NEW YORK — At first glance, Norisol Ferrari’s new showroom-cum-concept store in far west Chelsea here looks like the work of someone with very dark tendencies. Her collection of predominantly black garments made mostly from leather and exotic skins is surrounded by taxidermy, fetishistic toys, corsets and fearsome jewelry.
The design and workmanship of Ferrari’s garments are intricate, created for a woman who wants to project a cool sense of power.
“Our collectors are the alpha divas of their worlds,” she said. “They aren’t motivated by what celebrities wear. I don’t care for celebrities. We’ve had our share [including Jennifer Hudson and Janet Jackson] but they’re not the driving force of the business.”
Ferrari’s clothes have hidden details, such as a leather scarf long enough to wrap several times around the neck and attached to the pocket in the back of a leather jacket. “The insides of the garments are more important to me than everything,” she said.
She uses innovations in cut and construction to trick the eye. A small, inverted triangle-shaped piece of leather inserted where the small of the back would be has the optical effect on a coat of nipping in the waist and slimming the buttocks.
The designer said she obsesses over comfort and utility, using articulations at the elbows of jackets and knees of pants for greater range of motion. Zippers on the sides of jackets let out extra fabric.
“I’ve left too many jackets in bars,” said Ferrari, who designed a leather jacket with straps hidden in a pocket so that it can be slung over the shoulder.
An American of Venezuelan and Colombian descent, Ferrari likes illusion. When customers arrive at her third-floor space, they find themselves in a tiny vestibule — with a one-way mirror — searching desperately for the doorknob.
“You feel a little disoriented,” said executive vice president Tony Alcindor. “I let them stay there for a split second. I have all their attention. They end up spending an afternoon. It’s a very civilized way to do business.”
“I play with [customers’] heads a little,” Ferrari said. Dressing rooms, whose entrances face the window, have no doors, exposing customers to 28th Street. “It’s sort of illicit,” she said, “but they can’t really be seen from the street.”
Behind the showroom and concept store, which sees clients by appointment, are Ferarri’s studio, sample room and seamstresses. A pair of pants in her collection is priced at $2,300, but “there’s been no pushback,” she said. “You have to have a reason for this price point. The pants have a built-in girdle, snaps over the zipper to keep them closed and they’re made from triple-weight stretch wool that costs $60 to $200 a yard.” A long bias-cut white skirt that wraps around the body three times is $4,800, and a sable coat, $70,000.
Ferrari launched her brand two-and-a-half years ago with the help of her fiancé, Lawrence Lenihan, managing director and founder of FirstMark Capital and chairman of her company.
While Maxfield, Mitchells, Rich’s and Wilkes Bashford, among other retailers, sell the brand, Ferrari wanted a more direct route to her customers. “Everybody’s a designer,” she said. “There’s a bastardization of our industry. I decided not to wait for the approval of a store.”
Ferrari doesn’t need anyone to validate her own look, either. Her black hair is shorn on one side of her head and set in soft shoulder-length waves on the other. Dressed in a black leather shirt and pants, she flashes a smile, revealing a gold tooth.
Ferrari said the simple reason for all the black in her collection is that she always gets food on her clothes and black hides the stains.
“The color black makes everyone compare me to other designers who use black,” she said. “I don’t hear everyone who uses pink being compared to one another. There’s no room for pink in my life.”
“I’m not some Goth, negative person,” she added. “I try to be a very positive tree-hugger.”
Ferrari may be a tree-hugger, but her fearless attitude is captured in a commercial filmed by Roxanne Lowit, featuring a formidable female army of black-clad models walking down a cobblestone city street with steam billowing around them.
Ferrari had no formal training. From the time she was 15, she had a series of internships and jobs at the showroom that represented Christian Lacroix, Byblos and Genny, Carole Little Furs, Katharine Hamnett and Gas jeans in Italy.
“There’s no exit strategy,” she said of her own company. “I’ll never sell it. I have a partner [Lenihan], who is my cofounder. He’s basically my genie in a bottle. This was his idea. He’s crazy. This is a soul-sapping, life-sucking industry. He said, ‘Just try.’”