Chat: The Rosewood Crescent Hotel lobby set the scene for my interview with emerging designer Chadwick Bell and his business partner Vanessa Webster. Both visited Dallas for a trunk show at Stanley Korshak last month, showcasing the Fall 2012 collection, which debuted at Lincoln Center during New York Fashion Week in February.
When I think of this collection, one dress comes to mind—a jade green gown, with polka dots, feathers, and slim long sleeves. I had previously saved it on Pinterest and was excited to meet Mr. Bell—a designer I’ve been interested in for a while.
Max: Fall 2012 inspiration is Midnight Rose—tell me about this kind of women?
Chad: As designers, we all have this idea of our perfect woman, and who she is, but what happens if she gets a little messy. For some designers, she might already be messy, but what happens if our idea of the perfect women breaks out of her box and maybe tries to do something a little avant-garde? What if she is this perfect woman, who is put into an imperfect situation? Like, what if she fell asleep at an opium den? It was interesting to see our silhouette become sexy; our hemlines were higher than they’ve been before, and we had more fun with the embroideries, but in a kooky way, which we mixed with oversized coats and tailored dresses.
I take my inspiration from a lot of imagery, as you notice from my inspiration notes I took Picasso juxtaposed with Arlene Gottfried, but there is so much more other imagery that is taken into consideration. For the polka-dot feathered gown that you love, I wanted to take the idea that you’re seeing stars, our woman is in a haze, in love, with that feeling of euphoria, and then blast it with these extra strange colours like jade green, with navy feathers. It’s really hard to get a navy feather! We stayed up for five days, feathering it—the gown is all hand feathered.
Vanessa: Actually, it’s a silhouette he has been developing from the beginning, long-sleeve sexy. There is such a need for long sleeves; we wanted to define this has a need in the market.
Chad: It’s about selling clothes, like, how can we create sleeves for women, and give them what they need, but they don’t look matronly. I’m kind of obsessed with limbs, the neck, the ankles, and the wrist; they’re the sexiest part of a woman’s body. I did a round neck on this dress with velvet piping, which makes the neck look nice and long.
Max: What are your favourite pieces from this collection?
Chad: There are so many, I had so much fun with the embroideries, and took inspiration from Matadors and bull fighting. The Chadwick Bell woman is such a worldly woman and she inspires us with an awareness of herself, the world and cultures. It’s about finding embroideries that reflect that. A German botanist called Karl Blossfeldt inspired the motifs, yes I do get a little cerebral—we took all the motifs from his botany photos and then placed them with the Spanish matador style embroidery—all these worlds collide and create one.
Max: If you could dress the woman of your dreams, who would that be?
Chad: Barbara Streisand in the late ‘60s, Angelic Houston, Tilda Swinton, Julianne Moore, I would love to dress Lee Radziwill. Tilda Swinton—there is something special about her; she is so androgynous; she has that awkward beauty—masculine looking. There are so many editors that are beautiful—Kate Lanphear, she is major with that hair.
Kate Lanphear and Tilda Swinton.
Max: Tell me how you both decided to work together?
Vanessa: We idolise all those famous design duos; a lot of them have been men predominately, Valentino and Giancarlo Giammetti, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge, and then Muccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli. We really idolise those couples where you might not know the partner very much, but they really create the house together. The way we’ve created our team is, Chad is the visionary creatively, I’ve known him since I was a kid, and I wouldn’t be doing this with anyone else—he is very talented. We have a long history together, and we’ve known each other since we were twelve, and we’ve been through a lot together. We started this dream when we were kids, and we’ve been really chipping away since 2005, and in 2008 we really started making clothes together. Chad creates the collections, and I assist with some of the development process but for the most part, I manage the business so he is free to concentrate on developing ideas.
Chad: We are both from California, so when we first moved to New York we spent a lot of time, really talking about the woman and defining who she is, down to how she holds her fork, her favorite vacation spots, everything beyond just clothing—we plan to create more of a lifestyle.
Max: So far in your career what has been your most significant achievement?
Chad: Showing at Lincoln Center, it really means a lot to me, to be able to show and be chosen amongst the group of designers that show at Lincoln Center. Anyone can apply to show, but ultimately you have to be approved. I remember being young and watching Oscar de la Renta and Carolina Herrera show in The Tents and thinking that one day I want to be there. And to finally get there, and be backstage and see your show on the monitor happening and knowing it’s at Lincoln Center, that’s major, it was a big deal. I know the trend is to show off site, but I think for every designer if they’ve shown at Lincoln Center for the first time, you’re part of a community that’s been in place for years. There’s no greater sense of validity. Maybe aside from the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund.
The Studio at Lincoln Center is an intimate space, and if you’re new it’s a good space to show for the first time. I really wanted to kick fashion week off with a bang, so we transformed the space—we had a bright cardamom yellow backdrop, and the runway was an electric fuschia, and it was beautiful, and the colours were so vibrant against the clothes.