Bruce: The Interview

In the following transcript of our conversation, you'll hear what it's like to run a small designer company in New York. For those of you who've only read of the lavish lifestyles of Donna, Calvin, and Ralph, this should be an eye-opener. -- Damion Matthews

LO: Many of the smaller companies showed their fall '99 collections after Europe, but you showed yours according to the new schedule, before Europe. Why is that?

Nicole: Everyone's going to eventually have to change to the schedule, so why not change now instead of later? Because there would have always been a time when there was a crunch, we just decided to do it right away. And it's also like people were coming in for those shows, and I don't know how many people came in for the second group of shows that just happened.

LO: I'm curious, why don't you walk out on the runway at the end of your shows?

Daphne: No particular reason. It's not meant to pose any statement. You know, if it was just our friends it would be one thing, but we're not really the type of people that go out in public and, you know, a "Look at me! Look at me!" kind of thing. It's just kind of nerve-wracking. And anyway, if you're not really some sort of exhibitionist, for people to actually go out on a stage with everyone staring at you, it's very strange.

LO: What was the inspiration for fall '99?

Daphne: Everybody asks us that question about inspiration. The way Nicole and I work, it's never really like that. It's not like, "Oh, my inspiration this time was the Renaissance, you know, during the Dark Ages." It's never really about that. Nicole: Fall '99 ended up being a little tough because the seasons changed. The fashion calendar changed a lot, so we had a lot less time. But I think we're just -- we're really trying to focus on the construction of our clothes right now. We don't have themes. But it's pretty much like an evolution of design ideas that we've been working on from seasons past. That one was more construction, I think.

Daphne: Of course, you try to stick to a real cohesive thing during a collection, but really we've kind of dabbled. In every collection we've kind of dabbled in a little bit of everything, whether it's the embroidery or things that are really tactile, like yarns. And we're actually really strong in knitwear. It's not any one particular thing. And we always try to throw in something that has more of a personal feel to it. Sometimes it's not just about a pair of pants, you know, there always might be a little bit of humor in something. If you split the legs open there's air holes on the bottom. We try to take time to make it a little bit more personal. But in terms of inspirations, I guess it's about everything.

LO: How would you describe your customer?

Daphne: Hopefully she's hip. I like to think that our customer could be -- in terms of age at least -- I'd like to think that it can pretty much follow in a really wide range of people. And even in style. I think there should be things that every type of woman should want, that can appreciate. And it varies. I mean, if there is one point of view that I find for some reason stands out in my mind, it's "female." It's funny because we had spoken to a department store once and they said, "Well, because with your name, no one's going to know that you're two females." And I said to her, "Well, if you actually look at our clothing, you would never not know that these are females that designed this."

LO: Do you have any famous customers?

Daphne: From what I understand, in London they've sold things to PJ Harvey.

LO: What do you offer the customer that other designers don't?

Nicole: I think it's our design. The type of design that we do is -- it's not mainstream, but I think it's very easily every-day wearable clothing. We try to make things a little bit more personal to the wearer. There's a lot of small details there that I think are special.

LO: What is your price range?

Daphne: We sell denim that we try to sell with our main collection as well. And it's a really good support for us. So, our least expensive items can run from $150 for a pair of jeans to $500 for a pair of the wool, lined pants, to a leather jacket that runs about $1,300. And that's all retail prices. Tops can range anywhere from, I 'd say, $300 to about $700. For someone who can't go shopping like that every day it's an awesome thing to think of spending $700 on a shirt. I mean, I can justify it because I know how much it took -- how much it cost to make it, and also how much labor went into it.

LO: Did your exposure in "Vogue" a few months ago help your business?

Daphne: Actually, it's been helpful with stores because, you know, your average store probably looks at "Vogue", in America at least. So, it's been pretty good in that way.

Nicole: We were very surprised about that, actually. It was really nice, I think. We've been getting a lot of support from them, from the people there, so it was nice.

LO: So, where did the two of you meet?

Daphne: We met at Parson's, and we used to live across the hall from each other and we became friends that way and we just stayed friends.

LO: Why did you start Bruce?

Nicole: When I was in college I kind of always knew I wanted to do my own thing. And when I got out of school -- you know, there's really not many places to work. So, I took jobs. I mean, the first job I ever took was horrendous. I actually worked at J. Crew and it was like one of the worst experiences I've ever had in a job before. I got out of school and I realized that the opportunities I was interested in weren't there. So, I kind of took jobs that would help me more with what I wanted to do eventually. I ended up taking a job later on at Isaac, which is a secondary line, in the fabric department, in order to help me with this business. And Daphne worked in production for, I think it was Donna Karan mens.

Daphne: It was your typical 9:00 to 5:00 job. Actually, in the design business it's never really 9:00 to 5:00, it's usually 9:00 to 11:00 or 9:00 to 10:00. So, you know, just getting really weary about the kind of jobs that were out there. We were always talking about it and just being friends for so long, we just shared a lot in common in terms of, like, aesthetically looking at clothes. So, one day we just kind of decided.

LO: When was that?

Daphne: About four years ago. This is our fourth season doing shows, but we've actually been doing this for about five. Six, actually. And the first two seasons were trial for us. It was more about getting our feet wet and making sure that we kind of knew what we were doing before we started investing a lot of money in shows and things like that.

LO: How were you funded?

Daphne: Both of us had financial help. I don't think anybody -- unless you're independently wealthy -- I don't think anyone would be able to support this kind of business on a continual basis.

LO: So, you've had help from your parents? Nicole: They help us out quite a bit.

LO: How many employees do you have?

Daphne: None. We do everything ourselves. We don't sew the garments, of course, but we contract people, contract help as we need it. But in terms of organizing and running the entire business, from show to production to everything, to press. Nicole and I pretty much do everything ourselves. And we've never had any full-time employee. They've always been sort of freelance contractors.

LO: Do you plan on hiring anyone?

Nicole: That's our goal. Our goal is to be able to hire several people, you know, to have a staff, and maybe even an assistant, so that when we will be able to focus on the creative end a lot more.

LO: What's the worst thing about being in fashion?

Daphne: I guess the obvious things. The workload. The business. I'd say everything is the worse thing except for the actual creating. Everything else is just horrible. It's such a funny thing because it is a business, and with every business there is PR, there's financial knowledge that you have to deal with.

Nicole: I really like to design, but since we've been doing this, the things that we really love to do, you just never get to do them. It ends up being like the smallest part of your day. Out of each season you might spend like two weeks -- not even -- like probably a week designing.

LO: What do you like about working in fashion? Nicole: [Speechless] I don't know why I can't answer that question. Right now I can't think of anything.

Daphne: I like the idea of sculpting things three-dimensional. And the idea of working on a form and looking at something from all around. And also the power of what clothing can have. I shouldn't really say "power," because it doesn't necessarily have power, but the fact that it can actually represent or express something so powerfully. And depending on how good it makes a person feel, to what it symbolizes. It could be a uniform, or -- it's so representational of so many things and it changes so often. And it could be an incredibly superficial thing. It just has so many different meanings. It's just nice, also, to see people express themselves individually through it.

LO: What are your plans for the future?

Nicole: I think a lot of people get sidetracked on doing a lower priced line in order to support their more expensive line. But the thing is for us we think we need to build up creatively, and also the business side. We need to build up one line. And then when we're really happy with that and that's stable, then we'd like to go into a lower priced line. We'd love to do menswear, accessories, lingerie. We have a lot of plans.

LO: Do you see yourself designing when you're 70?

Daphne: Maybe. Maybe not. Never say never. I wouldn't mind it. If the situation is still good, I definitely would like to continue doing it, but I have so many of my own personal goals. The future is sort of like a question mark. It would be nice to be able to do lots of other things besides just this. I like cooking. I would love to have a restaurant some day. I know for me, anyway, when I first started this and every day was sort of a struggle for us, these interests that you have are the things that kind of keep you going also.

DFR: Daily Fashion Report