One of the world’s most prestigious textile fairs, Milano Unica showcases the best of Italian-made textiles. Last month, Milano Unica partnered with the CFDA to take three emerging American brands—Ryan Roche, Orley, and Gigi Burris—to Italy, where they were introduced to renowned fabric mills used by many of the industry's most influential luxury houses. “Young designers represent the future of fashion, and Milano Unica is eager to support them through the opportunity to establish direct and privileged contacts with the best high-end textile and accessory companies in Italy,” Milano Unica’s president, Ercole Botto Poala, told Fashion Unfiltered. “The partnership with CFDA is a win-win collaboration for both Italian companies and American designers,” he continued. “This is particularly true for Italian mills that can show and share their invaluable heritage and knowhow, as well as the innovative technologies they are developing every season.” Here, we bring you the tale of Ryan Roche and her Italian journey. Tune in tomorrow and Friday when we speak with Gigi Burris and Orley about their lines and Milano Unica adventures.
Ryan Roche didn’t waste any time after arriving in Milan last month. The moment the Upstate NewYork-based knitwear designer and her assistant got off the plane, they jumped in a car and headed straight to the first mill that Milano Unica had suggested for their grand Italian textile and trimmings tour. “We were kind of hallucinating because we were so exhausted, but it was amazing,” recalled Roche. Her time in Italy was well spent. Not only did she relish the experience of exploring historic, family-owned fabric mills that work with powerhouses like Tom Ford and Valentino, but through the introductions Milano Unica arranged, she forged relationships with some of the industry’s most prestigious fabric producers that, as Roche tells it, “will last as long as I have my brand. Everywhere we went, we were welcomed so warmly, and the mills I visited will become my go-to places.”
Roche, who previously produced all of her garments in Nepal and New York, fell in love with a handful of mills, including one that provides customized, branded waistbands, and another that produces elegant but masculine floral silks. The latter was a particularly good find, seeing as Roche took on Italian investor Gabriele Moratti just weeks ago, in part so she can have the resources to expand her range beyond sumptuous knits. “There was one mill that does super beautiful novelty cashmere, cashmere coating, and lightweight things, which will be great as I transition into building out a full collection,” she said, adding that these specialty Italian mills will allow her to bring exciting textures into her collection while keeping her wares light and airy.
Roche, who, in addition to earning support from Milano Unica, is up for the 2016 CFDA Swarovski Award for Womenswear, is experiencing an exciting growth spurt at the moment. Naturally, selling 49% of her company to a strategic investor is quite a milestone, but beyond that, her stockists are growing, and she’ll present her debut Resort collection in the coming weeks. “I think that, for me and my brand, Resort will be more important than Spring,” offered Roche during our interview. Dressed in a long tan cashmere sweater and skirt of her own design, she looks far younger than her 38 years. “I think the fact that Resort ships to stores in November and gets so much more time on the floor is a huge opportunity for me,” she continued. “I’m also coming to terms with the fact that my two biggest seasons might be Fall and Resort, which is really tight.” As far as her expansion into ready-to-wear, Roche is focusing on “beautiful tailored jackets and silk dresses. I’m working hard this season on perfecting fits—I want everything to fit so well, and to just be effortless. This season is about creating insane essentials that you don’t have to think about, but that will blow you away.”
Indeed, there is an effortless quality to Roche’s clothes, which may, in part, come from her connection to nature and the great outdoors. The designer was raised in Sun Valley, Idaho, and currently lives with her husband, three children, and four dogs in a 17th century stone house in Hurley, New York. Her studio is set in a barn on the property, though she admits she’s beginning to outgrow it. “We’re looking at new spaces,” she said. “I found this 1800s church and the cost of it is the equivalent of a tiny studio in Manhattan—it’s pretty amazing.”
When prodded to give some advice to other independent up-and-comers, Roche paused. “I think being a creative young designer is one thing, but when you get to a certain point, you can’t be afraid to delegate,” she mused. “Some people didn’t understand when I gave [my investor] 49% of my company, but I want to do things right and have a strong foundation. I know what I’m capable of and I also know what I want to focus on, so I had to bring in someone who has different strengths than me. Once things started to get big, I realized that I needed someone who was way more clever than I am at managing everything.” Wise words from a successful woman, but Roche shouldn’t sell herself short—she’s pretty damn clever all on her own.