Monday, November 17, 2008
Q & A with Nous Savons
While wandering around the Appel & Frank Eco-Chic Shopping event last month, I came across a designer who I had also spotted at Capsule. I wasn't the only one who took notice. Shoppers were busy peeling off their layers to try on the reconstructed and improved button-down shirts designed by Nous Savons designer and owner Jocelyn Nguyen. The beauty of what she does is reflected in the care she takes in turning around what was once a boring, secretary-style blouse and making it a unique and edgy wearable piece of art. I was intrigued by what motivated and inspired Jocelyn to first, work with these kinds of fabrics, and also to find out how she made the big break to start her own business.
What made you decide to pick these thrift store shirts and reconstruct them?
I've always been a thrift store shopper. I started out collecting vintage while I was in junior high school (who didn't?) I would come across amazing vintage pieces with just one horrible flaw (like a stain or hole), and couldn't resist buying them for the material. Eventually I started anthropomorphizing the clothing and feeling really sorry for the things that I didn't think anyone was buying-- mainly the "boring" stuff such as button-down shirts, blazers, pleated wool pants. So I bought a few shirts with no ideas in mind and just spent some time draping them. I actually have no idea what was going through my head when I initially cut the sleeves off and made the ruffle yoke with them. But this is how I work--just very instinctively.
When did you first start "playing with clothes?"
My mother is an amazing seamstress and made a lot of clothing for my sister and me while we were growing up, but I never exactly had sewing lessons from her. Even when I was a kid I was way more into hand-sewing and draping, or altering existing clothing. But the fact that my mother made clothing so frequently and nonchalantly made it all seem really accessible to me.
How did you end up starting your own business?
Even though I'd been making things all my life, I never thought my craft could be a business that could sustain me. Then early, early one morning, after staying up all night putting together a job application I got an email from Scott and Harris, the guys who put together the Hayes Valley Capsule Festival. It was a last-minute call for designers for their next show. In my totally sleep-deprived state I went ahead and applied for the show even though I wasn't making ANYTHING tangible at the time. So I spent the next month and a half filled with dread and panic, working every minute I had outside of my regular full-time job, making things for the fair. The response was amazing, and I got a lot of leads for boutiques and other shows out of it. I spent the next year or so doing shows and selling to stores while still working full time. Eventually I realized I had to either quit my job and go all out on the business, or I had to quit the business and find something that could be a career. Of course, I chose the business and I have no regrets.
You don't have a formal fashion design background - how do you find the tools to execute your vision?
I studied photography in college, which sometimes comes out in my design process. Reconstructed pieces are a lot like photography in that, to me, they are much more about editing than creating: you choose your materials from existing objects, and then you put them together or take them apart, but you don't work from scratch The end result is so much more than the sum of its parts.
What are your thoughts on sustainable fashion?
Creating sustainable clothing is really important to me. I actually do my own rounds of thrift stores, searching for and hand selecting everything that I reconstruct. It's much more time-consuming than just ordering exactly the amount of whatever material I need, and knowing that the quality and characteristics are going to be the same every time, but that is part of the fun. It makes me feel good to know that I am taking things that people discard and turning them into something extremely desirable. My clothing means more to me, piece by piece, than it would if I was just designing samples that would be reproduced by the thousands. I also love the unpredictable nature of the process, from searching out the materials, reconstructing them (and, though I do virtually the same alteration on all the shirts and vests, each piece really looks different depending on the original structure of the garment), and then eventually finding the right person for each piece.
What do you think about the state of eco-conscious design in San Francisco?
I think there are a lot of different ways to be an eco-conscious designer (whether it be rescue-and-reconstruction, or using green materials, or even running other aspects of your business sustainably) and there are many examples of each kind in San Francisco. We're lucky that being green is something that people are not only constantly thinking about in San Francisco, but actually practicing. I also have to add that there is a disproportionate amount of amazing smaller designers in San Francisco, and it has a lot to do with the support the indie design community gets from the public. It's a nice symbiotic relationship that really benefits everybody.
Finally, how did you come up with the name "Nous Savons?"
It came to me out of nowhere. It's a bit of a joke-- it popped into my head as the snottiest name possible for a clothing line before I even had a clothing line. It's funny to me to see (a) who knows what it means and (b) who understands that it's a joke. Sometimes people take it a lot more seriously than I do.
You can find Nous Savons at the new Etsy shop (clothes to come soon), and in San Francisco at Needles & Pens, The Mission Statement, Still Life, Arkay Workshop, and soon at Bell Jar.