South African designer Daniella Kallmeyer has quite the resume. At her graduation from the London School of Fashion, WWD named her “one to watch.” She went on to work for Alexander McQueen, Proenza Schouler, and Alice and Olivia to name a few. Her experience working in couture as well as ready-to-wear led her to found her own label in fall of 2010. Her vision is a lifestyle brand with a passion to support New York City’s garment district and fellow entrepreneurs. Here, Kallmeyer (who just showed at New York Fashion Week) talks about her start in the fashion industry, her inspirations, and what a typical day in her life is like.
What is the process of how you choose your fabric? We’re especially interested in the iridescent fabric in your Fall ‘12 collection.
Way, way back in my process, it started with my grandmother. She was a very big influence in my life. I have an extreme amount of clothes and jewelry and bags and accessories, to the point where I started noticing the only time people complemented me on what I wearing was when I was wearing something from my collection or something of my grandmother’s. I started getting into this idea of very chic, very sophisticated woman, who my grandmother was. She was incredibly classic, never left the house without makeup, never left without costume jewelry. I started loving this idea of a partying grandma. That’s really where that idea started. I carry my laptop every single day, to and from work, killing my back so I came up with this idea of a really chic backpack. So I designed a clear plastic and vinyl backpack with this really luxe fox fur strap. Someone had said to me ‘that’s so raver,’ and I thought of a ’90s club scene idea. I had rainbow references and all of that. That word by itself [raver] really helped me tie everything together. So I started referencing a few of those things. The print [in the Fall collection] is actually a phone image of an oil slick. That ended up getting hyper saturated and really edited, kaleidoscope-d and all the things I usually do to play around and really make it a well developed print. It accidently ended up looking like a galaxy inspired thing and that really worked with the ’90s raver idea. The iridescent thing came from that idea of plastic fabric, shiny fabrics, rainbow and galaxies. When I found it I thought it was perfect. It was what the collection was missing.
You’ve studied in both London and New York. Can you describe these experiences?
I started at Syracuse. My family is from South Africa, and when I was graduating high school, there was something foreign and appealing about going to an American college. By the time I got there it wasn’t what I’d thought. I had interned already for Luca Luca. I had a strong idea of what my career would be already, and college didn’t really fit in. It was sort of a situation where I was just glad I tried. I wanted to do something art related. By the time I was in my first year of high school, I knew I wanted to be a designer, and I was already starting my own line. So when I got to Syracuse and I didn’t feel like I fit in the right energy of what I wanted, I had family in London and decided that was the right choice. It was definitely the best decision I ever made. The summer before I left for London, I worked for Proenza, and while I was in London I worked for a contemporary designer called Les Chiffoniers. Then for my work-study I worked for Alexander McQueen and ended up working under the women’s designer for their shoe label, which was brand new then. All of those experiences together really solidified what it was that I wanted.
You’ve worked with a lot of these established designers before you’ve started your own brand. How integral was doing this for you to be where you are now?
The experience that you get from designers that are established and have a team, are relevant in the industry—it makes all the difference in the world, it gives you a greater sense of vision. believe if your vision is not filling a purpose, if it’s not filling a space, you should just contribute to someone else’s. I really felt like there was a gap in the market with regards to elements that I wanted to define. I would go into Barney’s or Intermix or Bergdorf’s and there was nothing much that tied in the design aesthetic and detail with the price point of contemporary design. On top of that, I was really fortunate to be invited to an entrepreneurial convention in Washington DC for a group called ‘Our Time’ to launch an initiative called ‘Buy Young’. That was all of these companies founded by people under the age of thirty, routing for government support. It was there that I realized a accidental thing that had happened. Being a young designer and making everything in New York was really such an important part of my business.
Can you describe what a typical working day is for you?
I don’t know if any of my days are typical. I was very fortunate enough to have begun sharing a space last season with a pattern maker that I came across. Now we share our studio. Working in the garment district really changed my focus level and the efficiency of how I work I come to work 5-6 days a week. Around the time of fashion week, I’m here 7 days a week. I tend to do anything from catching up on e-mails, doing research and doing prints. I try to have days where I’m not on my computer at all and only working on patterns, going to fabric stores and making appointments. When I get focused on one thing, that’s what I end up doing. I don’t think it’s as glamorous as what people think fashion is.