NEW YORK — Living in the Rich family must rarely be a drab sort of thing.
Denise Rich, its matriarch and a successful singer/songwriter, is more often than not hosting an elaborate fund-raiser; her ex-husband Marc Rich is one of the focal points of a controversy surrounding last-minute Presidential pardons made by Bill Clinton; and now their eldest daughter has news of her own: She’s become a fashion designer.
Ilona Malka Rich, who is 32 and has had a successful career as an artist for much of the past decade, is launching a label for fall called Ilona that is as colorful as her family. In her Chelsea studio, filled with sculptures and paintings in progress, Rich is also showing a closet full of eccentric rainbow-colored crinoline skirts, quilted separates printed with childlike drawings, and gowns and dresses made of pajama fabrics like fire-truck or space-shuttle printed cottons.
“I’ve always been making clothes since I was little,” she said, dressed in paint-splattered sweatpants, a pink striped Lacoste shirt and a granny cardigan. Her style is all about layering, she said.
“I grew up in Spain and would dress a certain way that sometimes my parents wouldn’t like, so I would carry my secret clothes in my bag and put them on as soon as I had left,” Rich said.
After a decade of painting and sculpting, she said she wanted to try her hand at apparel, putting together a collection called “The Size Six Project,” which she will present in a runway show on March 28. It’s part Betsey Johnson, part Gianni Versace, part Anna Sui and part Salvador Dali, she said, but her main influence has been her art.
“I love clothes and I love getting dressed up,” she said. “I’m trying to learn a different medium. I know painting and I know sculpture, but clothing is a challenge.”
Rich has displayed a number of colorful, kitschy plaster sculptures out of the Gracie Mansion gallery on St. Mark’s Place in Greenwich Village over the past decade. Her sculptures often come in the shape of oversized or elongated animals — a tiger with two heads, a French Poodle with six legs, or normal-looking chihuahuas with motion detectors that trigger a barking sound — all painted in a rainbow of pastel stripes like a roll of Life Savers.
She also paints canvases that commonly feature a cast of tiny, childlike characters that vaguely resemble the cast of Nickelodeon’s “Rugrats.” Rich has shown in galleries in Miami, London and Paris, and also circulates with an art crowd cultivated with her husband, Kenny Schachter, also an artist and gallery curator. Some of the characters have ended up as buttons or belt buckles on her clothing line.
While it’s all a very playful mix of formal and casual mediums, such as the ballgown printed with fire trucks, some of it might seem a little over the top, even for the Rich family standards.
“I’m not poking fun at people,” Rich said. “I want people to look beautiful and elegant, but I don’t want to be boring and have a common denominator all the time.”
To that end, Rich has also designed more mature pieces, like lace-up pink cashmere pants lined with a delicate floral cotton, simple taffeta gowns and a deep purple corduroy dress, ruffled blouses with ruched bunching as a back interest and more casual denim separates.
Basic knit tops in the collection are priced at wholesale from $48 to $62, while the striped crocheted tops average $180. Denim items cost from $72 to $85, T-shirts start at $20 and gowns range from $550 to $900.