Steven Alan is a New York based designer known for his original take on tailored standards. After opening his first retail store in 1994, Alan gained a reputation for scouting a unique group of emerging designers; a knack further solidified upon the opening of his eponymous showroom in 1996. He later went on to launch his own ready-to-wear collection in 1999 and has since designed collections for Urban Outfitters, Uniqlo, Keds and Dockers.
You opened your first store in 1994, almost 20 years ago! How was retail different then?
Soho, for one, was not nearly as developed as it is today. My store had bars on the windows and tons of graffiti outside. Comme des Garcons was one of the only retailers on my street. Small, up and coming brands weren’t as sought after as they are today. There were only a handful of stores around the country that focused on the brands we were carrying.
Who were the very first designers you carried in you store?
Bernadette Corporation, Susan Cianciolo, Spooky, Rebecca Dannenberg, MilkFed, Built by Wendy, Cake, and Daryl K.
What do you look for when buying into new brands? Are there any up and comers you are very excited about?
We like designers to have their own unique sensibility, much like galleries do with artists that they are representing. I think it’s important to feel the spirit of the brand, to recognize the designer when you see a garment before even looking at the tag. If that’s achieved without seeing a logo or the label, then I think it’s executed well. In addition, after being in this business all this time, we’ve gotten better at evaluating the make of the garment. We don’t really have a specific price range for the items, but we do want there to be tremendous value in the materials as well as the construction and design. Alasdair, Black Crane, Marissa Webb, R13, Briefing, Shoes like Pottery, Grei, No. 6 and several others which can be viewed on our website are some exciting up and coming brands. In addition, our collaboration with Daryl K and the brands that we rep in the showroom are all extremely exciting right now.
The Steven Alan Collection started out as a line of men’s shirts, but it has truly evolved into an entire wardrobe for men and women. Was this always your goal or did it evolve and grow organically?
It definitely grew organically. The goal was to build a collection, but I have never been in a hurry to do so. It’s always been more important to me to do each category as well as we possibly can before moving on to the next. A lot of the design process internally is more about making things better and better. I would compare it to designing cars.
What interested you the most about expanding the brand to home goods and children’s clothing?
We’ve always wanted to push the envelope in terms of the square footage of our spaces. We wanted to experiment with a larger footprint, and in doing so, we realized that it would be a lot more interesting if we included a selection of home goods as well as children’s. Lots of people coming in have strollers and have recently moved or are moving to new places and are excited to find products that they value.
Is there another American based label you’d compare yourself to?
When I started out, Ralph Lauren was the brand that I most looked up to. The reason is, I feel that he’s created a place in the market where his brand is so clearly defined through all the senses—smell, sound, touch, and visually—and has made the experience one that is impactful and meaningful. So when I started the brand, I thought, “How would I do it today?” So our brand really stems from a NY sensibility and we enjoy designing for both men and women.
Can you tell us anything about the opening of your home goods and kids store in Tribeca this summer? Will it be next to the existing Franklin Street store?
We are a neighborhood-based store and have never been driven to very expensive locations in mainstream tourist areas. We like being the neighborhood store. An example would be being in Venice Beach or on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, or Hayes Valley in San Francisco—these are all locations that big-name retailers generally do not gravitate toward. It’s really interesting for us to open up in new cities, and allows us to buy for that specific market, which is a fun process.
I love the Daryl K x Steven Alan collaboration! You guys always seem to be collaborating with really exciting, unexpected partners – what’s your process for these relationships?
I’ve known Daryl since around 1997 when we first carried her in the store. At the time, I think we placed an order on a napkin, as she didn’t have a wholesale showroom yet. When she closed the store, I felt that it would be great to be able to bring it back in some way, and it’s been a really fun collaboration. We don’t really have a formal process in deciding. It’s usually a matter of us internally deciding that there’s a designer/brand who has a core area of expertise different from our own, so we can both benefit. In addition, designers often times reach out to us. It can also happen very organically–like Daryl and I running into each other in the Met and deciding we wanted to do something again on the spot.
What inspired you to create Lark & Wolff? Is the collection exclusive to Urban Outfitters?
Lark & Wolff is a line that I had created targeting a younger demographic that was kind of like the kid brother or sister to ours. We sold it exclusively at Urban Outfitters for a couple of years, and at the moment we aren’t doing anything with that brand.
Has your company changed since Fossil Inc./Bedrock acquired a minority ownership? In what way do you see your brand benefitting most?
With Bedrock came a pool of talent in many areas and I think it has helped a great deal in making us a much stronger company. Being able to bounce things off of them—whether it’s organizational, operational, financial, marketing questions etc. — has been great. In addition, there’s a great synergy of likeminded brands that Bedrock has interest in and that we sell. I believe the human side is of greatest importance and I have tremendous respect for their team.
Having reached this point in your career, what’s left on your to do list? What gives you the most pride?
What I look forward to doing is just continuing to do everything better! Eventually it would be great to have stores internationally and continue to broaden the categories that we do well. I love it when people are really passionate about the brand and they refer to it like, “I love Steven Alan and I got the best…. from there!”