Rachel Antonoff Spurs a Saddle-Shoe Comeback

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Shoes from the Rachel Antonoff for Bass collection. Photo: Konstantin Sergeyev

Designer Rachel Antonoff has become known for her fantastical Fashion Week presentations, from staging a Nancy Drew–tinged murder mystery for fall 2010 to a Peter Pan–inspired slumber party (complete with s'mores) for spring 2011. “I love the idea of costume and playing dress-up — how an item of clothing or accessory can be transformative,” she says. “You can be anything for a day with the change of a hat.”

For someone interested in the dramatic side of fashion, Antonoff's own wardrobe is surprisingly low maintenance, tending toward flats, leggings, hoodies, and striped tees. After she used Bass’s flats in her Fashion Week presentations last year, the brand approached her to design a collaboration. The debut spring 2011 line comes out early next year and will be stocked at Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Free People, and more. Apart from her foray into footwear, Antonoff is having a busy winter. She’s a contributor to Lula magazine — she penned a story on the iconic white dress for the latest Rodarte-edited fall/winter 2010 issue — and she’s working on a follow-up to last year's spoof on cult-classic Teen Witch to plug her spring collection (the original video starred Alia Shawkat). This month, she’s moving into her first office on West 38th Street, which she’s planning to wallpaper in a fittingly dramatic zebra print. We caught up with the designer to discuss her love of leggings, the beauty of a black-and-white flat, and the sex appeal of a particular jumper.

How did you get involved with Bass?
I’ve been wearing their saddle shoes every day for years. I’ve never been a huge fan of heels, though I’ve worn them because I felt I had to. Heels can be great in the right moment, but I love the idea of flats that aren’t just comfortable — they can be adorable and make an outfit too.

What was your intention with the line?
I wanted to put my spin on the classic heritage Bass style. I changed it up a little, doing shoes in patents and floral prints, as well as some completely new styles. That said, I don’t think there’s any way to improve a basic black-and-white saddle shoe.

You’ve become known for your Fashion Week presentations. Why the elaborate sets?
Well, I have a theater background. One thing I love about Fashion Week is you get to create a 3-D scene, to show more of the influences behind the collection, rather than just the clothes. This spring, I focused on the wonder of childhood, specifically inspired by Peter Pan and the Swiss Family Robinson. For the presentation, we had a big tree-house theme in the backyard with forts throughout.

What kind of a person wears your designs?
I started designing for myself and friends. It’s mildly embarrassing, but as a child I had these elaborate daydreams, and I always wore a really fabulous outfit in them. That was the original inspiration: Why don’t I make that? I do a lot of designing in my head when I’m jogging or on a car ride.

Who are your favorite designers?
I don’t think it gets better than Karl Lagerfeld. I also really love Timo Weiland, Wren, and Whit. And I’m having a real J.Crew moment. I spent some time wandering around one of their stores recently, and I was in shock. Everything in there looks like it could have been made by some young indie designer.

What’s the first designer item you bought?
In high school I had that little Louis Vuitton half-moon under-the-shoulder bag.

Where do you like to shop in New York?
I always love Archangel Antiques — they have over a million vintage buttons. I bought buttons there for my first collection. And I know I’m really late to the party, but Opening Ceremony. It calls to me — I find ways of justifying buying things that I really shouldn’t.

How would you describe your personal style?
Based in comfort and pulled from everywhere. There are elements of silliness. Leggings are my default outfit — they make me feel prepared for anything. I used to be really into running, but now that I’m working so much I do this thing called a spontaneous workout. Basically, it entails running from one meeting to another like a crazy person.


What trends are you appreciating right now?
Calf-high socks. I love it with shorts or dresses in the summer or over thin black tights in the winter. It has a dancer-y leg-warmer vibe and looks cute with saddle shoes.

Any trends you’re ready to see retired?
Anything overly bedazzled.

What’s one item you’re saving up to buy?
Scalamandre wallpaper. I want to do my office in the zebra print.

What should every woman have in her closet?
A one-stop-shop kind of dress that you can wear with nothing in the summer or with a cardigan and tights in the winter. It’s that dress you throw on when you oversleep and don’t know what to wear. Also, every woman should have one thing that makes her feel really sexy. I’m really short and often get mistaken for a child, so sexy isn’t a big part of my wardrobe or vibe. But mine is a shorts jumper from Mandate of Heaven. I probably still look like a 16 year old, but when I wear it I feel like Jessica Rabbit.