Robert Danes says he's probably the only Yale man to get a sewing machine for a graduation present. But then, he's probably the only history major in his class who dreamt of heading to Seventh Avenue.
Not surprisingly, Danes's Ivy League pedigree did little to impress the lords of fashion -- the only response he got was a nice rejection letter from Calvin Klein. "When I meet the guy, I have to tell him I have a soft spot for him because of that letter," the designer says.
Fast forward 10 years. Danes, now 32, is making a name for himself with a collection of intricately folded, origami-like silk organza pieces, dresses with bias-cut layers of iridescent chiffon and artfully cut silk taffeta jackets with floating lapels or ribbon chain collars.
And he designed all 70 pieces for spring of 1994 in less than three weeks. "I was concentrating on the finishing touches of holiday production," Danes says. "I had to make sure that everything was perfect before I could move on to spring."
After a brief stint in men's wear, Danes opened his women's wear business in 1990 with backing from a group of small investors, including some childhood friends from San Antonio. Though he started with a contemporary line, Danes soon upgraded the collection to the designer level. Wholesale prices currently range from $160 to $930, and Danes maintains there has been no resistance to price. "It's gotten easier as the prices have gone up," he says.
Stacey DiPersia, eveningwear buyer at Barneys New York, has carried Danes's line for several seasons. "His spring show was just inspirational," she says. "His combination of fabrics and colors was so beautiful and feminine. Barneys is generally not a color store, but Robert's color sense is amazing. We're going to put spring in the new Beverly Hills store."
Danes says his approach to design is simple. "I design what I love, and if it doesn't work, it wasn't meant to be. What people seem to respond to is the quality, the fabrics, the colors. It's something they haven't seen before."
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