NEW YORK — Amy Chan is into aprons — but not the kind that are worn in the kitchen. Instead, she makes utilitarian clothing for women who just don’t seem to have enough pockets. There’s the “smart-pack backpack jacket,” which is the back of a jacket with big pockets on it and sleeves that can be wrapped and tied around the waist or slipped on the arms. Chan made it in suede for fall and silver metallic leather for spring.
There are a bevy of leather aprons, some halter style, some down to the ground and lined with red brocade Chinese silk or linen or even denim — and they all have plenty of pockets. There’s also a tool belt that looks like a micro-mini from the front.
Chan is by trade a shoe designer, and was with Esprit Footwear for several years, leaving the firm in February 1992. She freelanced for different companies in New York and abroad for a few months. It was while she was in Paris working on a Valentino exhibit that she was inspired to do her chic aprons.
“Everyone was wearing work clothes and aprons,” she said. “And then Valentino would come in, and he was always impeccable. I thought, ‘There’s got to be some way to look great even when doing this type of work.’ It seemed like a great leather apron, something with lots of pockets, would work.”
She came back to New York and found a leather factory that was open to trying her designs — and went into business. Represented by the showroom Gabriel & Kramer Enterprises, her first line shipped for fall 1993, to Macy’s Herald Square; Big Drop, New York; Fred Segal [on Melrose], Los Angeles; Gitobet, Edgewater, N.J.; Andria, Bal Harbour, Fla., and Joyce in Hong Kong. Her wholesale volume is about $120,000.
For spring, Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys New York on Madison Avenue also picked up the collection. It is carried on the young designer floor at Bergdorf’s — where Chan recently did a personal appearance and small trunk show — and in the CO/OP at Barneys. Chan is repped in Paris by Hortensia de Hutten.
“The pieces aren’t just vests or aprons — they’re meant to be fashionable and utilitarian at once,” said Chan, showing how a halter-top apron folds into a shoulder bag and the tool belt snaps into a little purse.
“I want women to be able to wear whatever they want to work, and slip this on over it when they get there and have it all work. I have customers who do that.” Andria Pardes, owner of Andria, said the uniqueness of Chan’s line drew her in. She carried pieces from the collection for fall and reordered it for spring. “She has an incredible design head,” said Pardes. “The smart-pack backpack jacket was a winner. It’s not just another leather resource. It’s for the customer who might have five leather vests, but once they see her pieces, they have to have another because it’s unlike anything else out there.”
For summer, Chan will do linen and denim aprons as well as more sportswear pieces that can be layered underneath. Wholesale prices range from $60 for a leather bra top to $190 for the halter apron to $385 for the long, silk brocade-lined apron. There are also suede slipdresses in pastel colors that wholesale for $150.
The linen pieces were developed initially for Worldwear, a new environmental store in San Francisco, slated to open March 25. Owned by Shari Sant, formerly in women’s design at Ralph Lauren, Worldware will feature apparel, accessories and home furnishings made from environmentally friendly fabrics and recycled materials. Sant said she found beautiful organic fabrics and asked three designers to interpret their designs in the fabrics. Knowing that animal skins would not be appropriate for an environmental store, Sant asked Chan to work with a natural linen. “I’ll be able to expand the collection by using different fabrics and new layering pieces,” said Chan, who uses the number 8 in her logo because it indicates good fortune, harmony and infinity in both the Asian culture and in numerology. “I think that the idea of functional clothing will always have a place in fashion.”