Creative conversation: Michelle Waugh on her luxury outerwear brand

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Cool weather calls for cool outerwear, so say hello to the Michelle Waugh collection. Designer Waugh launched her eponymous label in 2014, and it’s made up of basic clothes that you would warmly welcome into your wardrobe. From sleek trench coats and cozy puffy jackets to chic blazers (you can’t beat an impeccably made black blazer), the point of the game for this designer is to deliver outerwear that lasts.

And not only do the pieces last, but they also bring effortless style, as more often than not a coat is thrown for her busy city client. Regarding the manufacturing process and materials, the outerwear is hand finished in New York, in fair trade factories, using durable cashmere, double-sided wool, and coated cotton.

Waugh shares his thoughts on luxury, process and his label’s long-term goals.

Felicity Carter: What was your earliest memory of fashion?

Michelle Waugh: Honestly, I don’t remember my life when I didn’t do costumes, I didn’t play dress up and I did shows. There was that moment that really changed everything for me. My grandmother had this tradition that when you were the same age as the calendar date you were born, she would take you anywhere you wanted to go. I remember asking if I could go to New York. I was born on the 12the June therefore the year I was 12 on June 12, she brought me. I was born in Canada and this was my first visit to the United States. My aunt, who is this incredibly chic and sophisticated woman, lived in New York City and we went to spend the weekend with her. I remember she brought us to Bergdorf Goodman where she tried on this gorgeous white Christian Dior suit. I remember walking into the store and having this eye-opening moment in which I realized that clothes, dressing and being playful were also a very real thing in an adult world. Eight years later, the circle came full circle for me when I moved to New York and got my first job at Christian Dior.

FC: How, when, why did you enter the industry?

MW: I was just a little under 20e anniversary when I moved to New York. I always knew I wanted to be a designer. It was one of those things that I had a hard time saying out loud because I felt it was like someone was saying “oh yes I’m going to be a professional athlete”, it was just so far from realm of possibilities. Even though it was crazy, I knew I would always regret it if I hadn’t gone this route. That being said, I was too scared to put all my eggs in one basket, so I didn’t go to art school. Instead, I was a pre-law student at Fordham University. My aunt’s friend Faye and her business partner Pam had a temp agency and I went to meet them to see if I could get my foot in the door somewhere. My first interview was with Christian Dior and I got the job on the spot! I worked for Dior all day and went to school every night to graduate. It was total madness but the only way I knew how to do it. The exposure that I had under the aegis of LVMH was invaluable. I just knew I had to be in the room where everyone was doing what I longed to do. Proximity is so precious and Dior gave it to me. I joined this industry because I love people, and the way I love to connect with people is through creativity. Fashion for me offers a form of connection with people, art, culture, it is a way to cultivate self-expression, to collaborate and to show off for ourselves and for each other.

FC: How would you sum up the aesthetics?

MW: timeless, versatile, playful, effortlessly elegant, inviting, elevated.

FC: What is luxury for you?

MW: Luxury is the perfect blend of quality, uniqueness and comfort. A lot of people think it means something expensive. To me, it’s more about simple pleasures in the quality of something you own or experience that brings you joy.

FC: Who is your client?

MW: When I started the label, I was really creating for myself. I was a new mom, living in New York City, starting a business and it was all about designing outerwear for this new role I was in. I am so proud to say that is exactly who my client is. She is a woman, a mother, she is sensible, well connected, connected, involved. She is practical, likes to look and feel good, and conscientious of the items she purchases.

FC: What is the very first piece you designed and how did it come about?

MW: The first piece I designed for the label was called the Harper coat. It was this awesome oversized cashmere boyfriend coat that draped in all the right ways. I’ve always been so inspired by my menswear, and it was one of my most androgynous pieces, but you felt so feminine and strong when you wear it.

FC: What is on your current moodboard?

MW: It’s funny that you ask me this question because I just found my old mood boards and it inspired me to create a new one recently. It features a long dining table filled with food, wine, people, and laughter. Bonfires, a sheep, vintage ski wear (I would love to expand into this category), pictures that represent inner peace, health, wellness, a garden, my family, pictures of trip. This mood board was really about manifesting the freedom, time, creativity and abundance of health in mind and body, giving back, spending full and quality time with those I love.

FC: Tell us about the process …

MW: I am very inspired by the contrast between nature and the city and my life as a mother. At the beginning, I create moodboards of colors, photographs, art, clothes that inspire me and make me feel joy. Then these ideas become sketches and once the sketch is finished I start to think about the fabric. I mostly work with Italian factories and fabric appointments are probably one of my favorite steps in the process. For me there is so much creativity when I look at hundreds of samples. Once I have reduced the fabrics that I want to use and the general outline of the garment, I meet my pattern makers. They bring the sketch to life through a pattern and it is the scheme of the garment. Once the pattern is created, we make our first sample. It’s also such an exciting part of the process as you watch the piece slowly come to life. We adjust the sample and start to make any adjustments we would like to the measurements, pockets, buttons, lining, etc. Once we have adjusted the sample through a few rounds of modifications, this final sample is what we use for production.

FC: Currently, what is your favorite piece and how do you wear it?

MW: My favorite piece has always been the Chloé cashmere duster. It is named after my oldest daughter. It’s this beautiful ankle-length cashmere coat with a high back slit and no hardware. It’s simple, stylish, can be dressed up or down and makes everyone feel sexy, strong and beautiful. He is very sophisticated and feminine in all good ways. I love this piece and it’s a silhouette that I have kept in all the collections regardless of the season.

FC: What are the long-term goals of your business?

MW: I want to continue to increase our global awareness and be recognized as a leading outerwear brand in the market. I want to invest more time, resources and effort in sustainability efforts within the company and I would like to develop new opportunities and work on more collaborative projects with others.

See the complete collection at www.michellewaugh.com.

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