Meet the Female Designer Who's Changing the Face of Fashion
If you don't know her yet, you will soon: In the boys' club of New York fashion, Rosie Assoulin is blazing an inspiring path.
Growing up in the Gravesend section of Brooklyn in the nineties meant knowing that the stoop on East Fourth Street was the place to see and be seen. It's where boys made plans for basketball games, hair-twirling girls pined to sneak a glimpse of Rosie Assoulin's movie-star-handsome brother, and Assoulin herself began to gather her fashion inspiration. (Full disclosure: I was one such stoop dweller, and even back then Assoulin was magnetic.)
"I didn't think about going into fashion," Assoulin tells me now. "It was just in me. It's almost like it wasn't a choice. It was just happening."
And is it ever happening for her—in a way that is truly unique for female designers. Consider: The list of major labels that have risen in the New York City fashion world in the past decade is long and impressive, including Proenza Schouler, Jason Wu, Alexander Wang, Joseph Altuzarra. But New York has also indisputably been a boys' club, and my old friend Rosie is changing that.
Since launching her collection in 2013, she's become known for her crisp cotton shirts, statement-making pants, and bold silk-faille gowns. But what's really won everyone over? The fact that her pieces are made for women with real bodies to actually look and feel good in. "A great designer has this way of hugging you with their clothes, which I experienced for the first time when I wore Rosie," says Assoulin's close friend Leandra Medine, the woman behind the fashion blog Man Repeller. "Her clothes are so intimate because there is true passion and love that goes into making them."
And while some things have changed since her days on the stoop—Assoulin, 29, is now married with children—her popularity has never wavered. But the stoop has gone global; her fans are a band of power fashion ladies including Medine; Claire Distenfeld, owner of boutique Fivestory New York; and Miroslava Duma, the Russian editor and street-style star.
"Rosie's creations are as unique as they come," says Distenfeld. "Her soul and being are in each piece, and I really think you can feel that when you put them on. When you walk into a room wearing Rosie, you know you've got a little something over everyone else."
How She Got There
So what exactly was her path to all this success? Assoulin paid her industry dues: After a brief stint at the Fashion Institute of Technology, she landed a coveted apprenticeship with her role model Oscar de la Renta. Interestingly, it was Roxanne Assoulin, founder of the jewelry brand Lee Angel and her future mother-in-law, who helped her land the job. "I was 18," says Rosie. "I didn't have any experience. I just knew that I wanted to be there and be a part of it."
But it was an impulse trip to Paris in 2009 that really put her career in motion. With what her friends call characteristic fearlessness, Assoulin headed to France to see the ready-to-wear collections— without an invitation to a single fashion show. For most, this might have been a trip filled with disappointment (and too many baguettes consumed).
But not Assoulin. She scored a standing-room-only ticket to the Lanvin show from a friend of a friend. "The show was so beautiful that I cried," she recalls. Afterward she took a chance and sneaked backstage to meet the house's creative director, Alber Elbaz. "I waited like a scary stalker in the wings for two hours," she says. "When my turn came to meet him, my voice cracked. Mortified, I just barely managed to blubber out the words 'Please, can I be an intern?'"
A few weeks later Assoulin moved to Paris to work at the legendary French house. "I was tasked to do things like hand-glue crystals to a bride's tulle veil," she remembers. "And I was in charge of buying fresh fruit for everyone in the office because Alber always wanted there to be natural beauty within reach."
When she finally returned to Manhattan, Assoulin was ready to launch her own line, and it's been a meteoric rise ever since. Within a year of her start, she placed as a finalist in the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and earned a nomination for the prestigious CFDA Swarovski Award for Women's Wear Design. Hollywood has taken note too: Stars like Lupita Nyong'o, Michelle Dockery, Lily Aldridge, and Keri Russell have all picked Assoulin looks for major red-carpet moments. Her most recent coup? Dressing the ever-controversial Jemima Kirke in her head-turning capelet and skirt for this year's Golden Globes.
A Little Drama for All
It may be true that Assoulin's clothes are not for the fashion faint of heart, but what she wants you to know is that they aren't just for the red carpet. (Her friends wear her billowing tops with casual denim cutoffs or slip-on sneakers.) Assoulin's designs are intended for women from all walks of life.
For her latest collection, Assoulin stuck to her now signature silhouettes but gave them a decidedly modern addition: zippers. Picture a glamorous tiered gown that can be instantly altered into a pretty mini or a pair of voluminous pants perfectly pared down for the office. Says Medine: "Rosie takes two disparate worlds—one of true glamour from her days at Oscar, and another of practicality by virtue of being a working mom—and delicately merges them together in clothes that are as extraordinary as they are reliable."
Nice work for a girl from the stoop.