I had the pleasure of meeting the divine Rubin Singer yesterday at Neiman Marcus in Palo Alto. Despite being hungry and ready for lunch, he generously showed me around his seriously amazing collection of dresses, gowns and coats, describing his inspiration, sharing tidbits about individual pieces, and generally charming the pants off me. Here’s the gist:
This collections is based on the conquistadors. When I was traveling throughout Spain last year I started looking at the art, and I notieced there was all this baroque, over the top, glorious beauty, and it’s juxtaposed with the most violent, horrific death at its center. It’s all about war and death and combat and crucifictions and all of these violent themes and I became fascinated with the dichotomy of the aggressive and the very romantic.
Three models walk towards us, one wearing a fantastic paneled leather dress in shades of brown.
That’s typical of what I do, I do a lot of paneling.
The model armada goes for a stroll around Neiman’s. Singer takes a very short red, flowered dress from a rack.
This is a Velasquez floral print that I transposed into black and red.
We walk over to another red and black piece, this one a gown.
This is a chiffon and leather paneled dress. I really like blending leather and fabrics.
He shows me a raincoat with (presumably water resistant!) leather accents.
I wanted to make a sexy raincoat. There aren’t very many.
He shows me a very purple knee-length dress.
There’s a lot of purple in Spanish art.
Mr. Singer takes me over to a lovely gown with subtle ruffles.
I personally do not like ruffles. But this one is very controlled and manipulated in such a way that it doesn’t look like a Quinceañera dress.
He pulls out another somewhat frothy gown in a beautiful navy blue.
I worked at Oscar de la Renta for many years and I was at Bill Blass so I kind of wanted to echo some of the sentiments. This was taken from the scene of an armory I saw in Spain, this was taken from the ceiling.
He shows me his coral-colored, drapey and gorgeous fall coat.
This is probably our number one piece of the season.
A sales associate approaches Singer speaking Russian, and they have a brief conversation–he is clearly fluent.
I’m Russian! My family is from there, then I grew up in Paris studying under my dad when I was a kid. Then I moved to New York and my father in the ’80s and ’90s was kind of called the “King of the Coats.” He sold at Neiman’s and Bergdorf’s and now I’ve brought him back from Russia (he had returned). I brought him back to New York and now we’re working together again. It’s been great… it’s been a tough adjustment in some ways but it’s been great. Family affairs!
He shows me a bronze-ish-colored gown.
This is one of our biggest-selling dresses. Gowns are probably our number one business. The fabric is silk bargazine. It hasn’t existed in probably about 60 years and I found it at this mill and we recreated it. There are about six differnt colors woven into the actual design of the fabric: violet, green and beige to create this sort of irridescent bronze. Everything is made in New York in our studio. Nothing is outsourced.
Me: Who is your fave red carpet person is to dress?
Glenn Close and Beyonce are neck and neck. They’re so different and they’ve been great to me. They’re different generations, genres, ages, body types–they couldn’t be more different but they both speak to my clientele.
Who would you love to see wear your dresses on the red carpet?
Kate Blanchett. I have some esoteric actresses who I like also: Tilda Swonton, Helena Bonham Carter… not necessarily for the business but for me as a designer those are people who I love. That’s what the red carpet should be.
I always wanted to do ballet costumes but I think that’s down the road. We’re getting very heavy into bridal now. We’re expanding at a rate now where we almost can’t deal with the business. We just picked up a major retailer in Canada, we’re selling in 24 Neiman Marcus stores, we have a big Japanese Bridal business, we’re starting to sell in Europe, I have my celebrity dressing and my private clients. We’re growing exponentially right now and it’s a very exciting and intense time for us. It’s all in the works but with that comes gowing pains: funding issues, manpower issues, and I really don’t want to outsource. So we’ve got 15 people sewing in our offices in NYC, two pattern makers, two business partners, my dad and myself—there are a lot of people and that’s a lot of maintenance and upkeep for a new designer like me.
I started in 2006, my first collection was 2007 so we’re going on our sixth year. We do three seasons a year, resort fall and spring. And actually pre-fall too. We’re trying to keep it at three; we’re doing like three and a half because of the deliveries and whatnot.
Do you show in New York?
Yes! I used to do the tents but when the recession happened—you really have to have money that doesnt matter to do a quarter of a million dollar show every season. I’m running a business, you know, and I love what I do, and I’m a creative. For me my objective is to provide women with a social armor. And that’s what these clothes are. Shows are a great way to show the wholistic view of everything, but for somebody like me my focus is much more on sales and the business. We do presentations.
It’s a very exciting time, I feel like these clothes have a very strong foundation in couture, but they’re still modern and fresh different. We don’t want to make anyone look stupid.
I drape and cut everything myself. I didn’t realize that was such a novelty but I it guess is. A lot of designers don’t.
What do you think about all the style blogs proliferating?
As much as I love magazines, I don’t read them. Because if I read a fashion magazine it means I’m two years behind. It’s inevitable. So as a Neiman’s rep once said after a meeting with Ken Downing, every season I hit almost every trend and it’s because my blood whispers to me and it’s what I feel in the wind, not what I read or analyze. I’ve never been far off in terms of color or silhouette and I vascillate between a lot of different things, from being inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis from 1927—it just so happened that a month later YSL showed it—to being inspired by grammar (Ed note: I really wish I would have followed up on that one) to being inspired by conquistadorian Spain. And now I’m working on a collection that’s based on a painting so I don’t really look at fashion magazines BUT blogging and Style.com and WWD are things that I listen to because it’s media so it’s relevant to what’s going on right now. Second, it’s also a detriment to my business because clients assume that the next season is the current season and information is fed a little too quickly to them. So we have to live in two or three seasons time-wise. There’s no element of surprise when the clothes arrive in the stores. So I look at Style.com after our own show to see where we hit.
I tell him he really hit it with that coral coat, because according to Pantone, Tangerine Tango (very close to his coral) is the color of the year.
I didn’t even know that until you just said it!
Images of Beyonce via Beyonce Online
Image of Glenn Close via ChicShopperChick.