Artist Interview: Girls From Savoy founders Pam and Melissa!

It’s a little known fact that many of the brands Anthropologie stocks are created by former Anthro employees. Designers, buyers and visual talent sometimes create in-house labels and sometimes leave with blessings to start their own lines. Anthro is excellent about keeping in touch with former employees. Oftentimes it’s so seamless that we think an independent brand is actually an in-house Anthropologie brand.

Take Girls From Savoy for example. Until I met up with founders Pam (shown left in the drawing above) and Melissa (shown right in the drawing above) I’d mistakenly thought Girls From Savoy was an Anthropologie brand. It’s not — though both previously worked as buyers for Anthropologie (and Barneys!) prior to 2009, aka the golden age as far as this community goes.

Inside, meet the wonderful founders of this fantastically feminine brand and get a community treat from Girls From Savoy to us!

The Seeing Things Under Dress by Mender from Girls From Savoy

Upon meeting Girls From Savoy’s founders Pam and Melissa in the East Village recently, it quickly became clear that with their exquisite fashion pedigrees we were going to have lots of fun! During our coffee chat we covered everything from fashion employment war stories to thoughts on where clothing design is headed to why materials are so expensive these days.

I also learned a lot about the brand. They have design offices in Union Square (NYC). They recently launched their own website and blog. The site carries Girls From Savoy, Mender and brands that fit into the same aesthetic (i.e. ParkerTibi, Tracy Reese, Suno, etc.) Although Anthropologie stocks the Girls From Savoy brand, Pam and Melissa also have their own imprint called Mender. The difference? As a vendor they are beholden to the materials, sizes and price points of whatever brand is ordering their pieces. With Mender the designers can choose their own materials, patterns, price points and so on. It’s both freeing and nerve-wracking as I discovered during our talk.

Below, some excerpts from an interview with Pam and Melissa of Girls From Savoy.

Q: Have you always been interested in fashion? 

A: My [Pam’s] mom worked in the “Better Dresses” boutique at a small department store when I was growing up. Whenever I visited her it was so magical. The department was tucked back in a room with a lovely writing desk and all the pieces tucked back in a room. My mom would bring out pieces that she thought would work for the particular customer. It was a very old school sort of shopping experience. Melissa started her career as an accountant doing audits. She had worked a clothing store in NYC for the summer. I think that after one too many days of counting cheese at a cheese company (for real!) she decided that she felt more of a connection to clothing. Buying is very numbers driven, so the transition was pretty smooth.

Q: When did you begin designing clothing? 

A: We started our company in 2009, and that’s when we started designing. Before that we were both buyers at Barneys and Anthropologie.

Q: Did you study fine arts or design in school? 

A: I [Pam] started out as an opera major and switched to art history major and Melissa studied accounting. It’s a perfect pairing for having your own business…the creative and the business side of things are covered.

Q: Where do you get your design inspiration from?
A: We are inspired by color, print and vintage clothing. I wish there was a camera at our vintage print appointments. We flip through stacks and stacks of prints that the dealer buys from mills in France. They have vast catalogues from the past hundred years of prints that were never put into production. When we flip to one we both like we give each other a look that says…we have to have it!!

Q: Is there one fabric type or pattern you use more often?
A: We use silks and cottons as much as possible.

I had an at-length discussion with Melissa and Pam about material prices. For example, in 2012 and 2013 cotton was extremely expensive due to years of production reduction in the USA combined with a supply shortage from China (which is where most USA-sold cotton now comes from). In 2013 Australia suffered drastic drops in its wool production which spiked prices for USA clothing producers and designers. Now this year silk is incredibly expensive due to a silk worm disease that killed a huge part of the Chinese base. 
Designers face tough questions, especially designers who are also small business owners. Do they substitute in a man-made material or a less expensive organic material? Do they use an expensive material and pass the cost onto customers? Or do they eat the cost? Can they sell enough of an item that is more expensive to produce to stores? 
Sometimes the cost of a material can be saved in other ways. For example, hemlines on dresses and skirts used to have 2-3″ of additional material stitched into the hem. These days it’s more like an inch or less. The outer lining of a dress might be silk with polyester or cotton used to line. Instead of using an expensive cotton like pima a slightly rougher or cheaper substitute might be used. 
Beyond this interview I’ve spoken with several designers (including large fashion house owners) who’ve told me the same thing: every single department store or large retailer wants polyester over silk right now. Margins at middle-market stores and even some high-end stores are suffering right now because fast fashion is so cheap. Consumers say they want high quality materials in droves but they’re not buying it — they’re buying cheaply made goods from discounters which are often manufactured in unsafe conditions by workers making a thousandth of what an American garment worker would make. (And it’s worth noting that sometimes American factories are apparently just as bad in terms of worker safety, yikes.) Consumers say they care about working conditions for garment producers but their wallets seem to be saying something else. Or we’re just not educated enough to know what clothing comes from where, or the information isn’t even available to us.
So, as a designer, the challenge becomes making your clothing appealing to stores while somehow maintaining the best quality fabrics you can to meet margin goals. It’s a juggling act to be sure. Cognizant of this, Pam and Melissa created Mender with the decision that using silk and cotton meant that they could present the best product possible.

The seriously adorable Schooner Jacket by Mender from Girls From Savoy

Q: Do your items have a theme or underlying idea?
A: We think first and foremost that our pieces should fit a variety a women’s figures and be flattering. You would think that’s something everyone in this business thinks about, but it’s sadly neglected. I think it’s something that Melissa and I learned from being buyers. Fitting clothing is a something that we take seriously…cause if it doesn’t fit..what’s the point?

Melissa and Pam have a strong commitment to making figure-flattering shapes. They each represent a very different body type: Melissa is 5’2″ and Pam is 5’10” with each wearing a different size. (Check out this post on their blog for more.) When an item works on both of them they feel confident it’s a hit.

Q: How did you partner with Anthropologie? How does it feel seeing your items in their stores and on their website? 

A: We had both been buyers at Anthropologie. When we left we pitched the idea to them [of Anthropologie carrying Girls From Savoy] and they were enthusiastic about it. We were so lucky to have them on-board from the beginning.

Q: What is it like when you see one of your pieces on a TV show? We get so excited! We are TV junkies! 

A: Zooey Deschanel has worn our clothing on The New Girl. Dianna Agron and Lea Michele have worn almost everything we’ve ever designed in Glee. Melissa and I feel like we might have a special cosmic connection to Glee’s wardrobe person!! 
Q: Have you ever seen a stranger wearing one of your pieces on the street? If so did you say anything to them? 
A: I remember the first time I saw someone walking down the street in one of our dresses. I wanted to stop them, but then I thought they might think I was off my rocker!

Q: How has being a small business owner changed your design approach? 

A: We have tried to stay focused on who our girl is throughout the process. We want to be the go to place for smart, feminine dressing!
Q: Beyond your business, what are your hobbies or passions? 
A: I collect portraits of women from the 50’s and 60’s. I’m always on the hunt. I have a wallpapered hallway in my apartment that is lined with all my “ladies”. Melissa has a strong commitment to pop culture. What’s the saying? If you put 10,000 hours into something you become an expert in that?? Melissa has earned her PhD.
Q: Do you listen to music while you’re designing? If so what do you like to listen to? 
A: The National, 70’s R&B, the soundtrack to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg…you name it!

Q: What’s one thing about you people don’t know that you’re not afraid to share? 

A: Pam’s a public radio nerd. She’s going to see Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me tonight at BAM. We had a Girls from Savoy karaoke night and it turns out that Melissa does a pretty spectacular version of Jay-Z’s Empire State of Mind!

Girls From Savoy is responsible for some of my all-time favorite Anthropologie pieces…the Sincerely Paris Halter Dress, the Eyelet Branch Halter Dress, the Ruffled Oska Dress, the Alary Shirtdress, the Gull Wing Dress, the Poppy Stripe Dress, the Take Action Dress (I can still remember the insanity this dress caused, though it never quite fit me right), the Around the Maypole Dress, the Rhomboid Rush Dress, the Checkmate Tank (still a closet fave!) and the Swallow Dive Halter. Those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head!

I’m delighted by the Mender line and had a chance to try several pieces on. The reviews set is coming up tomorrow morning! As a little thank you to all of us, Girls From Savoy is offering 20% off your order on using the code EFFORTLESSFANS. One coupon per customer. Offer expires July 1, 2014. Cannot be combined with other coupon offers. Which design is your favorite?

Looking for Something?