Gabriel Morales has come home.
After a two-year stint at New York-based Nina, the designer returned last October to his post as product director of Seychelles and BC Footwear, just in time to work on the fall ’09 collections.
Morales had designed the two brands, under the umbrella of El Segundo, Calif.-based Dynasty Footwear, from 2002 until 2007 before leaving for Nina. But he soon found himself feeling homesick, so when he received a phone call from Dynasty CEO Jack Silvera asking him to come back, he needed little convincing. “Jack called and said, ‘Enough already — come home,’ and that’s about all it took,” Morales said. “I loved Nina, but it’s an evening shoe company. What I really do best is the kind of shoes BC and Seychelles stand for and the consumer they target.”
Danny Silvera, marketing director for Seychelles and BC, said the company is thrilled to have its leading designer back. “Gabe gives our company an amazing foundation, and all his experience allows us to deliver the best product,” he said. “He can address the fit, quality, design and merchandising because he knows these things down to a science.”
Morales began his footwear career in the mid-1970s as a part-time sales associate for St. Louis-based Edison Brothers Stores. “I loved the idea of traveling the world and becoming a business person involved in fashion,” he said. That passion eventually landed him roles as store manager and buyer for Edison Brothers, giving him an opportunity to hone his skills in merchandising, buying and planning. In 1994, he launched his design career at Candies, and in 1996, joined Dynasty, where he began designing the Seychelles and BC collections six years later.
Since his return, Morales is working to bring more value to the product and appeal to customers who want to get more for their money during a difficult economic time. He’s also come back just as both brands are busy highlighting new initiatives: Seychelles debuted a new logo for spring ’09 and recently partnered with Nordstrom for ongoing product exclusives, while BC will debut its new “Because …” brand identity this fall.
In addition, Morales hinted that both Seychelles and BC will likely expand into other categories, but the main focus now is making sure the brands are well positioned to weather the contracting economy. “Right now, the goal is to be the healthiest we can be,” he said. “The only future I want to think about now is how to maintain or grow the business in this current state.”
1. What is the best part about working in a family business?
GM: There truly is a more heartfelt ambiance and a comfort level when you know you are treated like one of the family, and here we all are part of the family. To me, that means — family or not— you are expected to pull through as a team and make things happen.
2. Is there any overall theme in the Seychelles and BC designs?
GM: I draw inspiration from the street. The most inspiring fashion cities for me are Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Milan and London. Our collections are very driven by what is happening in fashion. But we don’t chase every fashion trend if it doesn’t relate to our girl’s lifestyle, which, for the most part, is casual in nature. If there is one common theme it would be that our styling is denim-friendly and vintage-inspired.
3. To that point, does comfort play a big role even though you design for a younger audience?
GM: Definitely, and that’s something our brands bring to the table in a saturated market. When I was a salesperson, I’d see a girl who absolutely loved a pair of shoes, but they would be so uncomfortable she couldn’t wear them. So comfort has always been a factor [in design] for me.
4. The consumer is always changing. How does that affect your designs?
GM: Because of technology, the Internet and just a smaller world in general, today’s consumer is savvier and much more worldly than she has ever been — not to mention more aware of the state of the environment and economy. In today’s economic doldrums, designing great shoes that make the customer feel happy, that are somewhat earth-friendly and that are at an acceptable price point makes life interesting for designers.
5. Some have said that juniors’ footwear, as a category, doesn’t exist anymore. Do you agree?
GM: To some extent, yes, because there does seem to be this big gray area between women’s and children’s. But there is still a difference in that the 20-year-old doesn’t mind wearing what the 28-year-old wants to wear, but the 28-year-old doesn’t want to wear what the 58-year-old is wearing. Our company has two targets: Our Seychelles girl is 28, and our BC girl is 20. That eight-year difference is not as great today as it was five years ago, but at the same time, there’s still a difference.
6. Do you see a silver lining in this economy?
GM: Without a doubt. It’s when times are tough that a lot of opportunities present themselves. Some cool stuff is coming out of it already. Just from a styling standpoint, you’d think people would buy shoes that are really practical, but instead [we’re finding] they want high platforms and funky heels. And people are buying them because it makes them feel good.
7. What do you consider your biggest strength and weakness?
GM: My biggest strength is that I am not a woman, and my biggest weakness is that I am not a woman. I don’t fall in love with the shoes from a personal standpoint and am therefore able to gear my thoughts and energy toward what works for many women at one time. But the biggest challenge designing for women is that I’m not the consumer, so I don’t know what the shoe physically feels like.
8. Which fashion labels do you most admire?
GM: It changes depending on how [the collections] look, but I consistently like what Dolce & Gabbana, Jean Paul Gaultier and Yves Saint Laurent do.
9. What best accessorizes a pair of shoes?
GM: Handbags are key. A handbag uses many of the same looks, materials and colors and defines the woman as much as a pair of shoes.
10. What is your favorite fashion era?
GM: The depression-era 1930s to the more glamorous post-war 1940s. It was one of the first times when women could dress as girly or as androgynous as they wanted and still be considered “fashionistas.” There is also something to be said about the hippie lifestyle of the 1970s, which has had staying power among young consumers.