Only 5 minutes into my conversation with LA Designer Raquel Allegra I felt like we'd been best friends forever and I kind of wish we had been. Her collections are an extension of her personality - relaxed, charming and a little bit romantic. Raquel began her eponymous label 7 years ago with a collection of tie-dyed and shredded tees made of recycled tees from the Los Angeles County Prison System. While her collections have become more sophisticated since then, her artisanal approach to design has remained the same lending a softness to even her tailored pieces. If you aren't usually a fan of tie-dye, Raquel's chill Cali vibes can convince you that you should be.
Here she talks about collaborating with fellow brand Assembly, finding her design soul mate and the inspiration behind her SS17 collection :
Raquel: How do know Wyatt? (a mutual friend who now works on her design team)
Laura: I used to consult for Amour Vert while he was designing there so we worked together there. But he’s very happy where he is now. He always says how much he loves it. I miss working with him a lot.
R: I’d believe that. I was doing everything by myself since the beginning really. I had an assistant, but I was literally creative directing, designing, product developing
L: When did you launch the brand, again?
R: It’s been seven plus years.
L: Wow, well good for you!
R: Thank you. I was really desperate. I was at a point where I was like, I mean I love my job, but I wanna quit my job. Do you know that feeling?
R: And I think, I’ve never done this before, and I’m not a religious person at all, but I was like "God...." I’m really being honest right now.
L: I believe you.
R: And I was like, God, I just want someone who wants to like, dive into this world with me. Who wants to like, really, authentically, truly, is interested in doing this and like learning what I’ve learned and sharing what they know. But what I do is kind of specific, there’s a lot of deconstruction and a lot of tie dye. And when I met Wyatt I googled him and there was all these images of him wearing things where I was like I could wear that.
L: Oh he’s totally the guy.
R: He was just so nice.
L: That’s so amazing.
R: It was so nice.
L: He texts me all the time and he’s like I love it so much, he’s super happy.
R: That’s incredible. I don’t even want to remember life before Wyatt got there.
L: Well tell me about the new collection, what was your inspiration for spring?
R: I mean there are a lot of different inspirations. I mean, have you seen the Jungle Book?
L: Ah, not since I was very young.
R: Here’s a good one for you. The strength of the wolf is the pack and the strength of the pack is the wolf. It’s good, right?
R: Anyway, there’s some Jungle Book vibes. Love of the jungle is the name of that poem, and it’s a really long poem. That’s a part of the whole Jungle Book and it really captures how literally we are working together. We’re like, only as strong as the team. And I think the funny thing is that we’re here doing this event with another brand, and the team just kind of expanded, and it still has that feeling. Which is very cool. I think big collections are always about process. Tie dye is so much about process, and investigation, and playing, and trial and error. This particular collection has a lot of really fun color stories. So, the leopard print has a hand painted group, fabric group, that perfectly fits in. They’re meant to be worn together. The crepe group has solid colors that add to those print colors. And we really built out these themes. There’s a whole green theme, there’s a whole black and white theme, there’s a whole gold theme. And they just kind of build on each other in a way I don’t think I’ve ever ever done before.
L: So, speaking of the collaboration. How did the collaboration between you and Assembly come about? What sparked that?
R: I literally called Gregg and said, tell me what your process is around fashion week, ‘cause I’m kind of new to that. And we were talking and I really just said 'why don’t we do something together? Would you be interested in that?" and he was like, "uh, yeah, there’s an all women basketball team in New York". Like literally, it was like, right there.
L: Oh, he was just like "here you go"?
R: Like literally waiting in the wings. And it was just off to the races from there.
L: Oh, that’s so fun. I think the presentation you did was so refreshing for fashion week. You’re like, schlepping from show to show, and it can get a little somber to be honest, a little sad.
R: It doesn’t have to be that serious.
L: No, it definitely doesn’t, I actually really enjoy presentations, when it’s just more chill and fun. So tell me a little bit about the sustainability of your brand
R: I wish I could say that there were more elements that spoke to that. We have a new member of our team who, I don’t know if you’ve met her, Danica, did you meet her?
L: No, I don’t think I did.
R: She’s like in house PR and communications, but she’s also kind of the driving force of organization and presenting the brand. She did a lot of production of this event. But, before she came to me, she had her own sustainable fashion company.
L: Oh amazing!
R: And, she’s all about it. She studied it in school. She’s really working hard to help us integrate that because I started that way. I started by recycling, and then to create a fully cohesive brand, it incorporates that. I would like it to be more but it’s here and there. It’s not something that we have consistently. So, I think having her here will really help us with the fabric sourcing, even some production sourcing, we’re working on that.
L: Yeah, it’s a tricky thing. So, I guess it would be fair to say that the sustainability affects your design process.
R: 100%. I mean there’s also something. For me, the texture of the fabric is super important. How it takes the dye process. And, there’s so much testing about the fabrics that we use and how they take the dye. What they do when they’re put through that process, how do they feel after that? It takes a lot of trial and error to find fabrics that really fit into that.
L: Right, into the vision that you have.
R: Yes. Yes.
L: So I guess, given that you sort of went in with a specific vision of sustainability, and now you’ve being doing it for a long time and you’ve had a good chance to see what works and what doesn’t, what advice would you have for young designers who are interested in using or introducing those sustainable elements?
R: Well, so I don’t think that our brand is very common, I think the fact that we garment dye, or tie dye just about every fabric is really unusual, we might have 25 fabric groups. So, of those fabric groups I’d say 19 of them are dyed in some way. So, we’re trying to alter the fabrics over the process. I’d say most brands have 10 fabrications maybe two of them are garment dyed. So, just in general, it depends on someone’s approach, obviously. But, I think that anyone who has that rush to create something sustainable, if they can start with that as the paramount idea and unfold the investigation with that thread in mind, they can create that. I don’t think I knew how to do that in the beginning. I was just like taking the concept of what we’re doing and re-inventing it actually.
L: So it’s easier to kind of start with that in mind than it is to re-navigate later down the line?
R: I think so. We’re just going to integrate it as slowly as we can. But I think if we had to start over again, I couldn’t even say… I wouldn’t know. It’s hard to know. It’s just different for others.
L: Where is the collection dyed? All over?
R: Everything is made in LA
L: Right, that’s what I thought.
R: Everything is dyed and made.. So, we work with some dye houses and we do a lot of dying so we work with about 5 different dye houses depending on what we’re looking to create. So we don’t pull all of our eggs in one basket, so to speak. Yeah, It’s all in LA.
L: That’s a big thing. Local production is a fantastic way for designers to reduce their carbon footprint.
R: I mean, I guess you could say that there’s a sustainable element in that, if you take into consideration shipping and transport.
L: Definitely. Shipping alone is incredibly detrimental and dying as well. These things can have an enormous impact.
R: Absolutely, and there aren’t the same regulations overseas necessarily. When it comes to dying them they are inherently less.
L: That in itself makes a big difference.
R: I don’t always think about that. Thank you for reminding me.
L: We’re very pro anything locally made and made in America and the quality of the garment workers' conditions.
R: Absolutely. I mean all of our productions in LA and I’ve been to our factories, they’re nice.
L: We love that
R: I mean it’s part of why the brand is not inexpensive
L: Yeah. But, it’s important and people need to know that too, you know, this is what you’re paying for. When do you go back to LA?
L: Aw, so soon.
R: I know. I mean, somebody could twist my arm and I could end up staying for a little while.