Brand Crush + Interview: Porter Grey

I’ve had a little bit of a fascination with the label Porter Grey for quite some time now.  Besides being versatile staples that you’ll own forever, the pieces are just beautiful (this coat has been on my wish list all winter, and don’t even get me started on these leather track shorts!) I also love that the line is designed by two sisters, Alexandra & Kristen O’Neil.  Furthermore, all of the design + production is done locally in New York, with a heavy focus on quality and craftsmanship.

I died over all of the exquisite pieces in their Spring ’12 lookbook… and was lucky enough to catch up with Alexandra and Kristen to ask them a few questions about their line and what inspires them.  First we’ll take a look inside their look book… then we’ll move on to my interview questions… and their (rather inspiring!) answers.

 More (and interview!) after the break…

S&S:  What are your biggest sources of inspiration?

Kristen: We tend to look to our own lives for inspiration. Each collection always seems to be grounded in something meaningful or special to us. For example, one of the inspirations behind our Spring/Summer 2012 collection was the childhood bedroom that Ali and I shared, which was dripping in chintz.  We are also avid TCM watchers.  I have a crush on Robert Osborne.  We have it on in the background while we are working.   

S&S:  I think that it’s incredible that you two are sisters who went into business together.  (I have two younger sisters – we’re all so different.)  Can you tell me a little bit about your background, and how you ended up starting a business together?

Kristen: Neither of us had a background in fashion, but Ali has been sewing and designing clothing and accessories since she was probably ten. Our grandmother taught Ali to sew on a 1950’s singer sewing machine that we actually kept until a few years ago.  She always had an innate talent that had, it been left unexplored, would have been a huge waste. Ali went to NYU and I went to Harvard.  We actually both concentrated in Ancient Art History in school.  While our interests are very much the same, our personalities are completely different, which is probably why we balance each other out so well. Growing up, we were always incredibly close, so it seemed like a natural thing to continue to spend entirely too much time together by starting a business together.

S&S:  On your “About page,” you state that you aim to create a timeless take on the quintessential modern American girl.  Who, in your opinion, embodies this modern American girl?  And who are your style icons?

Alexandra: The modern American girl’s style is clean-cut and casual.  When I think about American style I think of a crisp white button-down. It never goes out of style and always looks great, but it has this easiness to it that you can incorporate into any look. It is that idea that we keep in mind when we design.  We want a girl to be able to throw on Porter Grey and not need to over think it, but know that she looks great.        
S&S:  Besides your own line, who are your favorite designers?  Any favorite shopping spots in New York?

Alexandra: I love Paul Poiret and Yves Saint Laurent.  Whenever I am not wearing Porter Grey, I try to mix in pieces from my favorite vintage stores: Edith Machinist, Patina, and Frock.  One of my favorite things to buy are vintage t-shirts and sweatshirts. There is a great store in the West Village called Star Struck that has an amazing collection.
S&S:  I love that all of your designs are produced in New York.  Has this been a challenge? Tell me why this is so important to you.
Kristen:  We have always felt that supporting the New York economy and the fashion district was something incredibly important to us. It is only marginally more expensive for us to do this, but it allows for better quality control, as well as being able to do our very small part in keeping the fashion district running.  In 1965 95% of all clothing sold in the US was made in the US, now only 5% is, it is a very  sad statistic, and I can only hope that companies start to bring work back to the states.  It makes me proud to know that we are part of that small 5%.
S&S:  Any advice you can share about what it takes to start your own business?

Kristen:  One of the most important things that I have found in starting our business is the importance of having a partner.  Whatever the endeavor may be, starting a business is physically, emotionally, and mentally draining.  When you have a partner, you can take the weight off of each other and figure out ways to balance the work.  Even if it is just having someone who you can bounce ideas off of or who can be bad cop every once in a while (in my specific case), it is nice to know that you are not in it alone.

I hope you all found this interview as inspiring as I do!  In the meantime, learn more about Porter Grey here…  and shop their designs here!

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