It's a pretty universal problem: what to wear to friends' weddings — things that you can wear and re-wear, even in the age of Instagram, and not have to spend a down payment on. When they found themselves scrambling to resolve this quandary in their own lives, the quartet of friends behind Galvan — Sola Harrison, Katherine Holmgren, Carolyn Hodler, and Anna-Christin Haas — saw an opening in the market for high-end eveningwear at less-than-stratospheric prices.
Though "these are not cheap dresses," as Harrison puts it — and with gowns falling between $1,000 to $2,000, they're definitely not within the reach of most of us — they're still more affordable than their high-designer counterparts, which tend to start at $5,000 and up. Since their line of slinky, slipdress-style gowns and minimalist jumpsuits launched last year, it's picked up major accounts from Bergdorf Goodman to Browns. The foursome, who are separately based in London, L.A., and Germany but manage to bridge the distance via plenty of Skype sessions, talked about how they're upending the frilly-gown cliché and why '90s Winona Ryder is their ultimate evening inspiration.
Galvan began out of the frustrations you had working in fashion and in the art world, with finding the right thing to wear out at night. How did it grow from that idea into a full-fledged brand?
Sola Harrison: What got us thinking about starting the company was our personal frustration with not being able to find not only something that wasn’t incredibly expensive, but also something that was more young and fresh and modern, and not quite so —
Katherine Holmgren: Dated. Carolyn and myself, we were both in the art world beforehand, and we felt that it was more difficult to find something that wasn’t so formal, that you could wear it to several different events. Often in art you’ll have a gallery dinner, which is maybe quite formal, and then you’ll have a party afterward, or you’ll go to the artist’s studio, and you’ll have several events and they’re not all black-tie. You want to be in something that you feel equally comfortable with in all those settings and you know you can go to that formal event but then change into flats and ruffle up your hair and go to an East Village after-party and feel really cool.
And how did the four of you come together to form the line?
S.H.: We all had these weddings to go to that were black-tie and it just seemed to be impossible to find something that we could afford. Carolyn and I are tomboys and wanted to be able to wear something that had a bit of an androgynous feel to it, and we didn’t think it existed.
K.H.: We also wanted to create dresses that you could wear more than just once, that were pared-down and clean and simple enough that you could accessorize them in different ways.
S.H.: By no means are these cheap dresses — you’re still spending $1,000. We want our girl to be able to wear it to a wedding one day and then maybe six months later she’ll wear it to something else, and she doesn’t feel like she’s wearing something that’s quite so timed by its season.
Anna-Christin Haas: Most of the dresses are elegantly sexy, but they also have an androgynous touch to them. And we’re always trying to find new ways of modern finishes and overlapping or underlapping so the dresses look very flattering on the body.
You've been in business for only two seasons and you're already stocked at Matches, Bergdorf Goodman, Browns, and Avenue 32. How did you get it off the ground so quickly?
K.H.: I think because there was a gap in the market that we felt was really missing. A lot of stores agreed with us immediately, so things went much more quickly than if we had just been, you know, yet another line.
S.H.: Every buyer that we met said, "We’ve been looking for this for I don’t know how many years; we’ve been looking for this product."
You talked about being inspired by '90s supermodels, and I’m wondering who some of your influences are in terms of the designers from that era that you admired growing up. Looking at the collection, I thought of mid-'90s Calvin Klein, Richard Tyler, maybe a little bit of Versace.
S.H.: Anna and I were both heavily influenced by the '90s — not only the kind of glamorous early '90s mode, but also a bit of grunge. Our first collection was very influenced by Geoffrey Beene. We focused on beautiful geometric lines and even the kind of dancer influence that he has. And I think if you think about the '90s, not only do you have these beautiful Versace girls — Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford — but if you think about Winona Ryder or Gwyneth Paltrow at that time, they were incredibly dressed up, but they'd be going out with super-simple hair, a ponytail, little to no makeup. That kind of fresh-faced approach is something that we’ve really hit on, too.
Part of the difficulty with eveningwear now is that everyone’s photographed, everyone’s on social media, so you don’t want to repeat things, whether you're going out to an art event and you show up on Billy Farrell, or you're just a regular person going to your friend’s wedding and there are all of these photos on Instagram. People are a little bit wary of repeating an outfit. Is that something you’re trying to address?
S.H.: Definitely, and that’s why a lot of our dresses can also be a canvas for how you accessorize them, how you wear your hair, how you wear your makeup, and they can be very different. You know some of our dresses would look great with sneakers and a cardigan, and then you dress them up and they’re very va-va-voom. I don’t know if we thought about it in those terms exactly, but it’s definitely something that we keep in mind.
Now that you’re branching into more separates, is Galvan going to evolve into being more of a ready-to-wear line?
S.H.: We’re pretty focused on eveningwear for the next two seasons, and I think that really sort of works to our advantage, really having a strong focus. Obviously in the future we’d love to expand, and if everything goes well that would be the plan.
This interview has been edited and condensed.