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Rachel Comey’s Womenswear Might Be the Best-Kept Secret In Men’s Fashion

“Sometimes I feel like our [clothes] are so serious, but when I think about the women that are wearing them, I feel like they have to be,” she continued. “There’s a lot of moments in your life when you want to be taken seriously, you want to be heard, and you need your clothes to help you with that. And then conversely, I think we all need to feel the other way, you know: cared for, and off-duty, and relaxed, and there’s different clothes for that. I think I really am relating more to that experience than I did when I was in my twenties, and dressing men for the fun of it. It was a different time in my life.”

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American designers are eager to show in Europe, and have left New York this season with a rather thin fashion calendar, but Comey is back on the schedule with her typical small-scale but glamorous dinner-and-a-fashion-show arrangement. It has been a beloved part of the fashion universe for years, but she hasn’t hosted one since September 2017. Unlike many of her fellow star American designers, she’s never even thought of showing outside of the country. (She’s shown twice in Los Angeles, and will host a pop-up in Paris February 22nd-March 18th—a real American Woman in Paris moment.) “I don’t know why; it has never even occurred to me,” she said. “I think that that’s just kind of a different thing.” She thought for a moment. “I don’t know why other designers go to Paris, or London. Just to be on the world stage, I guess?”

Still, she acknowledged, “We have like a bad reputation right now, this New York industry, huh? I don’t know why that is exactly.” She continued, “There’s obviously a shift in retail and direct to consumer, and people’s obsessiveness with newness and new brands and new companies and things like that. I see that a little bit, but I think that if you know who you’re designing for, I think it makes sense.” Comey is pragmatic, a problem-solver with fashion gumption. As dreamy and ever-so-slightly batty as her clothing can be, she is a New Yorker through and through.

In fact, Comey seems to have a lot of things figured out that younger fashion brands find flummoxing. She’s built an independent American brand from the ground-up, with a dedicated core of customers that is only growing. The key is that everything has been slow, an idea that young designers may find unfamiliar or even exotic. “I hired my first employee after six years. I worked alone for six years while I was freelancing and doing other jobs, just figuring it out and scraping by. I don’t know if people have that same expectation now. I think with social media it seems like people just expect to have a huge business so quickly, you know. That never happened. For me, it was very slow, steady, and word of mouth.” Even the way she builds things from collection to collection is slow. Rather than a relentless push for novelty, she evolves her ideas with each season: “You can experiment, or you can move on.”

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Spring 2020Hanna Tveite, courtesy of Rachel Comey

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That work process has also brought her brand a number of unexpected hits. Many brands need a sneaker or a tiny bag to make the business work, but every few seasons, something pops out of Comey’s world and becomes ubiquitous, like her jeans, or her wooden clogs. This season, I’d put money on a pair of woven leather sandals she had made in Italy. Men, in particular, will love them. As she said slyly, “These are kind of mandals.” And with a pair of pleated pants? See you guys in the boutique!

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