Photo Courtesy Marie and Karen Potesta
Interview

MARIE & KAREN POTESTA

04.13.12

Micaela Greg is a knitwear label founded by San Francisco-based sisters Marie and Karen Potesta. Marie holds degrees in Fashion and Knitwear Design from the Academy of Art University, and her final collection debuted at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York City. She also won the prestigious Avant-Garde Gen Arts International Styles Award in 2008. Karen spent 7 years as Senior Designer of the Women’s Premium denim line at Levi’s. They launched Micaela Greg in 2009.

Interview

This was your first season participating at Capsule trade show — how did it go?

It was a definite success. We had been operating the past couple of seasons on word of mouth and Internet buzz. We were taking it really slow, trying to button down production before we went into a full-fledged launch. Being at the show, it was nice to see some great emerging lines and meet buyers for the first time from all over. People that had done the show before had mixed reviews, but for us there was great energy and we landed some really good accounts. There were times where it was slow, so we split up and made appointments with stores in New York and Brooklyn to show the line. We made the most of our experience.

What was the response from buyers?

The response was overwhelmingly good.  We are still little-known, so it was priceless for us to feel the excitement from the buyers when they discovered something new. You have to create something that the buyer feels an emotional attachment to when walking by and its when they actually get the opportunity to feel the soft quality of our knits and see the intricate detail that you can feel the enthusiasm mount.  It’s very reaffirming. There were some real highlights.

Did you find buyers appreciated talking to the designers directly or would prefer that you had a sales associate?

I find most buyers appreciate creativity in general. They are able to see the brand on a deeper level when they can hear about the product straight from the designers. It’s a given that as a designer you are connected to what you spend so much of your time doing, and when you express that to the buyers, they can really feel it.

Who do you see as your ideal customer?

She’s spontaneous and spirited — not so planned.  She dresses according to her mood. She’s definitely mastered the art of layering and third pieces. She’s looking for fun and innovative design. Our goal is to bring well-designed and high quality products to market so we design to compliment the customers’ passion for individuality and personal style.

What magazines or blogs is she reading?

I do hope she’ll be reading this one! But I don’t think I’m alone in saying, “so many blogs and magazines and so little time!” I think you could literally get lost for days looking at different sources of content and media. Blogs are so customized to every taste nowadays, there is something for everyone. Possibly for her fashion fix she might go to “The Cut” and “Jak and Jill” and take a glimpse into the future with http://advancedstyle.blogspot.com/.

Having launched in 2009 you’ve taken a very safe approach introducing the line slowly. What is your game plan?

Previously we were working under the premise of “if you make it, they will come”. We’ve now started scrutinizing our promotion and marketing strategies but we are still spending the most energy into investing in the product. It’s really is such a gamble each season and we are definitely stepping out of our comfort zones more and more. Now that we have quit our full time jobs, we have made this our priority. We’re taking more risks than we had previously and doing Capsule was one that has paid off so far.  We’re trying to avoid the mistakes so many designers make in the beginning that tend to be rather costly experiences that can end your business endeavor before it really gets a chance to begin.

How many pieces does the collection offer for Fall 2012?

The line consists of 16 pieces. We design plenty more beautiful items that drop out. We put these away only to excitedly rediscover them next season, asking ourselves, “Why did we drop this?” We then argue as to whose decision it was to pass on them, because some of these designs have now become some of our best sellers!

Can you tell us about the prints you used and the color palette?

Geometrics and contemporary art seem to continually be an influence. For Fall 2012 we brought to mind the iconic images of Art Deco skylines. We drew upon ideas of a gleaming metropolis on the horizon and a retro future era. The collection builds on long, thin forms, chevron patterns, linear symmetry and architectural geometry. Our collections have repeatedly included patterns in black and white. This season we mixed in some easy-to-wear neutrals for good layering and added pops of moss green and burgundy to compliment the neutrals.

How would describe the aesthetic of the collection?

We strive to design visually bold, versatile knitwear, with deceptively easy shapes that look stylish through pattern and intricate attention to detail. We like an artful quality and boyishly cool aesthetic.

In what ways do you hope to expand the collection for Spring? More pieces? More fabrics?

The collection will be tight. We are still trying to strike the right balance with spring knits. Because of a saturated jersey knit market in Spring, we strive to make statement pieces in amazing yarns. We worked with a beautiful Egyptian cotton last spring and may revisit this. There may also be an opportunity to experiment with some mixed fabrications, adding some wovens with the knits. It’s all in the experimental stages still.

What made you decide to design a knitwear line?

It’s hard to say how you decide to make a career in a creative field. We weren’t always into fashion. I started out in painting and sculpture and Karen as an industrial engineer. I guess if you have some creative talent you then have to contemplate how you want to use it and make something out of it. When you reach certain point it’s inevitable, you just can’t imagine doing anything else and that’s how it’s always been with us. We also grew up around master crafters. My grandmother was a skilled seamstress that trained in Milan, and our grandfather was a shoemaker and amateur inventor. It evolved organically. It was a Masters in knitwear design and a senior collection that debuted at New York Fashion Week that started it all. We then won the Avant Guard Award at Gen Arts’ International Styles Competition. People started asking where they could buy the knits and we said give us six months to figure that out and we launched soon after that.

How does living in San Francisco inspire you?

Well there’s definitely no shortage of creative people or imagination to help keep us inspired. It’s also no doubt that San Francisco has the perfect climate to be designing knits. It’s sweaters in different weights pretty much year round here. There’s also a beautiful escape from the city driving a half hour in any direction where you can clear your head. We prefer to work somewhat off the fashion grid.

What are the biggest benefits of working together as sisters?

Not only are we sisters but we went to the same college, we worked designing for a large company only desks apart for years, we have husbands that have been best friends since grade school and now have babies five months apart in age. I know it sounds like the pilot for a really bad sitcom! Although we have obvious similar interests and almost always agree when it comes to a concept or vision, we are extremely different in personality. We have never once discussed what roles we play in all of this, or who will do what — it’s unspoken. We just know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Not to say we don’t fight because there are arguments with every passionate duo that have unconditional love and absolutely no filter. At the end of the day it just pushes each of us to be better.  We love to make mistakes together, or “inspiring accidents.” It is when we are backed into a corner and we have to think our way out together that’s when our best collaborating happens.

Is there another duo you like to be compared to?

No comparisons to anyone that we know of, but I just read an interview with twin sisters Daphne and Vera Correll of the line Correll Correll, that won the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation award earlier this year. It struck a chord with us — their dedication to handcrafting together. It really mimics our relationship to each other and a love of creating together which we’ve done all our lives- very inspiring. But at times we could also be compared to Gilligan and The Skipper? Bert and Ernie? The Captain and Tenille?

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