Meet Sharon Lavi and Sam Nieves Velez, co-founders of popular New York-based label Nieves Lavi. Between them, they have worked for such industry heavyweights as Anna Sui, Ralph Lauren, and Vera Wang, but it is their own label—which they created in 2003—that is really drawing a crowd. In fact, since founding Nieves Lavi, the duo have found their bold bohemian label has become a favorite among New York’s downtown crowd, LA’s cool kids, and fashion editors alike, whilst also catching the eye of tastemakers like Sarah Jessica Parker and Eva Mendes. We sat down with the design duo to talk about their early days in design, what it’s like to create your own label, their biggest moment so far, and what inspires them! Read on!
1. Hi guys! Firstly, can you introduce yourselves to our readers and tell us how and when you first met?
Nieves Lavi is a New York-based fashion design company we co-founded in 2003. Together, we draw upon our diverging cultural backgrounds to create a line of ready-to-wear separates that showcase our mutual love of bold prints and deceptively simple silhouettes. We met about ten years ago when we were both designing for another company.
2. Once the two of you teamed up, what happened next? How did you decide to create Nieves Lavi?
We became friends and had a very similar and complimentary aesthetic that was distinct; we didn’t see our particular outlook anywhere around us, and we wanted to share our vision independently while perusing our passion and creating our own designs. We were both big believers in 100% natural fabrics, and we were especially drawn to silk jersey due to its quality, look, and comfort—it is perfect fabric for the modern lifestyle. For our first collection, we had an Art Nouveau feel—debuting six designs in silk jersey that didn’t wrinkle and were packed in a special pouch that packs the dress in for traveling.
3. In the past, the two of you have worked for such industry heavyweights as DKNY Jeans, Anna Sui, Ralph Lauren and Vera Wang. How did that influence you in the beginning and how do those jobs influence you now?
Our first jobs and the years we spent working and learning are priceless to us, and we appreciate the experience very much. We learned so much about the true work behind creating a collection and also the ins-and-outs of business. This well-rounded education helps us daily, from both a design and business standpoint.
4. What was your first big moment?
Our first big moment was when we received an order from a big retailer, like Bergdorf Goodman or Saks. Also, seeing our designs in the windows of Bloomingdale’s, on some of our favorite celebrities, and across the pages of magazines and papers we read often like The New York Times and InStyle. We also love when we hear from ladies around the world that they still wear a dress of ours from our first collection, or when we see people wearing our designs on the street!
5. What was the biggest challenge when you started?
Our first trade show was our first big challenge! We didn’t know what we were doing and we just jumped in. It was a trade show for a lower price point—mostly t-shirts—so we were just there, completely ignored, with our beautiful collection. All was not lost, however! We met our first showroom rep there and they got us into the best stores in California for the following season! We learned a lot from all of our mistakes! The business side is challenging for designers and finding good sales representation is key.
6. Sharon, you hail from Israel, and Sam, you hail from Puerto Rico. How have your respective cultural backgrounds influenced your design process?
Our backgrounds are some of our biggest assets—we derive ideas all the time from our cultures, our mothers and grandmothers, and our native countries. Being from another country and traveling extensively made us open to other cultures, and we rely heavily on this inspiration—and the styles of our mothers and grandmothers—when designing prints. This is our specialty, ethnic prints. We love the hand work and the careful details of designing an exclusive print.
7. Now the fun part: where do you get your inspiration from?
Our next collection, Fall 2011, is inspired by A Star is Born, which focuses on 70s-chic rock stars in the Southwest. Barbra Streisand wears these sexy, glamorous 70s bohemian pieces—it’s very luxe and certainly inspiring! We are always inspired by our surroundings, as well—the girl in the street wearing an interesting silhouette, nature, the city, other fashions high and low, old and new, and vibrant locales ranging from New York to Saint-Tropez. We’re also drawing inspiration lately from our travels, friends, families, movies like Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, and music such as Lady Gaga and Far East movements.
8. Do you have a specific ‘girl’ in mind when you sit down to design each collection?
The Nieves Lavi girl is a romantic, fashion-forward, free-thinking bohemian. She is an individualist who is uptown chic but also downtown quirky. She wears her clothes, rather than letting them wear her, and adds her own twist to her looks. We like to think of her as our friends, and their friends—a network of glamorous social gypsies.
9. What’s next for Nieves Lavi?
Nieves Lavi will continue to grow steadily and have a presence in major boutiques from coast to coast. We plan to be even more established on the four continents where we already have a presence, and eventually we hope to open a free-standing boutique of our own.
10. Finally, do you have any other ventures in the pipeline?
We would like to design swimwear, handbags, beachwear, shoes, and home décor!