December 14th, 2006
Born in California and based on the East Coast, Michelle Zacks of knitwear line Spring & Clifton deftly fuses the sophisticated attitude of New York with the easy-going vibe of the Golden State. And she has exactly what you need to bundle up this winter. Read on to hear about Michelle’s design inspiration, her views on expensive clothing (Expensive does not equal Good), and her thoughts on next season’s fashion trends.
Omiru: What’s the story behind the name Spring & Clifton?
Michelle: When I first started the line, I had a partner. At the time I lived on Spring Street in Manhattan, and she lived on Clifton Place in Brooklyn. Though we stopped working together after the first season, I kept the name.
O: Writers often experience writer’s block when they run out of ideas. Do you ever experience designer’s block?
M: I have experienced “designer’s block” in times of extreme stress or when I’m pushing myself in the wrong direction. But I don’t freak out about it. I think the art of being creative calls for letting go but also being involved in life. My real “problem” is probably that I have TOO MANY ideas. I am constantly editing, editing, and editing. I also keep a notebook - uh, pile - of my sketches and photos from magazines that I can always refer to if I need a kick. I often revisit the same ideas, which used to frustrate me, but now I think of these ideas as elements of the Spring & Clifton look, and I hope to evolve them with each collection.
O: How do you strike a balance between being classic and trendy?
M: You can get really tripped up if you go too far on either end of the spectrum: what’s new is unrecognizable, and what’s tried & true feels uninspired. I used to think I had to reinvent the wheel with every collection, but now I think it’s more important to just evolve the Spring & Clifton look from season to season.
O: From where do you draw your inspiration?
M: Everywhere! I’m constantly observing everything and tucking it away into the inspiration file. I love traveling. I try to make it a point to go to museums and galleries. I look at the work of designers whom I admire. I’ve gotten ideas from reading the New York Times. I’ve used movies and books as references. I love flea markets and eBay. I love New York nightlife and how girls put themselves together.
For my Spring 05 collection, for instance, I was collecting old Playboys from 1960-1970 for the pin-up illustrations of Alberto Vargas. I love his illustrations for the detailing on the clothing and the shoes. Anyway, I realized that the pin-up was the ultimate sweater girl…and the idea for the collection was born.
O: When it comes to knitwear, do you think expensive equals good?
M: Oh, hell no! I don’t think that expensive = good. I mean, it can, but it doesn’t exclusively guarantee goodness. The most stylish women in the world know how to strike the perfect balance between high brow and low brow, and it’s that contrast that is so much more interesting to me. I’m also a huge flea market/thrift store scourer. I don’t know what my life would be like without secondhand things, which have so much personality. As far as knitwear goes, when you start getting into the finer yarns, like cashmere, of course the price is going to go up. That to me is something worth investing in, but in general, I like to offer a range of prices with Spring & Clifton.
O: What can we expect next? What is the next big knitwear trend?
M: I think that a big trend we’re going to see is clothing with a socially conscious message. For Fall 07, I’ll be using a Bamboo/Cotton blend yarn, which I’m attracted to because bamboo is a biodegradable textile material that is really kind to our environment. I’ve done bamboo/cashmere in the past, and I was surprised at how many new clients I picked up because people really responded to the organic factor. I think it’s something that people really want.
Don’t take this to mean that the clothes will be at all hippy dippy or anything. I’ll be making bamboo interesting, stylish and sexy! It’s also amazingly soft, which is important to me because I’m big on comfort. One of my design mantras states that there’s no style without substance, and I think this reinforces that idea.
O: As a designer, do you feel the pressure of always having to dress stylishly?
M: I challenge myself to constantly push my personal look forward. I think that it reflects in my designs and makes me a better designer. When I’m starting a collection, I always have in mind what I need in my own closet. I want to know what women want before they know they want it! My one bad habit is my tendency to reach for my jeans first. I really have to fight that some days!
O: If your house was burning down and you could only save one item in your closet, what would it be?
M: I’d save my 2 cats, Cooley & Slice! If I had extra time, I’d grab my vintage blue hoodie with the silkscreened birds on it. I am really a blue hoodie kind of girl.
O: What type of women do you want to see sporting your designs?
M: That girl on the street that you have to stop and check out twice because something about her style caught your eye. I’ve seen all kinds of women wearing my sweaters, and at the end of the day, I want anyone who gets a feeling from my clothing to be able to wear it.
O: Where can Omiru readers purchase your clothing?
M: Barney’s Co-Op, M.Z. (my store on the Lower East Side), and online at Shopbop.
Want to see Michelle’s latest line for Spring & Clifton? Visit Spring & Clifton’s website.