If you have ever described yourself as someone who was "into" lingerie, you know Angela Friedman's work. Case in point: have you seen these ruffled knickers on Pinterest?
That's Angela's work. Specifically, it's the Versailles collection from her Kickstarter a few years back.
The first luxury items I ever really, truly lusted after were Angela's. The quality of her work is unparalleled. It's evocative, elegant, eloquent.
Suffice it to say, over half of my lingerie wishlist is custom Angela Friedman, and it will probably always be that way. It's a true pleasure to have her on the Bluestockings Blog today.
Angela Friedman. Photo Credit: Kristen Blush
Tell us about yourself and your background.
My name is Angela Friedman, and I'm an independent fashion designer focusing on vintage-inspired lingerie, lounge wear, and corsets. I'm a history and art nerd with a penchant for theater and every sort of crafting imaginable, so somehow I find myself lucky enough to work in the arts at a young age and make a living doing it!
I never originally planned to start a fashion line, but what began as a fun pet project quickly grew into the brand I operate today! At the time I was working in the costumes department of a ballet company - a tutu maker, in a way - and because I was living in New York City, I was surrounded by fashion and fashion designers. All of my formal training and work experience at the time had been as a costume technician, so I had worked at various theater, opera, and dance companies sewing, cutting fabric, and pattern making, which was ultimately the perfect training for operating an independent fashion line. There are definitely distinctions between the way the various sectors operate, but there are more similarities between costumes and fashion than you might think.
Lavinia Corset from her latest collection
You've worked as a cutter and draper for the New York City Ballet. Where do you see the overlap in aesthetic between lingerie and ballet? Where do you see the differences?
From 2009 to 2012, I worked as the Head of the Ladies' Department of the New York City Ballet costume shop. Basically what that translates to is that I was the liaison between designer and stitcher, interpreting designers' sketches into 2-dimensional patterns that would translate into 3-dimensional garments to be cut and sewn together by a team of 6 other incredibly talented workers. I draped and drafted patterns, fit the clothes on the dancers, organized materials, and generally supervised the construction and quality control of hundreds of costumes for the ballerinas (in addition to hundreds more of alterations and refitting).
The rigorous scheduling of the theater and demands of wearability, durability, and comfort for the dancers have very much informed my current business operations. In fact, I'm not sure I would have made it through more than a year in the fashion world without that preparation!
It was a surprisingly easy transition for me to make - it seems that Ballet and lingerie are made for each other. The aesthetics definitely have crossed over for me, as I design primarily in soft color palettes (including many shades of ballet pink!) and romantic and feminine detailing. Even with the current trends of sleek, modernized lingerie styles, I think there will always be a market for sweet princess-like lingerie fashions. After all, every woman should be able to feel like a starlet on her own stage if she wants to!
Where do you draw inspiration for your collections?
I do follow trend reports like all designers do, but I feel strongly that lingerie (and fashion in general) should be timeless. Why purchase something that will be out of style in a few months, especially if that fast fashion requires cheap and unethical labor sourced thousands of miles away? I don't understand the appeal of that kind of fashion market, so I design garments that can be worn from one season to the next. I focus strongly on durability and inspiration that can bridge the gaps between trends.
Most of my big picture inspiration comes from art, whether romantic era paintings, classical sculpture, fashion plates from the 1920s, or even art deco architecture. I'm an extremely visual person, so that's simply what resonates with me the best when I'm developing a theme for a new collection.
When it comes to the individual designs, I mostly look to the fabric to "speak" to me. That may sound dramatic, but it's true: I'm trained in the technical side of fashion, not design, and that distinction means that it's easier for me to work directly with fabric than anything else. I'm often found in my studio draping silk and lace pieces and pouring over my swatch books- and believe it or not, I actually don't sketch at all!
Words cannot express how badly I want those lounge pants
What are your greatest challenges as a small business owner?
It's funny, I don't really spend that much time working with the garments. The great irony of running a small business is that you spend more time running the business than you do with the part that you started the business to do!
That means that for every hour of sewing I do, there are three or four more hours I spend in all of the other operational parts of running a business: social media, marketing and sales, customer service and correspondence, taxes and payroll, fulfilling press requests, planning photo shoots, purchasing materials and maintaining inventory. It's challenging because it's not for these things that I started the business, but it's all extremely important to do in order to remain operational.
Additionally, I spend a lot of time trying to justify my prices to consumers who are accustomed to fast fashion box store prices. It's an exhausting uphill battle, especially because my garments are not cheap. The difficult thing is that many people see a price tag of $300 and immediately think I'm trying to rip them off or that I'm pocketing a boatload of cash. But the reality is that over 75% of revenue goes straight back into the business and I would be earning more money (and working fewer hours for it) at nearly any job in this country. I'm sure that everyone wants to buy ethically manufactured goods, but when it comes to paying for it? Silence in the room.
The Clair de Lune Robe has been at the top of my lingerie wishlist for years
Can you name your greatest success as a small business owner?
Every day that I remain in business, I count as a success. With so many lingerie companies and stores going out of business or operating in the red, it's a wonder any designers can survive at all. If it sounds bleak, that's because it is. But the fact that I'm able to earn a living, however slim, out of a niche market like luxury lingerie is pretty unlikely, so I'm counting my blessings there.
Have you had to "kill your darlings" when it came to certain designs or size offerings that you loved but that didn't sell?
If I've learned anything at all it's that the market is fickle and sales are unpredictable! While I can pretty safely guess size breakdowns (4 to 5 smalls and mediums to every large, and very rarely extra smalls or extra larges), styles and colors are more challenging. Black is almost always a safe bet, but other than that it's often a big question mark.
Prints in particular are tricky, and they either sell like hotcakes or not one at all. My most recent business tragedy was that the one print that sold well for me, a beautiful grey and pink peony floral, was just discontinued by the textile mill. In order to get them to reproduce it, I would have to order 300 meters! I haven't sold 300 meters worth of any one style in 4 years, so that design - a bestseller - had to be cancelled.
We've talked (often!) on Twitter about monetary difficulties as indies in this industry and how luxury lingerie designers often cannot afford their own designs. What drew you to work in this incredibly difficult, incredibly niche field of lingerie, and what keeps you there?
I suppose my love of corsets and vintage and antique clothing brought me to lingerie. Women used to invest so much in their beautiful undergarments, and they must have felt more glamorous for it! While I won't pretend that forcing women to wear corsets helped their confidence, I do think there's something inherently special about wearing silk stockings, a carefully hand embroidered chemise, or a special robe handed down by your mother. Clothing used to be valued in a very different way, and I love helping women feel like it's OK to indulge themselves and that there deserve to feel beautiful. We too rarely give ourselves that kind of permission.
If I were in it for the money, I would be a lawyer. But I'm not. I'm in it for the extraordinary women I get to work with, whether seamstresses, sales reps, assistants, stylists, editors, or bloggers. We build each other up and support each other in an incredibly close knit community- especially because the old fashion industry is so close to collapse. There are precious few remnants left of the old garment districts and precious few hands that can produce truly couture garments anymore. I want to help preserve what's left in any way I can! (Besides, what could be greater than a job where I get to be involved in helping women feel beautiful and comfortable in their own skin?)
Angela released this image the day of the SCOTUS decision on marriage equality
You were one of very few designers who released supportive, LGBTQIA+ inclusive images for Pride Month (and marriage equality) this year -- thank you! What prompted your decision to do so?
Oh goodness, there's no thank you necessary. Really. I count it as a very small gesture, and to be honest I didn't even make a careful decision to release my Pride celebration imagery! It just made sense. I was excited! I've always been very honest and open about my political and ethical perspectives, on and off line in regards to my business. I think it's ridiculous to suppose that I could separate the business from the personal in that regard.
I've been told it's not smart business to be controversial or political like that, but if ignoring important sweeping movements of social change is good business, then I don't want to be in business at all. I'd rather lose a few sales (and honestly, I doubt that's even happening) than sacrifice being true to my heart with these things. I suppose it comes from being a Jew and understanding what it feels like to be the target. If I can't stand up for someone else's rights, then who will stand up for mine? Besides, my own heterosexuality doesn't exempt me from identifying with a need for public action in support of my LGBT brothers and sisters. We're all human, and honestly I don't care who you love as long as you choose to love and not hate.
P.S. Be sure to follow Angela on Twitter - I do!
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