Basically, it has been. My home base was originally New Jersey, but much of my childhood was spent traveling in a RV with my family throughout the USA, Canada and Mexico -- so much so that I really considered the RV home. That was really the formative part of my childhood.
How and when did you get started in fashion design?
I actually started out by entering costume contests at Star Trek and Comic Cons. I was 11 when I won my first Comic Con Costume Contest with an outfit modeled by my older sister. While still in high school, I studied at the Studio and Forum of Stage Design, under some iconic designers, including Lester Polakov & Jose Varona. That was really the beginning. The fashion was an evolution of this. There was work in fashion, and because of my background, I was easily able to get work in several niche categories, starting with a trending company and then designing gloves, which was result of my work in leather.
I discovered leather while working in a costume shop. I really gravitated to it and found I loved working with it more than any other fabric. It is natural and reacts as such. To me, there is something familiar and comfortable about it, being skin, which we all have. And it has endless applications. From the tough, functional and protective, like armor, to delicate and ephemeral treatments like fringe, cut work, lacing and laser cutting. The purely decorative aspects are endless as well. I love that there are so many things that can be done with it. There is also that primal aspect to it as well, which kind of counters all the high-tech treatments that are often applied to it. I love the dichotomy. It inspires me!
The Butterfly Satchel (above) features a hand-stitched butterfly inlay and hand-cut fringe.
Many, if not most, of my pieces start out with the skin itself. Often I will see a piece of leather that immediately tells me what to do with it, particularly with the accessories. I am drawn to skins with unique textures and unusual finishes, but I cannot stand it when a skin is over finished or disguised. So, while I love unique and unusual finishes, the skin must have the hand and reaction and feel of leather.
I like using leather in unexpected ways. When I had my shop, people would come in off the street and start looking throughout the racks and be surprised. From the outside, they had no idea that the line was leather. Once they touched it, it became clear. Often the reaction was astonishment, the colors, drape, weight, and cut of the clothes was the last thing they'd expect in leather. This is kind of a goal of mine, to bring the line beyond "leather."
What prompted you to launch a couture line? So many designers aspire to mass-produced fashion.
I was producing a line, which I sold primarily overseas in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. It was not "mass produced." We would make anywhere from six to several hundred of a style. It really depended on the item. There were staple items in the line that we ran continuously for 3-4 years, and other items that were strictly limited. The production was all in-house and therefore, very, very flexible. We cut each piece on a made-to-order basis. The custom, or couture, end of the business was a natural outgrowth of this flexibility.
I love my stretch leather pieces. If I had time to do a full line again, I think I would work on variations of this. Mixing different fabrics and developing new treatments. The Emma top (left) is made from supple black Italian lamb skin which is painstakingly overlaid onto sheer stretch mesh.
This is a piece from my "Carapace Collection." I produced the hand-painted Tudor Jacket in collaboration with artist/DJ Seth Kuriloff. It was painted entirely free-hand. It is something that would be custom-made only and would require a very long lead time. It is one of the fabrics I create out of leather, like the stretch fabric for the Emma top. The stretch leather is made in-house, it is not cut from pre-made goods. Very, very labor intensive.
Who does the actual cutting and sewing of your clothing and accessories and where does that take place?
All here in New York City. Still in-house. Just on a much smaller scale. The whole process is very hands-on. I make all the patterns and do most of the cutting (I like cutting. It's kind of meditative for me!). I would like to get back into larger production in the future, and possibly with a partner. It is something I am thinking about. I have great admiration for what Carlos Falchi has done with his high-end production here in NYC. It is a nice goal to aim for.
Your work is so labor intensive. Can you tell me about another labor intensive creation?
This beautiful gown ("Theda") took three people two months to make. It was worn for a Moroccan-themed wedding in San Francisco. It is lined in pink silk chiffon and has a pink silk tulle veil with coin-mail trim and handmade pearlized pink leather rosebuds with white pearlized leather leaves that match the gown and the trim on the veil.
Where/when can people see your work in person?
Currently, my work can be seen only by appointment. I work very closely with my custom clientele - whether it be via the Internet or by personal appointment. On my site, I try to have as many clear detailed images up as possible. I also do my best to keep on top of posting images of recent commissions, although this does get backed up when things get busy.
Initial in-person appointments ($150.00 without an order) take 45 minutes to an hour, at which point measurements are taken, design is discussed, and samples of garments and leather are available to look at. (The $150.00 is applied to the cost of the garment ordered within 30 days of that initial consultation and is not refundable otherwise). If an order is placed at the time of initial consultation, a 50% deposit is required at that time.
Depending on the item, one or more fittings will be needed. We make cotton muslin fitting garments so all fit is checked and approved before anything is cut in the actual skin.
Your pieces are so amazing. It obviously takes a lot of hard work to make them happen. Thanks for telling us about it!
You can see more at Carla Dawn Behrle NYC.
Or, contact Behrle via her website:
Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/BehrleNYCLeather.