NEW YORK — In regard to this year’s National Design Award for fashion, Slow and Steady Wins the Race really has won.
The company and founder Mary Ping will be honored by the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum at the Oct. 19 gala at its Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden.
In a phone interview Thursday, Ping said, “It’s kind of kismet because technically May/June is the 15th anniversary of the very first collection.”
A Vassar art major, after graduation she piled on the freelance work for Talbots and The Limited while simultaneously trying to get her own business off the ground. “I had all these ideas percolating outside of purely designing something, I needed some sort of framework. I was constantly looking at how the structure of the system existed. Maybe this was feeding into the fact that I was writing five papers every two weeks and there was all this analysis going in my head,” she explained. “While my parents were very supportive in the idea, it was not the most practical hope for me to go into fashion. There were definitely tugs-of-war going forward so I tried to be self-initiated with internships during Vassar.”
In the next month or so, the company will introduce children’s wear with Print All Over Me. Slow and Steady Wins the Race is also developing a clothing-based collaboration with Michael Meredith and Hilary Sample of MOS Architects, a previous National Design Award winner for architecture. Ping’s work is expected to be included in MoMA’s first fashion exhibition this fall. Her unconventional approach to presentations included one about the dissection of the department store that Saatchi & Saatchi showcased at its Hudson Street location. She hopes to build a showroom/reference library that people can actually use.
Based on West 25th Street, Ping now sells to about 20 stores, having scaled back from 55 retailers after production issues weren’t meeting her standards. Her own e-commerce, as well as others, has helped shoppers in Australia, Romania and other countries find her brand. Inclined to challenge fashion’s social definitions, Ping has a collection called “Evening” that addresses what makes something suitable for evening. Her jewelry collection is comprised of items that connect jewelry pieces such as a necklace made entirely of clasps.
In her Barneys New York days, Julie Gilhart was the first retailer to meet with Ping, who — oblivious to mark-ups and other fashion speak — had insisted the collection retail for $100. “I was still talking like I was in academia or something. But it was great because I got to meet Julie who has always been supportive of the creative mission,” she said.
Opening Ceremony’s Humberto Leon is another supporter, having approached Ping after Patrik Ervell, who was then working at V magazine, tipped him off. Leon invited Ping to visit what was then the construction site for Opening Ceremony’s Howard Street store. “We had college friends in common. We got along, so I thought, ‘Sure, why not?’” Ping said. “I just kind of held on to Slow and Steady as a set of ideas that I was making because I was used to making things from my studio space at Vasser.”
Curious about not only the history of fashion but its anthropology, Ping found herself questioning when runway shows started and consumer consumption. She wondered about how jeans and white T-shirts came into existence and how that look hasn’t aged in 100 years. Such ponderings “were always flooding her head” and she felt the need to organize them. “I always treated it as a project first, not thinking anything would come of it. The initial response that it caught on was a really nice surprise,” Ping said.
Her parents still aren’t fully convinced. “My mom likes to call me every other week to see if I would consider going back to grad school. It’s a very complex conversation always with them,” Ping said.
This year’s other National Design Award recipients are Hartmut Esslinger, Lifetime Achievement; Susan S. Szenasy, Director’s Award; Craig L. Wilkins, Design Mind; Design Trust for Public Space, Corporate & Institutional Achievement; Mass Design Group, Architecture Design; Jennifer Morla, Communication Design; Stamen Design, Interaction Design; Deborah Berke Partners, Interior Design; Surfacedesign, Landscape Architecture, and Joe Doucet, Product Design.