Fallene Wells talks about Modern Nouveau's big reveal and the price of garment production
Pieces from Fallene's upcoming Modern Nouveau collection.
For her latest endeavor, Fallene Wells went big: She launched a $20,000 Kickstarter campaign to fund her Modern Nouveau line. Fans of Fallene's work came through, the designer reached her goal, and on August 24, she will debut her fall mix-match collection at Walker Fine Art Gallery, in a solo, French-inspired show.
Since Fallene is ever the collaborator, a pop-up shop, Swank, will also be part of the big reveal; it will feature the work of La Samara Studios, Kitty Mae Millinery, Ink Jewelry and Ru Fabricates (pal Samuel Schimek of the I Heart Denver store is said to be representing as well). Fallene took a break from planning the upcoming "Modern Nouveau: Fall Friperie" show to talk about what it took to get here, and how a desire to produce locally continues to be a central focus for this positive-minded fixture in the Denver fashion scene.
Westword: You had previous success with a much smaller Kickstarter project -- but this one, at $20,000, was a much bigger endeavor. Why did you choose to use Kickstarter again?
I felt Kickstarter would be a great platform to market my idea as well, instead of just getting a loan. It was a way for a lot of people to know about what I was doing, and be involved in the project. It was a good way to show people, look at how much it does take to do a line. I'm a hairdresser as well, and I have a lot of clients who ask me, "How come your stuff isn't in stores?" It's like, it's not that easy, you know? [Laughs.] There's a lot that goes on. For me, it was a good way for me to help people understand what it takes to produce a line -- so that maybe next time they buy a piece of clothing, it means more to them to support local, and support people's ventures.
Were you afraid at any point that you weren't going to make your goal?
Yeah. I think I had an interview with Westword when I was doing it, and I was asked, "What if you don't make it?" [Laughs.] I'm like, obviously, I have to make it. There really is no other choice. If I didn't make it, I would have just had to revisit my options. Getting a loan isn't that easy, especially for designing. You have to show things like, do you already have the customers? Are you in stores? It's a Catch 22: You can't have those things until you have your line out there. So I was kind of freaked out. But then I thought, well, I can just do one design at a time, instead of trying to do all of the separates that I'm doing.
But I'm happy, obviously, that I did fund it. I've learned a lot through doing it this way and doing it in Colorado. I've started to try to figure out what my next step is after I've shown my collection in August. There was a company that did approach me recently -- but the hard part is, they don't produce 100 percent in the U.S. That's something that I've really wanted to do. So I'm in this struggle right now of, do I have my designs out in stores? If I produce it all in Colorado, it's going to be very hard for me to re-sell it, because it's so expensive to produce here.
I'm really curious to see how my collection is taken in August, and if it's responded to well. If it is, I might have to take those steps so people can start wearing it. Obviously, I'm going to be responsible with where I'm producing; I don't want to support sweatshops, or anything crazy like that. But I also want my clothes to be accessible for a lot of people to wear, and so I can keep going as a designer. It was very hard for me to do it in Colorado, and I'm still not finished. I actually have to send all of my designs sent out of town to be sized, because there's no one here that does that. It's hard because we're so limited here for skills in that area.
So sizing is one part of garment production process that has to be done out-of-state?
Yes, it's called "grading" and there are not many people in Colorado that do it. Another thing I hope happens from my show in August is that maybe (I will meet) more people in the manufacturing business in Colorado that I don't know yet. Hopefully they'll come and teach me that there are people that can do it, and do it cheaper. The person I'm working with right now, I guess she's affordable for Colorado. But for instance, one of my blouses -- If I wanted to make, say, a $30 profit off of it, I'd have to sell it in a store for $250. That's insane, right?
I want people like me to be able to buy it, and I know couldn't afford that! I want people that want to support local fashion designers to be able to wear my stuff, and not think, "Oh, this is cool, but I can't afford it," you know? So it's one of those things -- how can I help people support local by making it affordable to them and how can I keep going as a designer? That's my next step -- figuring that out.
That's great that you as a designer want to speak to the issue of affordability. Because you're right, I think a lot of the public doesn't know how much it costs. Especially when we can walk into a Forever 21 and spend $19.50 on a dress.
I want to do more to educate myself -- how "bad" is it to produce out of the country? Is that something that we have in our heads because we're not creating jobs here? Or is it how the global economy works? It's good to ask ourselves those questions because we are still creating jobs here. For example, I'm still planning on making my samples here myself and still designing the initial work I send to a company. But [the company that approached Fallene] said, "What about supporting people in other countries who need jobs and need to make money? This is what they do."
I don't know how bad it really is. I know a lot of people that think it should be completely made in the U.S. but I don't know how possibly that is. We might not have the factories and man power, and cost of living here is higher. There is a lot that goes into it. If someone charges $25 an hour to sew, that means a lot for me to turn around and sell.
Where will people be able to purchase the line, Modern Nouveau, after your show in August?
I just had a catalogue shoot -- I'm planning on having everything online and available to purchase. One of the things I want to do to keep (my work) original and unique is to have a small run of my designs. Say only fifty of something will be made in a fabric, and then I will change the fabric and make it again. I'd also like to do one design a month that there's maybe only one of. I still believe in having a piece be one-of-a-kind for someone, versus mass production. I want (the buyer) to feel like they are buying something just for them.
I love vintage shopping, because I know no one else will have it. It's something I struggled with in manufacturing; how can I make my designs feel that way? But again, I want it to accessible. I don't want pieces to cost a fortune. I don't feel like I ever want my design label to be run by money; I want to do it because I love it. Obviously, I need to make a profit off of it to keep collections going, but I want it to be wearable.
There are so many of my clients that I wish could have more access to that kind of stuff, instead of clothing being out of their league. I want to be, like, a cheaper version of Prada. [Laughs.] That's what I keep telling myself -- "Prada... the cheap one." [Laughs.]
That's something that seemed emphasized by Yves Saint Laurent in the recent exhibit -- he wanted his work to be accessible, ready-to-wear.
There's a time and a place for something that is totally avant-guarde; I believe in that. That's why I had my whole YSL-inspired show there. Some of my stuff in that collection was definitely a little funkier -- maybe it wouldn't be seen worn on the street. It's a nice balance to have both. I still want my line to be ready-to-wear, but have personality. I don't want it to be "Uh, I'm at work, so I have to dress boring."
What are you most excited about in regards to your upcoming show?
This is my first time not producing samples -- I've always produced them, and could see everything right away. This time it was like, put it all together, hope the fabrics and textures work together and mix-match well. And hopefully it works out. [Laughs.] It's been a game of anticipation, like a kid at Christmas looking at all of the presents and thinking, I hope this is what I asked for. I tried to create everything in my collection to mix-match completely -- I wanted people to be able to purchase the whole collection and end up with so many outfits out of it. It was hard, because a lot of the fabrics I bought online.
Also, I'm working with a company called Great Big Color that has amazing equipment that can print giant decals. I wanted my show to not be a traditional fashion show -- I do those every year. Since this is a solo show, I really want it to feel like it's my show. I wanted to create these ten foot-by-eight foot decals that have a feeling of being in a French boutique. I also hired a guy who makes movie props in Denver to make platforms for the models to stand on that look like big hatboxes.
I'm excited to work with other designers who will be at Swank, the pop-up store there, too. I'm working with Kitty Mae and others. They will accessorize my pieces, which will show how many local designers can work together to show a look. And you can purchase it all in Denver.
Everything about this show works really well... in my head. So I guess the anticipation is, will everything that works well in my head work in real life? [Laughs]
Modern Nouveau: Fall Friperie is set for 6 p.m. August 24 at Walker Fine Art, 300 West 11th Avenue. Seating for the show is limited; tickets can be purchased through the designer's website. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Mile High Red Cross.
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