All Girls With Classic Style Should Know This Brand

Welcome to Into Labels, a Who What Wear column that profiles the designers behind the brands we can’t stop talking about.

Photo:

Cienne; PICTURED: Nicole Heim and Chelsea Healy

Classic style can be interpreted in a number of ways, but the one non-negotiable trait of any item labeled as classic is that it stands the test of time. By that measure, Cienne is the young brand setting out to help rethink how we shop for said long-standing wardrobe staples.

Launched by co-founders Nicole Heim and Chelsea Healy, the label itself is not just taking on classic pieces as far as aesthetics go. Its suiting is crisp and clean, yes, its dresses are elegant and non-fussy, and it offers sweaters you’ll wear so often the cost-per-wear will be peanuts—but there’s something else. While fellow young brands may be pushing themselves to keep up with the accelerated pace of the industry or, even speedier, fast fashion, Cienne’s taking the slow road.

Photo:

Cienne; PICTURED: Cienne F/W 18

Heim and Healy launched the brand in 2015, following positions at a big, corporate fashion brand (where the two worked together, although they met as students at FIT) and a period of traveling, which eventually inspired Cienne’s collaboration with craftspeople and artisan worldwide. Specifically, it sources materials from parts of Asia, Africa, South America, and beyond and works hands-on with its local production in NYC.

“Shopping Cienne is the same as any other brand,” Helm tells us of the label that just scooped up the runner-up award at last week’s CFDA + Lexus Fashion Initiative program. “The only difference is that we do small production runs and some items on our website are made-to-order. This allows us to control waste and ensure product scarcity, which is good for both our customers and the environment.”

With this in mind, you might assume Cienne caters to the fashion lovers who want their clothing to have a conscience. They do. However, with a celeb following that includes Gigi Hadid, Emma Watson, and Gwyneth Paltrow, knowing what it takes (and what it doesn’t) in order to get a dress from the simplest materials to the pieces you wear today, is only one reason this is a brand to watch.

Scroll down for more insights from our conversation with Cienne’s co-founders, about what it takes to create a new classic, and new standard, when it comes to fashion brands.

Photo:

Cienne; PICTURED: Cienne F/W 18

Before Cienne, you were both working at big corporate fashion brands. What’s the most significant thing you learned that you brought along?

Nicole Helm: I watched a lot of smart women run very big businesses. Women in leadership roles wasn’t as much of a thing at the time, so I’m fortunate in saying that it has always been the norm for me. I also traveled a lot, and this helped me to understand factories and the nuances of working with different cultures.

Chelsea Healy: I think the biggest thing I learned is that design is subjective. Working for a big company naturally brings a lot of people to the table with a lot of different viewpoints. You have to learn to stick to your ideas and opinions and to trust your gut feeling.

When you launched the label, was there a specific customer you wanted to speak to? Is she the same woman in 2018?

NH: Prior to Cienne, I was really looking for a change—as a designer, a consumer, and in the fashion industry at large. I felt there was an opportunity to create a brand that was honest and ethical without sacrificing modernity or design. The Cienne woman comes to us for quality and aesthetic first and foremost, and we hope that never changes. Our purposeful approach is an added bonus. We feel it’s our responsibility as a company to operate from a values-driven place, both for our customers and the fashion community at large.

CH: We wanted to speak to the customer that loved fashion and was willing to invest in quality pieces. We’re still speaking to that same woman, but she’s grown up a bit—much like we have as a brand.

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Cienne; PICTURED: Cienne F/W 18

Travel is a huge pillar to the Cienne brand as you work with mills and craftspeople across the globe. How does travel still play a role in growing Cienne today?

CH: Travel will always play a role in Cienne because it’s a huge part of the foundation upon which the brand was built. One of the most inspiring experiences for me was when Nicole and I traveled to Ethiopia together in February 2015. It was the beginning of it all, so it was a really special time. Working with the weavers there was incredible. It was fascinating to watch them practice their craft; they were so passionate, and their culture is beautiful. I would love to eventually go to India, which is where we source our sheer silks and artisanal prints.

In the past three years, what have been the biggest “we’ve made it” moments?

NH: Back in 2016, Entrepreneur named Cienne one of the 10 most inspiring and innovative companies in design and retail, which was really exciting.

CH: There are several favorite moments that stand out to me—one of which was when Gwyneth Paltrow was voted best dressed when she wore Cienne during NYFW in September 2016. Arriving home to Elle magazine in my mailbox and seeing a Cienne feature including a photo of Nicole and me is another one—I grew up reading that magazine religiously, so it was kind of wild. Lastly, being selected as a part of the CFDA + Lexus Fashion Initiative program, to then be voted runner-up in a surprise twist was a moment I’ll never forget.

Photo:

Cienne; PICTURED: Cienne F/W 18

What do you think is your business partner’s biggest strength, and how do you each complement each other?

NH: Chelsea’s heart and work ethic are two of her biggest strengths. She has an incredible eye for color and print and an innate talent at balancing what’s directional yet classic in fashion. She’s also one of the most fun people I’ve ever met!

CH: I think Nicole’s biggest strength is being five steps ahead, always. She is very forward-thinking and intuitive, not to mention the hardest worker. She would never put anything out that was below her personal standards. She also thinks so big!

The F/W 18 collection is gorgeous. Tell us a bit about how it came together.

NH: Cienne F/W 18 is inspired by Brazilian modernism and the home of Julio Roberto Katinsky, particularly its combination of natural materials like wood and greenery mixed with concrete and angular architecture. This influence comes to fruition in the collection as it merges romantic touches of delicate silks and femininity with modern, structured elements such as hits of bold color, rounded lines, and graphic leather.

CH: We introduced a few new materials this season as well, including velvet and a multicolored tweed in outerwear.

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Cienne; PICTURED: Cienne F/W 18

Where do we go from here? What are some changes that need to happen in the fashion industry to make sustainable/slow fashion the norm and the gold standard, and who else is getting it right?

NH: I was inspired by Vetements’ installation at Harrods back in March, which consisted of a huge pile of secondhand clothes in the shop windows in an effort to raise awareness around waste and overproduction. Over 30% of what fashion brands produce ends up in a landfill. We need a major shift in how we consume and how we make, and this is something we’ve been passionate about since the beginning of Cienne, which is one reason we’re currently testing on-demand manufacturing and zero-waste knitwear.

CH: The ideal thing, which is also quite lofty, is to have both consumers and retailers try to slow down the pace. We have to keep pushing quality over quantity, which is what slow fashion is all about. I think some big-name designers are making small shifts for improvement, like not showing at fashion week, or showing on a different calendar. I also think there is such positive momentum in the sustainability conversation, so there is definitely an awareness rising here, which is inspiring.

Available in sizes XS to L.

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