Since launching her women’s clothing line over 20 years ago, Cynthia Rowley has diversified, grown, and evolved – both as a woman, and as an international brand. Now a full-fledged fashion icon, Rowley seems to have a hand in every imaginable area of design.
From her signature dresses to handbags to bridesmaid dresses to diapers and band-aids, Rowley’s influence on design is becoming ubiquitous, to the point where everything the high-energy, high-impact designer touches turns into a must-have. High Low contributor Corynne Steindler (who happens to be from Rowley’s hometown of Barrington, IL) spoke with the fashionista about her love of blogging, her adventurous spirit, and her advice for aspiring designers.
The High Low: When you started out — with $3,000 from your grandmother, as the story goes — did you ever imagine your line would grow to what it is today?
Cynthia Rowley: I was really focused on clothing, as opposed to all of these other incredible directions the brand has taken over the last few years, and I think I was really hesitant until probably college to embrace the idea that I could actually do this for a living! Once I decided to forge ahead in this capacity, it was full speed. And I think the idea of having a company of this size and impact certainly became a “twinkle in my eye.”
CR: Oh, I’ve got a lot of fun ideas in the works. Mostly, I think any collaboration has to be organic – it has to relate to the personality of the brand and it usually stems from something that strikes a cord personally with me as well.
It’s very important to me to continue to grow and evolve the existing collections too, as each of them fits into the story of the house and its vision, and speaks to the growth of the aesthetic.
THL: How does posting on your blog, where you share photos, travels, events, and inspirations with your readers, help connect you to your consumers?
CR: I love sharing what I’m up to – I’m a very open person. Like I said, so much of what we do comes from something I saw, or an activity, sport, or cultural phenomenon that I personally enjoy. So, when the consumers see what I’ve been doing – whether it’s where I’ve been traveling, or an event or venue where I’ve contributed or had a presence – it allows them to connect to the product that evolves from those experiences.
The designs come from somewhere, instead of being disconnected or random. My collections come from my life, and from the heritage of this label, which I hope can always be a vehicle for inspired creation.
THL: Some people may not know this, but you are a self-proclaimed lover of “death-defying adventures” like surfing, water-skiing, and scuba diving. How has embracing risk helped you in your career?
CR: I don’t know if it’s as much about “embracing risk” as it is about being adventurous and experimental – about living every day to the fullest. I will tell you that my approach to fashion is just like my approach to life: Step out of your comfort zone and try new things! You never know how enriching exploration can be until you pursue it.
THL: Any advice for young artists who are trying to pursue a life in artand design, especially in our current economy?
CR: I always suggest that young designers get a footing in the industry by working for someone more established. Not only does that help you understand the fashion process as a whole, but I think working for someone else is often the best way to refine your own style and intent.
Economically, this makes sense as well, as investors are going to have more confidence when backing someone who is already active and connected within the fashion system, [versus] someone who is kind of forging their own way right out of the gate.
THL: Has the economic downturn influenced your designs in any way?
CR: I think any economic downturn brings out new energy and innovation. I always try to channel exciting ideas from the world around me into my collections and presentations, as I want my customers to feel as inspired by my products as I do.