Slow and Steady Wins the Race had us at hello, and with a quick look at this line’s manifesto we were obviously swooning. Here’s a recap: The collections, which they call issues, act as a experimental study of fashion basics which look into the depths of everything from seams to wedding dresses to iconic bags. SSWTR releases four collections a year, while keeping their price point, and number of pieces produced, squarely at one hundred. Whether it's the common brown paper bag redone in suede or luxury-inspired bags made out of low-end fabrics (think: Chanel in canvas), the work here is not only highly conceptual, but spiked with much needed humor. What better way to laugh at ourselves, after all, than through fashion.
SSWTR operates with an anonymous designer as a way to keep the focus on the designs and not the face who created them. The designer, who will remain a mystery, chats with us by telephone about future plans and how it all started.
How did the idea to design Slow and Steady Wins the Race form?
It came out of years of thinking about fashion from an academic point of view during college. It was always sitting in the back of my brain, but not until after graduation, and a year after launching my signature line, and I think coupled with the September 11th attacks when everyone started reevaluating certain things, when I sat down and started thinking about fashion from a different standpoint--less consumerism and less about vanity.
Did you have any background with conceptual designing before this line?
Not so much designing, I studied art at Vassar. I did a lot of sculpture, and Vassar was great in that we had our major, but we also had a pretty broad curriculum, so I feel like I was constantly thinking about how things fit into one another. That was the approach I took with design, and it is different because I didn’t come from a design background.
Do you have any specific inspirations when you are designing. You call them issues, right?
Yeah, for me I think it was the easiest way for me to go about addressing everything, so there are issues that I’ll work on. For a long time I just made a list of sort of 'fundamentals' of clothing design that I could address. The goal is to really offer everything at 100 dollars as a signifier.
Could you give me a example of that in relation to the current issue?
Well the current one, for Fall, is no. 19 Luxe. I wanted to talk about the state of luxury goods...It’s just something I’ve been looking into and just being very aware of because luxury goods are actually the one factor that seem to be doing well. I think that’s a very interesting phenomenon.
So, I thought “What can I draw in terms of luxury”, and for me luxury is about sort of attaining a certain goal, so there’s three tiers in the luxe collection. So, the first of three is the basic white Tee-shirt with a pocket and everything, but it’s encrusted in hand-embroidered pearls. Then we have the bodega bag, the grocery bag, but it’s in alligator. Then the birkin bag, which historically, on it’s own, is probably the most expensive bag. There’s always a waiting list, and it has always had this legacy, it's a four-sided leather birkin bag.
The face of the bag is the same and the proportions of the face are the same size, but it’s actually repeated four times, and inside there are four interior pockets and so its a comment on the repetition and how luxury is always about accumulation and certain showing a type of face.
Have you ever had copyright issues, any big companies ever come after you?
Well actually a couple of months ago in May, after six years of doing this, we got a cease and decease from Chanel, but only for using the name. I understood that they own the name...All we had to do was get rid of all the occurrences of the actual word Chanel. So, that was fine. I just find it kind of amusing that it’s taken this long for them to take action. They didn’t have any actual problems with the bag itself, we weren’t asked to discontinue it.
What exactly is the meaning behind making the designer invisible and why did you want to do it?
I just wanted the work to be the focal point, and also in a way it’s undressing this recent phenomenon as the designer as a celebrity, which is the total opposite of what Slow and Steady Wins the Race is about. It’s really about this refocusing everything and creating a well-defined object, and it’s really about the work; and just concentrating on the work and the message and not having to associate with someone. Which I think still at the end of the day is a little bit bizarre because, well, you are wearing clothes or you’re carrying an accessory, you’re not carrying a person’s face. So, I always find it funny, “Why do you need a photo of me? Why can’t you take a photo of the shirt?”
How does that work in with your own signature line where you are visible as a designer? How do you balance the two?
Well, it was hard for a long time. I would always encounter people who either knew one or the other or knew both and when they would want to try and talk about it, they would strangely separate Slow and Steady as this accessories line that was a branch of my signature line, and I think they are two completely different things. So, balancing that was hard, sort of like a press level, but in terms of executing it was really hard because it was like designing two lines that fit into different spaces. It’s more than 24 hours a day, and I just didn’t physically have capacity to do it anymore at the same time. I was really burned out, so I stopped my signature line and I will probably come back to it in a couple of years. Spring ’08 was the last collection. I might revisit in spring 2010. I was burned out and I sort of wanted to reconcile the fact that Slow and Steady has an incredible response and I just figured now is the time to pay attention to that.
We have 10 Corso Como and all their stores in Korea and Tokyo, and when you think of 10 Corso Como it’s this very curated, design fashion boutique—and high-end too...the stuff is sitting next to Yves Saint Laurent or Junya Watanabe, which I think is really so telling that it is really being appreciated for the design aspect. We met with Urban Outfitters on Friday and we are in talks of a collaboration. I don’t want it carried there only because it’s going to be market saturation and that is one thing that Slow and Steady Wins the Race is not about. I agree with the democratic innovation of design and having it be available, but I don’t want it to be disposable.
I’ve been looking into their side and seeing how I could still work with them, while having it still make sense for us. So, that’s what I’m pleased with behind the whole philosophy of Slow and Steady Wins the Race is that is the design should be universal. It should be able to break social barriers, age barriers, high and low-end fashion, a cross over.
Where exactly does the name Slow and Steady Wins the Race come from?
It’s from the Aesop’s Fable about the Tortoise and the Hare, so that’s sort of the moral of the story. And it just certainly was the most fitting way to talk about more the brand itself and what it is set out to do.