which aren't even made any more.
While there, we saw a craftsman hand-pleating the neon yellow skirts from Lepore's upcoming Spring collection. The process involved folding the fabric onto a handmade accordion pleated paper pattern, then rolling it up and putting it into a steam room—a danger for those of us with straightened hair. When the pieces were done steaming, and then unrolled, we saw the beautifully finished pleats.
Our tour ended at M & S Schmalberg, a small factory which makes fabric flowers. This company has been owned by the same family for four generations. They showed us how they use metal molds to stamp petals out of leather and other fabrics. Their detailed creations, and the various work we saw implemented during our other Garment Center stops, gave me a newfound appreciation for even the smallest details on some of my own clothing.