Acclaimed for her flirtatious, whimsical, statement-making attire, it’s no surprise fashion designer Cynthia Rowley greets us on a chilly winter afternoon in paisley-checked pants and an asymmetrical Cali-York pullover. “It’s such a catchy phrase,” she comments with a smile as we immediately dive into the designs of her spring 2018 collection displayed throughout her West Village studio.
Having first launched her capsule collection almost 30 years ago, Rowley is as relevant, arguably more relevant, than ever, with her collections appealing as much to the city slicker as they do to the boho surfer. An attest to her eclectic style, Rowley’s collections continue to reflect a vibrancy and vivaciousness that is found in Rowley herself. As I scope out the various racks and accessories hanging throughout the showroom, the Cali-York catchphrase subconsciously consumes my perspective as I begin labeling items from the collection. Subtle rose and lemon hues; Cali. Deep, moody greys; York. Paisley wetsuits; Cali. Chunky heels; York. Wispy, flowing pants; Cali. Structured, striped blazers; York.
Though Rowley’s eclectic collections are not designed specifically for these two cities, the impact they’ve had on her undoubtedly shine through. Particularly the influence that New York City presented to the designer, as a fresh-out-of-college Rowley moved to the big apple just after winning the School of the Art Institute of Chicago fellowship in her senior year of college.
Although her move initiated a slow start to the fast-paced world of fashion, among the ever-changing landscape of New York City, Rowley honorably persisted until she conquered her dreams and broke into the industry in 1988. It was then that her career steadily launched and the self-labeled clothing line transformed into a household name with accessory lines that boasted her designs on furniture, bedding and surfwear.
We caught up with Rowley in her NYC-studio to peek her spring 2018 collection, meet her new pup, and experience a day in the life of an international designer.
What is a typical day in the life of Cynthia Rowley? From your first steps out of bed in the morning to your last thoughts before falling asleep.
I wake up early, and hit the ground running; try to get a 15 minute workout in, drop my daughter off at school, and then on to the studio. The rest is a full on sprint with a million things going on all day. It turns into a marathon, leaving work around 7:30 or 8 p.m.
What is your favorite thing about designing fashion? What do you find most rewarding?
Clothes are an extension of your personality and can be transformative. The most rewarding thing is being able to have an idea and have the ability to make it a reality.
What are some of the moments in your career that stand out to you more than others? Good or bad.
There’s definitely been some highlights like the CFDA awards and being interviewed by Barbara Walters and David Letterman, but I don’t take anything for granted. Every day I’m thankful to be able to do this work.
What do you find as the biggest challenge for staying at the forefront of the fashion industry?
The pace and the amount of product we need to create on a daily basis is incredible. It’s exciting and fun, and we’re always pushing ourselves outside the comfort zone, which can sometimes be torture.
Who has been your biggest inspiration? And why?
I’m inspired by my hardworking team. We feed off of each other’s creativity.
What about what inspires you? A place? A time of year? A certain color?
Impossible to say and changing every day. I do love a big adventure, just being in a far-flung place away from everything familiar can recharge your creative brain.
Do you live according to a mantra?
Idea, vision, execution, follow-through… repeat.
What’s one thing you couldn’t live without?
Just my family.
What is your ideal day off? What about your ideal vacation destination?
It’s funny, when I’m at work I run like a machine, and then when I leave work it’s like I forget I even have a job. A perfect day would be spent with family and friends at the beach surfing, barbecuing, and watching a great sunset. When it comes to vacation destinations… danger is my middle name. I like to visit places that are not your typical family getaway. We were in Egypt for 72 hours over Thanksgiving, and have been all over Africa, Cuba, South America… I think it’s important to see the world while we can and also to show the world that Americans are kind and generous and curious and intelligent.
Is there anything you enjoy designing or creating more than the others?
I love designing the collection – every season seems like the first time. I also love exploring new categories and learning how to design furniture, wallpaper, tech-accessories, etc.
Do you have a favorite season to design for? Or a favorite past line you can’t stop thinking about?
Never look back, always look forward.
How do you measure your success thus far in the fashion industry? What does success mean to you?
Success to me is purely the ability to continue to create new things and surprise people!
Photography by Amanda Villarosa