Upon arriving at designer Devi Kroell’s bustling loft-like studio on Fifth Avenue in New York, press agents are waiting in the wings to greet me, while patternmakers are busily draping, measuring and cutting, and design assistants prep for a fitting. In the midst of it all, Devi presides serenely over her growing team. Our brief visit begins with a discussion of New York Fashion Week, now just around the corner. “We’re actually really late this season,” Devi confesses. “I’m usually very punctual, but this time our factory is shipping the accessories just in time for the presentation. We will just have to hope it goes smoothly!”
Devi then indulges me with a full description of her fall collection. “Fall will be very colorful with a lot of embellishment. Last season, the collection was in tune with the economy, at least in the sense of the palette being more calm. Now I’m using more color, making a statement, hopefully lifting everyone’s mood and making them go out and shop. The embellishment is not just appliqués or crystal, it is more essential to the garment so it makes sense within a wardrobe.” Speaking about her personal affinity for evening wear, Devi says, “For evening, I love to wear pieces that make me feel fantastic. Fall, for me, may be more fun because you have more layers — coat, vest, jacket. There are so many more options to play with.”
Our conversation turns to Devi’s daughter, Kiki. “She is 21 months old and she has a shoe fetish,” the designer says. “She loves red, fuchsia, pink, boots with fur and anything patent. When I wear patent boots she runs up and hugs them, polishes them, kisses them.” I ask Devi if she would ever consider designing a children’s line, but she says she doesn’t think it would work. “Phillip Lim was telling me once that he just shrinks his whole collection to make the children’s line. That works for him because his look is so whimsical and girly. I’m not sure that works as seamlessly when you’re talking about grownup pieces like an embroidered jacket.”
However, Devi does have ideas for growth. “We’re always expanding — adding evening shoes — and bags can always be taken further. There aren’t that many fantastic choices in that area, so we’re going a bit more trendy for evening.” Just this season, Devi has begun using a new factory, too, in the Veneto region of Italy. “The quality there is just amazing,” she says. In other news, Devi tells me she is “very thrilled about Rihanna wearing the bubble shoe at the American Music Awards.” Does she have any advice for young designers during these trying times? “Wait another year! Retailers are only able to maintain or reduce what they have now. Two or three years ago, people were thrilled to have new designers, but not now. I’m usually someone who encourages new lines, but now is not a very good time.”
Devi and I shift gears and move from her office into the larger studio space as her fit Luca, arrives. Devi has allowed me to view her fit a few basic styles in muslins for the fall collection. “I like to make my changes on a fit model, and it’s the same with accessories. I don’t sketch in incredible detail because it’s easier to visualize when I see it on. I’m sure it drives everyone crazy,” the designer adds, smiling.
As we’re waiting for Luca to appear in the first look, Devi outlines her typical day for me. “On one of my good days,” she begins, “I’m up at 6:30 a.m. and by working out with my trainer. I’m in the office by 9:30 and start with my European calls. After spending the morning going back and forth with my Italian suppliers, I often have business lunches. My afternoons are dedicated to my New York studio and then, in the evenings, I usually attend industry cocktails, although that has slowed some recently. Finally, dinner my husband, Alessandro, is usually more of romantic affair.”
Totally in awe of this rigorous daily schedule, I take a seat, while Devi warns me the fitting will proceed in French, as that is the common language of her studio. Devi is fluent in French, Italian, English, German and Indonesian, which she calls “the secret language” of her family because they lived there for a period in her childhood. While she draws fabric with a red Sharpie, Devi comfortably switches back and forth between French and English, converse with Nina, her collection director, and to explain to me her thoughts. As she changes the neckline of the dress, Devi summarizes, “This is a very simple dress but will act as a base for some of the more embellished pieces. We’re fitting it late because I just added it back in to balance out the line. There are always the important runway pieces for press, but we need to have a full palette of choices for buyers, too.”