Inspired by everything from sunsets over the Hudson to horseback riding, these top Valley designers make clothes that are popular all across America.
From hand-dyed fabrics to equine-inspired outfits,
the creations of the Valley¡¯s top clothing designers have become popular all across America
by Anne Eaton
photographs by Michael Polito
cathleen o¡¯halloran cordova
for barn & business
Millerton, in northern Dutchess County¡¯s hunt country, is home to one of the hottest shops in the Northeast for real equestrian wear and equestrian-inspired street clothing. O¡¯Halloran, at 5 Main Street, is named for Cathleen O¡¯Halloran Cordova, the fashion designer who recently moved to larger premises to accommodate her growing business.
It¡¯s no surprise that Cordova is herself a rider. ¡°That¡¯s how this whole thing got started and my life got out of hand,¡± she says. ¡°I was working in the city, designing for other people, and I acquired my first horse.¡± Like many city-bound weekend riders, Cordova found that she preferred to be where the horses are. ¡°I love it here and I wanted to be here all the time. So I kept working on getting an extra day, whenever I could. And now I¡¯m here all the time ¡ª and I have five horses.¡±
Like most designers, Cordova, a graduate of Pratt Institute, is adapting to changes in the fashion industry. ¡°When I first started interning, it was the very end of the ¡¯80s ¡ª the big hurrah when everybody pulled up to 1400 Broadway in a limo. Those days are long gone. My husband thinks that I¡¯m having lunch with models and I say, ¡®Honey, I¡¯m schlepping bolts of fabric on my back.¡¯ It¡¯s not the glamour world it used to be.¡±
Another change is that most fabric is now made overseas. ¡°A lot of our woollen mills that had been around for hundreds of years have gone out of business. So it¡¯s even hard for designers to find good stuff to make clothes with. Every year, I go to Scotland and Ireland, to the fabric trade shows. A lot of the sweaters I sell, I have made in Ireland. We¡¯re anti-sweatshop and very into hand-done, but not by children. It¡¯s one of those things that might prevent my company from ever becoming huge, but I can sleep at night because I¡¯m not exploiting women or anybody else.¡± (Cordova¡¯s children¡¯s line is sewn right in Millerton.)
As for her clothing, she says, ¡°I design for what I need in my own life. I go into the city once a week, but I might have to run out to the barn first to throw hay to the horses. So I need things that can go anywhere and still look good, which has been the underlying philosophy of my company.¡±
¡°We started catering to the horsey set,¡± Cordova continues. ¡°When I found that a lot of my stuff also worked as regular clothing, I branched out. Nowadays, the core of my business isn¡¯t just riders; it¡¯s people who have country homes who want to look country.¡±
This year, Cordova added classic riding breeches to her line. ¡°You really don¡¯t see them anymore ¡ª they¡¯re the ones with the puffy thighs. But they used to make your butt look big. So I worked with this woman who makes breeches, and we redid the pattern so it makes your stomach look flat and your butt look good, but retains the old style. And that¡¯s what Vogue¡¯s been calling in. They want to show them because they¡¯re classic, but with a new twist.¡±
Cordova uses lots of wool. ¡°From Scotland we get some wools that are backed with a waterproof fabric, so you can wear a tweed out in the rain. I do a lot of big, blanket-type coats. The Tattersall Pants, made from a blanket wool fabric with a cuff, are fabulous looking. I wore them during that cold snap we had in January and they were incredibly warm.¡±
For spring, the designer used a fun mix of toiles, stripes, and florals that look fresh and distinctive ¡ª and suitable for any age. ¡°My customers are from 30 to 60,¡± she says, obviously aiming to please them all.
Those who can¡¯t get to her shop can purchase Cordova¡¯s clothing on-line at www.ohalloranco.com.
thinking of the river
Many women think of her as an old friend, but Eileen Fisher is a relative newcomer to the Hudson Valley. She comes to Irvington by way of Des Plaines, Illinois, stopping for a spell in Manhattan¡¯s hip downtown neighborhoods. A home economics major at the University of Illinois, Fisher first worked in New York as an interior decorator and then as a graphic artist. That was before she took cloth and scissors in hand.
Fisher began her business in 1984 with $350 and a dream. Her idea was to design for a woman with many demands on her time, who wants to feel relaxed in her clothing. And ¡°relaxed¡± doesn¡¯t necessarily mean casual ¡ª it means easy and elegant. This customer wants beautiful fabrics and styling that¡¯s modern but timeless enough to avoid trendiness. Designed with the wearer¡¯s comfort in mind, the clothing also requires minimal upkeep. But for all its ease, the typical Eileen Fisher ensemble is also versatile and elegant.
Women have responded by flocking to buy her clothing in specialty shops, department stores, the 28 Eileen Fisher shops nationwide, and on her Web site (www.eileenfisher.com).
In 1992, Fisher and her family, including son, Zachary, and daughter, Sasha, packed up and moved 30 miles north of Manhattan to suburban Irvington (Westchester). ¡°The river and sunsets in Irvington are essential to her creativity and connection to nature, and they echoed the energy she got from those same things in Tribeca,¡± explains corporate spokeswoman Heather McGinley. Fisher didn¡¯t make the northward trek alone. Her company¡¯s corporate office is now based in Irvington. ¡°Several employees who had been working in the city made the move to stay with the company,¡± McGinley says. ¡°Currently, we have over 100 employees working there in a variety of areas.¡±
In 1997, Fisher won the Signature award for women who have left a distinct mark on the New York business community. She is also one of the recipients of the 2003 Best Bosses award sponsored by Fortune Small Business and Winning Workplaces.
There may be trophies on the mantelpiece, but there¡¯s no shop or showroom in Irvington. For that, fans of this special brand of laid-back chic can go to the Eileen Fisher shop at The Westchester mall or Nordstrom in White Plains, Charmant in Albany, Wondrous Things in Croton, Lord & Taylor in Eastchester, Mayfair Court in Scarsdale, Charles Department Store in Katonah, and Winter Sun in Rhinebeck.
for (stylish) men only
Albany isn¡¯t usually considered one of the world¡¯s fashion hubs, but Christopher¡¯s, Albany¡¯s leading men¡¯s clothing store, has made it into Esquire magazine¡¯s top 100 men¡¯s stores in America. Now Christopher¡¯s has expanded to include locations in Poughkeepsie and Middletown, too. According to Vince Rua, its president and chief executive, the shop serves men from all walks of life who want to be dressed appropriately, attractively, comfortably, and affordably. The store doesn¡¯t employ designers per se, Rua explains, ¡°but we do provide our clients with highly nuanced tailoring in order that their respective shapes be shown in the most flattering way possible. We do both custom-made clothing and off the rack.¡±
If Christopher¡¯s is not exactly bespoke, it comes close. ¡°As far as custom details are concerned, if we¡¯re talking about suits, shirts, or even blazers and pants...if money is no object, then we can do anything,¡± Rua says. ¡°But usually a customer will say he¡¯s interested in a three-button jacket or a two-button jacket, and we¡¯ll show him swatches and then we¡¯ll measure him. I might recommend a ticket pocket, pick stitching, or real, working button sleeves, depending on who the individual is, what his goal is ¡ª what he¡¯s wearing his garment for, in other words. So in that sense, we do design for the individual.¡±
Christopher¡¯s also does a big business in custom-made shirts. ¡°The most important feature of a shirt, aside from the size, is the collar,¡± says Rua, who has a heightened sense of how a collar can affect a look. ¡°Often times, I¡¯ll see TV personalities with collars that highlight a feature that they might not want to highlight. For example, a stocky person looks better in a longer, narrower collar than a curved Pat Riley¨Ctype collar. The corollary is if you have a tall, Ichabod Crane¨Ctype guy, the last thing you want him wearing is the collar that Robert De Niro wore in Goodfellas ¡ª that long, skinny, narrow collar with a narrow tie space.¡±
Rua notes that workplaces ¡ª many of which abandoned dress codes five years ago ¡ª are gradually reverting to a more formal, dress-for-success tradition. ¡°There was a study done of 200 of the top companies in America, and the majority of the CEOs felt that dressing casually reduced productivity by as much as 20 percent,¡± says Rua. ¡°Nowadays, people are dressing more professionally. The mantra is: ¡®Look good, feel good, do good.¡¯
fashion to dye for
You can find Art to Wear clothing in elegant specialty shops all over the country, but the company has long had its own store in bucolic Cold Spring (Putnam). Their colorful couture, made out of hand-dyed fabrics, is designed by Meg Staley and her husband, Jerry Gretzinger, along with a new addition to their staff, Marco Lee.
¡°Our customer is a woman who desires comfort and is not afraid to show her personality, and she responds to something that¡¯s happy or unique,¡± says Staley. ¡°She¡¯s at a point where she¡¯s done with wearing uniforms ¡ª the kinds of clothing she¡¯s been told to wear all her life.¡± According to Staley, that epiphany tends to happen when a woman is around 35. ¡°Because until that point, I think a woman is more concerned with fashion trends or looking to fit a role. After that, she starts dressing for herself.¡±
Part of the reason for the popularity of Staley/Gretzinger clothing is that the Gretzingers take the time to get to know their customers. Staley visits the troops, so to speak, four or five times a year. ¡°I spend a few days in stores that carry our clothes, doing nothing but talking to our retail customers. All of that informs what I do.¡± The store in Cold Spring also functions as a lab of sorts. That¡¯s where customers can find trial balloons, those one-of-a-kind designs that are harder to sell on-line (at www.staleygretzinger.com) or through specialty shops.
The typical Staley/Gretzinger outfit is colorful and comfortable, with a whimsical touch or two. The materials are easy to maintain and most of the garments can be hand-washed. Generally speaking, since Art to Wear caters to women who don¡¯t have perfect figures, everything is loose. ¡°We¡¯re seeing more and more dressing down, and that¡¯s definitely affecting what I design,¡± notes Staley.
The Gretzingers got their start as garment entrepreneurs while they were still living in Manhattan. ¡°First we were working out of a building on Broadway that¡¯s now the Soho Bloomingdale¡¯s. And then we moved into our own building,¡± recalls Staley. ¡°In 1990, we moved to Cold Spring because we had two young children and also because my husband wanted to be able to dig in the dirt. But we kept our business scattered. We have one place in Williamsburg (in Brooklyn), which is a factory, and the store in Cold Spring.
And then there¡¯s our place in Wappingers Falls, where we do our dying and printing.¡±
Prototypes are also designed in Wappingers Falls and sent to Brooklyn to be produced.
Staley did not attend fashion school. ¡°I was an art historian and printmaker out of Smith College,¡± she says. ¡°I¡¯d always loved clothes and always made my own. When I went back to Seattle, which is where I¡¯m from, I got a job selling clothes at Nordstrom because I didn¡¯t really know what else to do. One thing led to another. I¡¯d had enough of the corporate world and really needed to get back to something more creative.
¡°Textiles are frequently a point of entry for people who design clothing,¡± Staley continues. ¡°I¡¯ve discovered that the touchy-feely customers, like me, really respond to something if it feels good and is rich in color and texture. It¡¯s kind of secondary how it fits; you just want it on your body.¡± ¡ö