Q&A: Kathy Wuersch

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 August, 2009, 12:00am

Designer Kathy Wuersch studied at Parsons School of Design with other fashion luminaries such as Marc Jacobs, Narciso Rodriguez and Isaac Mizrahi. Upon graduating in 1982, she began her career at American label Ellen Tracy. Seven years later she decided to move to Milan and start again. She became design director at Joan & David when it launched in 2002.

You began sewing and experimenting with fashion at age 10. How did the passion for design begin?

I used to fix and change my clothes myself and later took formal sewing lessons. I did a lot of embroidery and loved stitching - I even knew how to roll a lapel and put a zipper in. My teacher became my mentor and I spent hours absorbed in it. I just knew [fashion] was something I wanted to do. I went to Parsons and after that worked at Ellen Tracy.

Why did you decide to move to Milan after being offered the role of design director at Ellen Tracy?

I realised it would be impossible for me to honour such a big commitment and I had always wanted to go to Milan. Everything was happening in Milan at that point. There was a whole different energy there that wasn't in New York. I felt that the path I was heading, although successful, was not all the experience I wanted out of my life. I wanted to be challenged.

Did you find what you were looking for in Milan?

I stayed in Milan for 10 years. When I first arrived, it was like starting over. I made all the rounds at the major biggies like Armani, Versace and Prada. But I didn't like the way the design system was set up there - there wasn't much interaction. I didn't get a job for the first year and I taught English to get by. I later got some freelance work and did all kinds of things, including childrenswear, handbags and men's shirts. I joined Toppy Group [which owns Joan & David] in 1998, when I relocated to Boston.

How was working for Joan & David different?

The design for Joan & David is more about a lifestyle wardrobe where every season builds on [previous ones]. I don't look to make huge new fashion directions. I try to focus on timeless pieces, and that starts with fabric. I use the most beautiful tweed and wool I can find while understanding that people are not spending as much money on fashion. I want to present beautiful invested pieces women can build upon, as opposed to something so strong and outrageous you can only wear it for three months.

What does the new collection look like?

Jackets are incredibly important. It's a return to femininity and there is a nice structure in the shapes of the jackets. I counterbalance that with lighter weight blouses and colour. I strive to make flattering clothes. I'm not looking to make something far out or kooky.

What is the most difficult aspect of your craft?

The deadlines. There's always a short time frame and often I have to make a decision and hopefully not compromise too much. It's tough. The past six months were tough to be creative because the boundaries kept changing. There's less to play with and I have to really focus on what is important for the collection and for me as a designer. But in the end, I'm going to have to please myself. I can never please everybody.

How would you describe your style?

There are crazy things that I picked up at flea markets that I still wear and I'm able to make them incredibly elegant. I strive for agelessness. I'm more into ease and cut. I will dress up for an occasion, but I'm more a personal and emotional kind of dresser. I dress for myself. It's just clothing. It's not who I am. I can put it on and I can take it off. I don't take it so seriously.

Would you ever start your own label?

I did have my own label in Milan from 1994 to 1995. All the strong designers have strong partnerships and it never happened for me. You need the balance of the business as well as the creative side [to succeed]. I'm at a different stage in my life and in designing now.