Given that Zara is valued at $10.7 billion and has an Instagram following of 11.7 million and a global store count of 2100, it’s safe to say that if you’re a fashion designer, getting to throw your hat in the fast-fashion retailer's ring is a welcomed opportunity. Such is the case for Emily Cadenhead, a free-spirited Topanga Canyon dweller who recently designed a beautiful California-inspired collection for Zara. Scroll down to read our interview with her to find out what her experience was like designing for the mega-brand!
WHO WHAT WEAR: Do you want to start by telling me a little bit about your background and how you got into fashion?
EMILY CADENHEAD: I grew up in Malibu, and when I was 13, I moved to Palm Springs. I got into fashion because my grandmother had this incredible closet and amazing wardrobe. She would travel around the world collecting textiles, and she would make her own clothes. My grandparents also had this really beautiful architectural home that was quite famous in Palm Springs, and we would have all kinds of shoots there. They shot Vogue there multiple times and all different kinds of magazines. One of Tom Ford's first collections was shot at my grandparents house. So I kind of grew up around fashion.
EC: I wanted to be a painter, so I went to art school and I studied painting and I got a BFA. When I graduated, I needed a to get a job, so I actually got into graphic design. I went into motion picture advertising, and I was working in graphic design for a while. I was just sort of tired of sitting in front a computer all the time—it was really exhausting for me, so I ended up transitioning into styling, and then from styling, I started making clothes for some of the people I was styling. Then my boyfriend at the time suggested that I start a line, so I started this thing called Daughters of the Revolution. I did that for like, six years, and we sold in over 350 boutiques around the world.
WWW: How did the gig with Zara come about?
EC: Zara contacted me because they were actually fans of Daughters of the Revolution, and they were doing a whole floral story for spring (this spring), and they wanted to me to help them to come up with some designs. They were looking for the California flowy, free-spirited sort of vibe, so they asked me if I would do a collection for them. So I flew out to Spain and I met with the entire team, and it went really, really well. I came back and I put the entire project together for them, and then I flew back and I did a presentation and ended up moving forward with a bunch of the styles, which are in stores now.
WWW: That’s incredible. What was the process like when you came home, in terms of concepting the different pieces and the silhouettes?
EC: Well, it was definitely very interesting because they were specifically looking for the style that I created for my line, Daughters of the Revolution, which was this ethereal flowing almost like 1940s or 1930s kind of movie-star glamour. It was really fun because I was able to go back into my archives and look at the old pieces I had created previously. Also, I got into looking at the traditional kind of California style—everything from 1940s movie stars to 1960s hippie bohemian, and up into the '70s, and then touching in the kind of like '80s decadence. I did a lot of research and looked at a lot of different pictures. I looked at a lot of the costume houses and got really into doing research and going and looking around and specifically focusing on California style.
WWW: So you went back and presented it, and they were on board with the ideas, what happened after that?
EC: I ended up doing a bunch of drawings for them—about 100 drawings. I do everything by hand, so I hand-paint my drawings. I did a bunch of drawings for them, and they selected the ones they wanted me to move forward with. I ended up physically making the samples, selecting the fabrics here and putting the collection together here, so when I went back to Spain the second time, I had a presentation for them. They had one of their fit models there who actually tried on each individual garment in front of the entire team, so I pretty much went there with everything in hand.
WWW: That’s incredible!
EC: Thank you so much! It was really fun and inspiring to see a new perspective. And I mean, Zara is just like the most unbelievable machine; I can’t even tell you. It’s so crazy how technical they are. It’s almost like sci-fi stepping into the Zara offices. They have designers from around the world, and one of the girls I was working with was from Balenciaga. They have the best; really, truly, they take the best people and they bring them into Zara. So it was fun for them to have a California perspective, which was obviously very different from the Parisian style or the European style, so it was fun—really, really fun.
WWW: Now that you’ve had sort of this whirlwind experience, what’s the next step for you?
EC: I’m working on another project with them! It’s really inspired me so much, just because of the massive amount of support they were giving me. After this experience with Zara, I just feel so inspired to design more.
Editor's Note: This interview has been edited and condensed.
Head over to Zara to shop the spring collection (on sale!), and let us know what you think of Cadenhead’s experience in the comments below.