Anja Tyson | Thursday May 2nd 2019
Pretty Birds, you know how much we love our outerwear. Tamu counts statement coats among her seasonal must haves and you’ll see her in an array of fun styles Autumn through Spring. So it’s no surprise that NY based designer Michelle Waugh, who has become the go-to-woman for impeccably thoughtful outerwear, landed on our radar. We recently caught up with the designer for a look into her exquisitely tailored corner of the design universe. Grab your favorite treat and join us in getting to know her.
Anja TysonPr: Michelle, tell us a little about how you got started in fashion. Is there what you’ve always wanted to do?
Michelle Waugh: I’ve always known. I spent my childhood playing with costumes and fabrics, constantly creating outfits and putting on shows. My poor brothers were subject to having to parade many dresses since I had no sisters! I actually made my first coat at 16 years old with the help of a local tailor in my neighborhood. It was a wool single-breasted pea coat. My earliest memories of truly falling in love and discovering my passion was when my grandmother brought me to New York City on my 12th birthday. It was my first time coming to the United States from Canada. We were visiting my aunt who was living on the Upper West Side at the time. I remember just being completely in awe of the city. One afternoon my aunt brought us to Bergdorf Goodman. I remember walking into the store and being completely speechless. I had never seen clothing like this before. It was truly a moment for me where I started thinking about fashion as art. To this day I remember her trying on the most beautiful white suit. I wish I could remember the designer! That trip (that day) changed my life. I knew I wanted to move to New York and create beautiful clothing to make women feel the way my aunt did in that suit. At 19, I moved to the city and got my first job with LVMH working for Christian Dior. That was when everything started for me.
AT: Are there any figures of family members from your past whom you look to for inspiration or motivation?
MW: The women in my family are all big sources of inspiration. I grew up around women who really took pride in the way they presented themselves. It wasn’t about vanity. It was about believing in the notion that if you look good, you feel good. It was about having fun and being creative with your style. I was taught that clothing and style was really about making you, YOU. From my aunt, my mother and grandmothers, it was looking sharp to be sharp and expressing a better self. Fashion for me was really about feeling good. As my grandmother would say (in French) “life is too short to deprive ourselves from looking and feeling our best and from illuminating foundation.” Ha!
AT: How would you describe your personal style? And what parts of your life does your personal style most serve?
MW: I’m a minimalist, yet I love being playful with my clothing. My wardrobe is very monochromatic, but I tend to play with shapes and fit. Interesting cuts and fabrics are what elevates my style. I love oversized fits and tend to use plaids and stripes as my prints of choice. I do love a good floral in the spring. Tailoring is key. It has to look and feel right, like it was made for me. I am a working mom in New York City, so my style serves every part of my life. When I leave the house in the morning, I need to make sure that whatever my day look is, it will work for the evening as well. I’m all about day-to-night sensibility and it is something I consider with every piece I design. I need to be able to go to school drop off, run to meetings, check in at the production studio, source fabrics, meet with stylists, run to my daughters’ gymnastics class and be able to dash to a work dinner or date night.
AT: What are three words to describe the Michelle Waugh woman?
MW: Thoughtful, Engaged, Confident
AT: You are dedicated to crafting luxury in New York’s garment district. How did this commitment come about? And what do you feel is most important to preserve about local luxury?
MW: Producing in New York was important to me to quality control everything going out to our clients, to support luxury manufacturing in the US and again knowing the people and families behind the operations. We have accessibility to incredible craftsmanship and expertise in the United States and I will do everything on my end to support and create opportunities locally. To think about wearing a garment that was made explicitly to be inexpensive to the consumer, but yet the person who made it was ill-treated in the process, is inconceivable to me. It saddens me that when people ask me where my coats are made, and I tell them New York, they are surprised. I have found ways as a small business to not only support local manufacturing processes, but actually make it beneficial for my business. For example, being made in New York allows me to fulfill my orders while maintaining a much leaner inventory because I can produce quickly. In addition, the speed at which I can manufacture in New York is much quicker than partnering with an overseas supply chain. And remember, when you support small local businesses an actual person does a happy dance!
AT: Can you tell us about your support network? How important do you feel it is to have a group of advisors, mentors, and confidantes in fashion? And how did you set out to build your own network?
MW: I’ve always surrounded myself with dreamers and doers. My dad would always tell me “if you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.” A support network is fundamental to building a business. I find a lot of invaluable advice through my HeyMama group which is a working-mom tribe that help me stay connected, driven and balanced. I also have very valuable advisors who have walked this walk before and provide me with a wealth of knowledge from their own experiences. The advisors on our team have been reliable, understanding and consistent. Your grit and hard work can take you far, but they are not a substitute for experiential knowledge that comes from advisors, mentors or confidantes that have been there done that and learned from mistakes made.
AT: What are some of the most challenging elements of entrepreneurism for you, personally?
MW: Perfection is the enemy of progress. I definitely struggle with this when it comes to being an entrepreneur and also being a mother at the same time. I’m a perfectionist and I can really wear myself thin when I put the pressure of perfection on myself when it comes to my work and my home life. Sometimes we can all be stuck in this collective hallucination that we need to be doing everything at 110% in order for us to be successful and have full rewarding lives. For me it constantly reminding myself to shift my focus from perfection to progress, moving forward, making decisions and choices even when it might not feel perfect. It’s about keeping my feet moving, because as long as they are moving, we are progressing. It’s about taking the first step and then somehow many more follow, and one day you look up, and you’ve built what you’ve never thought was feasible.
AT: Has becoming a mother (of two!) changed your outlook on style or functionality?
MW: It definitely has! I’m all about practical pieces that feel luxurious. You will never see me in activewear. For example, when I was nursing my girls, I was all about really chic buttoned-down shirts and Issey Miyake’s pleat pants. In the midst of the most physical and emotional whirlwind it was important for me to feel good. I always looked for beautiful fabrics and fits while wearing outfits that were very practical for my nursing, post-partum, mothering body. I’m all about layering now, wearing blazers and jackets that won’t suffocate my arms if I need to carry toddlers or have a long conference call on my phone. Every time I design a coat I think about the practicality of the coat for the modern urban women of today. Is the coat warm? Is the fit flattering? Are the pockets deep enough to house one’s life treasures? Does the fabric feel luxurious? Does one feel powerful wearing it even if they are running around a playground?
AT: What are you most looking forward to in the year ahead?
MW: I am so incredibly excited to be partnering with GOOP and SAKS 5th Avenue on my FW19 collection. You will be able to find our key pieces at their stores this coming fall. I am also very much looking forward to bringing the coats to GOOP London for our event on May 21st.
Images courtesy of Michelle Waugh.