British-born, Los Angeles-based designer Gregory Parkinson is having a strong run to say the very least. All the signs are pointing towards mainstream success. However, the best part of all of the media attention is the spotlight on his impeccable and not so mainstream designs. He's a master of color and print, and judging by his all-white Spring 2012 collection, Parkinson is a designer that should be on your radar. He spoke with The Fashion Law about that all-white collection, his involvement with CFDA initiatives, and his collection that hits Anthropologie stores tomorrow ...
THE FASHION LAW: Tell me a little bit about your brand, since business is so focused on branding nowadays.
GREGORY PARKINSON: Well, I have been around for quite a few seasons (18 years) and I am still new to a lot of people. So, they are seeing this product and company that has a history. The clothing is very labor intensive, with a great deal of emphasis on technique (appliqué, embroidery, hand work) color, print and combinations of texture and fabrication. I sell to the best boutiques, and I think being English adds a bit of cache. So, all the recent press has been a great endorsement for my existing customers, acknowledging their support over the years, and it is a great way to get a chance to tell my story to all the new potential customers. I try not to focus on anybody else's business but my own, but we offer a special product that has integrity and really doesn’t look like anything else.
TFL: Congratulations on being selected as a finalist in the 2010 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. That’s quite a feat!
GP: Yes, the whole thing was a great experience. It totally reinvigorated me as a designer and made me aware of my accomplishments; just staying in business now is a feat in itself. To be given the opportunity to present myself to the CFDA/ Vogue panel and have the exposure that came with it and also realize what a great springboard on which to leverage future efforts was an amazing experience. I really felt as if I benefited more than anyone else, as I was very aware that it was a special opportunity, a gift, really almost a second chance. I’m very grateful for the experience.
GP in Vogue
TFL: Do you ever worry about others stealing or replicating your designs?
GP: I’m really not one of those designers that go around saying how they have been copied, but there are several instances of prominent people in large companies, buying many of my garments. Copyrighting is such a hot topic but really only if it is a direct knock off can one do anything about it. Many of my design concepts involve multiple ideas, it is easy to take just one these ideas and claim if for your own.
TFL: Your stockists consist largely of specialty boutiques both in the US and abroad, and include really amazing shops! A’maree’s in Newport Beach is one of my all-time favorites! Was this a conscious choice or does it just so happen that your collections sell particularly well in a boutique setting?
GP: I think a specialty store is a different kind of service. The sales people are really in tune with their customers, and it is all about satisfying their requirements. Knowing the sales people and your customer is important. It is also really important that they know who you are and also understand the product. You want them to feel as though they are an important part of your business.
Most importantly, specialty stores are usually owned by amazing women; individuals who are so passionate and really live and breathe fashion (the craft and the quality, not the fluff). They have an amazing vision, and it is wonderful to walk into their respective stores and see how they merchandize your clothing, how they interpret your ideas. I love it. There is nothing more depressing than seeing a rack of only your clothes.
TFL: How was the Americans in Paris program?
GP: It was an amazing chance to get top level exposure. Selling in Europe is not so straightforward. The Italians and the Japanese need to see the collection more than once. They need to research and hear about it from other stores. I’m having withdrawal symptoms. It was a two-season affair and now we have to maintain our exposure. The CFDA and Vogue are amazing. They are working constantly to back American design. The British Fashion Council is also incredible as they are really going above and beyond with money from the UK government to support and develop British fashion, which sets a high standard of support.
TFL: Many designers (and artists and authors, etc.) today depend on celebrities to really help them make their brands by wearing a design and then being seen by millions in magazines. You are not been particularly fond of this approach for your own brand. What are your thoughts on this?
GP: I just think the whole celebrity thing is really tacky. I would never buy something if it had been seen by millions on some actor. My customers are chic women. They don’t care about seeing some celebrity wearing my things. They want it to be exclusive.
TFL: For the most part, your collections are very colorful and feature a lot of prints, which people love you for. For Spring 2011, however, your collection consisted of delicate and ladylike cream, ivory, and white garments, which was wonderfully received! Did this feel like a risk at the time?
GP: No, I really felt I wanted people to see the clothing for what it was. It’s about technique. Color and print are other layers of what I do. Sometimes it is more prominent than other times. Print and color are all over the runways, too much of it. I wanted to cleanse my palette. In doing this I reached a new customer. Women said to me, “Oh I always loved your things but I don’t have the lifestyle where I can wear print and color every day. The white collection is perfect.” Also I am always telling stores and customers to wear the clothes back to neutral items. This collection was taking that idea one step further.
TFL: Tell me a bit about your collection for Anthropologie.
GP: The capsule collection I did is just about to hit stores. Working on a much larger scale for the first time was great. I really enjoyed the whole process as I was very involved in the production process and spent a good amount of time in Shanghai (5 weeks total). The facility in Shanghai is amazing and everyone there was very enthusiastic and accommodating of my ideas and my designs, which I had already made samples of. It was exactly the same process for me just on a larger scale.
TFL: What are you working on now?
GP: I have an on-going project, working with the Field museum in Chicago, which involves the Shipibo tribe in Peru. They are located in the lower part of the Amazon. Its an amazing area, very diverse in its environment, having both jungle and mountain ranges in a small area. The Shipibo do the most amazing embroidery. So, I am using what they do to try and evolve some kind of sustainable business for them. Its quite remote and everything takes a long time, but I really believe in the beauty of what they do and the people I have met there are great, really such characters. I am so happy to have this opportunity to do something like this. I really would love to do this kind of work more and more. It is just finding outlets for these products, which is challenging but we have to find them.