aving about Rachel Roy and her eponymous designer collection is par for the course in the exclusive enclaves of New York fashion. Magazine editors, boutique buyers and the society set hail Roy’s designs as a return to regal cocktail dressing.
But it’s not just Roy’s elegant silhouettes that have the fashion glitterati gushing. Her model looks, personal sartorial prowess and philanthropic pursuits have garnered a loyal legion who laud her every step.
Since the debut of her collection in 2005, the designer’s rise to the upper echelons of New York society has been relentlessly chronicled. Fifty-two pages are devoted to her social appearances alone on famed photographer Patrick McMullan’s Web site, and just as many photos of her appear in the celebrity section of Style.com, Vogue‘s online presence. Roy’s work is consistently cited in the pages of Vogue, Town & Country, Vanity Fair and W magazines.
Ms. Roy’s Style Mantras
Spend more, buy less. Roy adores Nancy Gonzales’ crocodile handbags, which feature a classic shape, can last for more than 10 years and have no outside labeling. She also bought Manolo Blahniks in college that are still in her closet today.
Know thyself. Roy doesn’t believe in owning brand names just for the sake of it. For example, she knows that only five silhouettes made by Manolo Blahnik are comfortable and flattering for her high instep.
Play it safe. “When you’re rushing, you tend to go for the thing which is safe. Not necessarily things that are safe in color but that you feel good in. That’s what I mean by safe. When you stop and look, you say to yourself: Three nights in a row you had to go out and you had to change in the office, you picked these things, why did you pick them? Because instinctively they were safe uniforms, things you chose without thinking. Those are the sorts of things you want to fill your closet with.”
Flatter yourself. Roy knows that the “smoky eye” look is most flattering for her almond shaped eyes, so she sticks with it. In fact, she says “the messier, the better.”
Recently, 33-year-old Roy graced the cover of Avenue magazine, which journals “the lives of Manhattan’s affluent and socially powerful.” She was also last seen at number three in the rankings of New York socialites on the anonymous and now-defunct blog SocialiteRank.com. Needless to say, Roy was a fixture on the list.
The fascination with Roy stems from an appreciation for both her beauty and business acumen. When discussing Roy’s Spring 2007 collection, Nandini D’Souza, a features editor at W, says, “(It) showed a marked leap in both aesthetic and finish for Rachel Roy. It’s clear that she’s taking her recent decision to move her prices into the loftier young designer realm very, very seriously, and it paid off. The details were beautiful and, as expected, the lineup was as elegant as Rachel herself.”
Behind the glitz and glam is a fledgling entrepreneur, wife (Roy is married to hip hop mogul Damon Dash) and mother who harbors a healthy regard for heritage and can claim a relentless work ethic, both of which inform her designs.
A native Californian, Roy is the daughter of a first-generation Indian father originally from Madras and a mother of Dutch ancestry. From a humble background (she had to pay her father rent as a teenager), Roy commenced her fashion career at the tender age of 14 in a local Contempo Casuals outlet. She credits her upbringing with instilling the solid work ethic she believes has served her well.
After attending Columbia Union College in Maryland, Roy immediately moved to New York and put that work ethic to use. She spent nearly 10 years in retail, serving as a personal shopper and stylist for magazines and music videos. She got her break when she met Dash and began interning with his former company, Rocawear. There, she learned about the fashion business, eventually rising to the role of creative director.
“The styling helped because I got to know people who had money to buy whatever they wanted. And that taught me that not everyone wants to be fashion-forward, especially the people who have the money to be fashion-forward. Mostly, the people I know who are fashion-forward are stylists or hair stylists, or people from just starting out in fashion,” Roy explains. “So that helps me in growing a business—though I am attracted to avant-garde design, I am reminded by my styling experiences what a real woman wants to wear.”
Today, Roy’s namesake line is carried by all the tony purveyors of high style, including Bergdorf Goodman, and it enjoys a steady stream of admirers. The designer is particularly known for her 1930s and ’40s inspired looks. What specifically about these periods lit her imagination? “It’s a time in history where women were allowed to be feminine but also strong. Marlene Dietrich could wear a suit and a bowtie or wear a ball gown and a wrap and convey femininity and strength in both looks,” she says.
Roy also credits her Indian heritage with imbuing an appreciation for ladylike presentation. “As an Indian woman, whether you have a lot of money or not, you take time to adorn yourself. I had the cheap bangles that I would put all the way up my arms and I would put the oil in my hair and put on my makeup. And that you do whether you have zero or are at the top of the food chain in India.”
Roy may take cues from film stars and far-off lands, but practicality rules her design aesthetic. She believes in “designing clothes for a woman who wears the same clothes at 8 a.m. as she does at 8 p.m., and it’s really important to me, especially for young minority women, to look a certain way in the workplace. I do 60 percent office-to-cocktail dresses, and the rest is pretty much straight cocktail unless it’s a summer collection. It’s classic but with a twist.”
Last December, Roy took a break from New York to visit Ghana with her family. “The UN asked us to go in conjunction with catWALK the World,” she told Avenue magazine. “It was probably the best thing I could have given Ava instead of sitting under a tree and opening way too many presents. And to give presents to orphans on Christmas … is there anything better?”
She adds that the focus on formalwear is part of a larger philosophy. “In a corporate environment, it’s important to dress the way you want to be perceived. For example when I was an intern, I dressed as if I had a role other than an intern because that’s what I wanted. And it’s not more expensive, it’s the same amount of money for a pair of slacks as it for a pair of jeans,” she says. As women, “We are put down enough in various arenas that we have to set the standards, we have to take ourselves seriously. We have to tell people how to treat us and that begins with how we treat ourselves.”
Despite Roy’s whirlwind success, she admits that balancing her work and family life “is a constant struggle. I haven’t put my daughter (7-year-old Ava) to bed since I started my own business. It’s a huge sacrifice, but if I leave work early then my team leaves early and it’s a small team. So, I am working hard so I can hire more people and eventually focus on creative direction. I would love to get to that point, but until then you have to make a sacrifice.”
Now that Roy has conquered New York, it won’t be long until her work is known the world over. When asked about what’s on the horizon, she replies, “Overall, I just hope to grow, open more doors … and on and on!”