Last fall during the furniture industry’s home fashion week I had the pleasure of sitting down for a delightful chat with the inimitable, charming, and witty fashion designer Cynthia Rowley. Our hour-long conversation touched on a variety of topics from fashion to home fashion, creativity to surfing, and to Cynthia’s passion for incubating entrepreneurial talent.
“Wallis” sofa, “Venus” demi-lune and “Serendipity” cocktail table.
DD: Did you find that there were similarities in the design process for your fashion and home fashion collection?
CR: Yes, the design process between fashion and home were very similar. For the home fashion collection I designed for Hooker Furniture, I started with color, materials, and focused on story-telling – the same process I use to design my fashion collections. I would also add that there is a symbiotic relationship between the two worlds – they feed and nourish each other. I feel that fashion inspires furniture design. For instance, the athletic/fitness suit in the window display inspired the chair design that sits next to it. And some of the pieces I designed have served as inspiration for what I will be presenting in upcoming fashion collections.
“Serendipity” console and “Brando” ottoman.
DD: This is your first furniture and decor collection, describe your experience delving into the world of furniture design.
CR: This was my first collection for the home fashion industry, and since I hadn’t ever done this before, I didn’t know what could be achieved or what the constraints or perceived constraints on furniture and décor design could be. From that perspective, it removed all limitations that may have been there had I had previous experience in creating a furniture collection.
DD: I’ve been at market for a few days, and I can tell you that your debut collection is my favorite this season. Just walking into the showroom and being greeted by your executed vision for this furniture collection was an extraordinary experience. What was it like for you in that moment when you first saw your collection in the showroom?
CR: It felt like being a bride again and walking down the aisle. I told myself to take my time and drink it all in – to remember each and every detail and emotion I felt in that moment.
Cynthia Rowley “Fleur de Glee” desk and “Curious” chair with faux sheepskin cushion slipcover.
DD: We’ve discussed fashion’s influence on your furniture collection, yet you’ve created a furniture collection that pays homage to classic design as well. It appears to be one that defies trends or fads. And that is notable in many of the pieces including the “Curious” chair which offers maximum design flexibility with the option to add a fluffy faux sheepskin slipcover to change up the look just like you would with your wardrobe.
CR: Yes, Cynthia Rowley designs are rooted in classical forms and are created to outlast trends. And both my collections for fashion and home fashion are imbued with practicality and flexibility. When designing the home collection I toned down some of the inherent fashion edginess which works on the runway for the season but isn’t practical for say a sofa or other piece of furniture. Conversely, I have now taken some elements from my home collection and will be using them to inspire my next fashion collection.
DD: You have an arts background, and it comes through in your fashion and in this collection. How important is creativity to you? And how do you keep your creativity well from running dry?
CR: Creativity requires taking risks and that means being curious. It also means exploring, delighting in discovery and always maintaining a sense of playfulness. In our home we had a banister slide installed to inject playfulness into the home. That playfulness makes an appearance in several pieces in my collection -and one of the collections is called “Curiosity!” For instance the “Semainaire” chest, on the outside it is pure elegance, yet a witty, charming delight awaits when the drawers are opened to reveal the days of the week.
“Sporty” bedroom furniture collection inspired by the surfing lifestyle.
DD: It was so fun to learn that we both have connections to surfing, and I love how you translated that fun in the sun lifestyle into your “Sporty” collection.
CR: My husband is a surfer and so is my sixteen-year-old daughter. I’ve been surfing for about 14 years, and love it. I was very happy to be able to showcase the sporty experience throughout various pieces in the collection.
DD: You have a fantastic way of visually conveying your vision. I’m a very visual person and sitting here talking with you I see that you see the world in a very visual fashion,too.
CR: It’s interesting, I’m very visual in how I communicate. A while back I was trying to teach a friend to surf and said, “ look at this [ Cynthia gestures in a paddling motion] or look at how those people over there are doing it.”
Cynthia Rowley shop in Manhattan.
DD: As we wrap up this interview, I want to thank you for the lovely gift – these candies are amazing, so yummy!
CR: Those are from my “CuRious” candy shop!
DD: I didn’t know that! That is so exciting. Would love to learn more about it.
CR: Yes, candy store, art gallery and fashion store all in one place! The Cynthia Rowley flagship store on Madison and 78th street in Manhattan houses those three business ventures. And the art gallery and candy store were born from CR employees. I encourage and do what I can to support the entrepreneurial spirit of our staff.
DD: Kind of like a business incubator and angel investor combination?
CR: Yes! And it has resulted in the “Exhibition A” contemporary art gallery and the “CuRious” candy store. On the main floor of the building is the Cynthia Rowley fashion store, on the second floor there is a large-scale wallpaper illustrated with a CR logo fashioned keyhole replete with an over-sized eye guarding a hidden, secret delight, which is the “CuRious” candy store which I liken to a “candy speak-easy!” Then on the third floor is the Exhibition A art gallery.
DD: So interesting! Will definitely make sure I visit next time I’m in Manhattan. Thank you for taking the time to sit down to talk with the Decorating Diva!