As top designers go, they’re a mixed bag of personalities. Some are brusque, some aloof—only a small few are able to keep that “awe shucks!” enthusiasm that drew them to the business in the first place. Rebecca Taylor has an effervescence about her that makes you know, instantly, that she loves what she does.
Starting from humble beginnings, she parlayed her unemployment program training into a career producing some of the most wearable clothing to hit the runway. Her clients are a study in contrasts, from the high-end elegance of the Duchess of Cambridge to the young, squeaky clean image of Taylor Swift, and the indie “It” girl appeal of Alexa Chung. Her designs are also timeless-yet-edgy: one could wear an 1997 Rebecca Taylor dress and not look out of place today or look like they were going to a 90s party (which is a thing).
After showing her spring 2014 collection, she sat down with Houstonia to give us some insight into what makes her such a success.
You’ve has a long career as a top designer. How does it feel to see clothes you created way-back-when still being worn?
I love that my clothes can be multigenerational. I’ve got to this stage in my career, fortunately, that I hear so many times that “I bought a dress for my first job interview,” or “I got this for my daughter and now my granddaughter wears it.” They’re still relevant—[each collection can] build on each other and are not just [trendy] and disposable.
The quality of your garments is so good—I’m sure that adds to their longevity. I heard you learned to sew from your mother; does that influence your clothing?
Yes—my mother was very influential to everything I do.
Is that how you knew you wanted to be a designer?
Well, I grew up in the 80s and we didn’t have Project Runway—I was in New Zealand and we didn’t know being a designer was a thing. So I grew up wanting to do anything but that. I spent my 20s kind of floundering. I was actually on unemployment for a long time and I went into this government-run scheme [job training program]. I was told “You need to do something to get money,” and I was like “What have you got?” They said costume design and I said “Sweet.” So I sort of fell into it.
What’s your proudest moment so far?
There’s been so many—from getting my first order to making it through another collection. It’s a business with many milestones—fortunately! OH! I dressed the Duchess of Cambridge, recently. It was the highlight of my career so far.
Do you find understanding construction and underlying structure helpful to designing?
Absolutely! I know how to sew, I’m a trained patternmaker—I’m not a trained designer, though. I wing that part!
You style is so feminine, but has so much edgy detail—how do you strike the right balance?
It’s kind of the way I dress and the way I am. I’m a tomboy, but I also love very feminine things like Victorian lingerie and costume designs. There’s always that balance there.
Do you have any favorite pieces in your 2014 spring collection?
The big pants. I call them my “David Bowie” pants—he’s my style icon. He’s got such a sense of humor and doesn’t take himself too seriously. He’s taken so many brave choices and risks. He’s innovative.