CF Goldman on Reinventing European Classics with an American Twist

Meet the young designer championing the New York garment industry

The first thing that strikes me about Chelsea Goldman is her energy. The young designer welcomed us into her home with an immediate giggle (this laugh returns infectiously throughout our conversation) which is not the bubbly disposition I expected behind her sleek, minimalistic collection, CF Goldman. She’s dressed in an ensemble of her own design – a wide-leg khaki culotte and black poplin shirt – that set against the eclectic-chic décor of her apartment, strongly says, this is Chelsea’s world.  The New York native already has six collections under her belt at the solo label and is stocked at covetable retailers like Moda Operandi, Assembly, and Opening Ceremony, to name a few. Not bad for starting the self-funded label just after graduating from London’s Central Saint Martins. There is something to be said about her youthful determination, the driving force behind the brand, nonetheless fostered by London’s can-do creative attitude.

From the European-inspired corsetry to the marabou-frilled hems, no detail of the collection is left untouched by Chelsea’s intricate hands. For FW17, color and proportion materialized in stiff poplin shirting, accents of silky sheer hot pink, and dainty floral separates. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want it all. Here, she talks what it takes to “make it,” how designing has always been in her blood, and the ideal CF woman.

COOLS: How did you start?

Chelsea: I feel like I was just really…stupid (laughs) and was like I think I can do this. I knew [that] I didn’t want to be an assistant designer anymore. I knew that wasn’t the path to anything that I wanted to be, especially in New York. So the only other thing I could see was doing this. Coming from London, where some of my friends had started brands – I feel like it’s so much more common there to go out of school and start something. It’s not like New York.

COOLS: The energy there is so different. I don’t know how to describe it but they really foster people actually being creative…

CG: Yeah. And then they figure it out. Here you have to have this huge idea and a business plan and there its like, you get a little studio in East London and you just make it work.

COOLS: You can actually be poor there.

CG: Right. And it’s a thing.

COOLS: It’s cool almost. What’s your brand ethos? What inspires you?

CG: It was really about craft in the beginning. It was about making, and figuring out how we can make something beautifully in New York. When I was in Europe, I learned how to make things really really well. So it was like, can we take these New York factories and do techniques that they’re doing in Europe and see if we can do them here. So that’s why we do a lot of corsetry and things like that, because it’s technique-driven and old making. That was the vision behind it originally; taking the energy [that] there is in Europe and doing it here. So, that’s how it started.

COOLS: Did you always think you’d be designing?

CG: Yes, always. My mom was a designer. She went to Parsons and [designed children’s clothes].

COOLS: So it was always in your blood.

CG: Yeah. I grew up with Pantone markers, always sketching.

COOLS: You went to school in London, and worked a bit in Paris with Céline –

CG: I actually worked there while I was in school. So I would do two days in school and then I’d leave to go [to Paris].

COOLS: Commuting on the Eurostar! And then you came back to New York. Does the city play a role in your design?

CG: The resources here are really incredible. The fact that there’s still a garment district here is insane. You can go upstairs and there’s a factory and people working and making. Where, in other places that just doesn’t exist. So that’s really what I focus a lot on. Everything is made in New York. I am obsessive about it. I am at the factory maybe every hour. I just came from there.

COOLS: It’s very hands on…

CG: Yeah, we make sure everything is perfect. The factory is beautiful – almost too pretty to be a factory. They have Jo Malone soap in the bathroom (laughs). It’s a very fancy factory.

COOLS: Your designs are very minimalist, Céline-esque and simple. But there’s still something a little off-kilter in each one. What is that?

CG: The weirdness? That’s me (laughs). And being completely ADD, just not being able to focus on one thing. I get very bored easily, so anything that I find interesting I start to run with. We do a lot of research. So I will do months and months of research with the people that work with me. It’s a lot of vintage research. For this collection now, we were looking at Billabong shorts for a long time. It’s random things that we’ll find and think, oh, we really like that, how can we make this cool again? Things like that.

COOLS: There’s a certain seductiveness to the clothing; the corsetry, the exposed shoulders…

CG: I tend to dress and design very conservatively, so I’ve had to push myself to make it sexy over time. The stylist that we work with, Vittoria Cerciello, she does Office magazine and is incredible, she has a sexier eye than I do. She’s very Italian in that way that she adds sexiness to it. Which is needed. We try to balance it out. I love shirting and things that are a little more covered. So its seeing how can we take those thick shapes and pull them in a little in a way. The corsets really act as something, we can do these really oversized shapes and then make it sexy in a way.

COOLS: Who is the CF woman?

CG: It’s usually a woman who dresses for herself. We dress a lot of gallery owners, or women who are doing really cool things. Whenever we dress someone, we need to make sure that they have some energy behind them. I have a really [strong] connection to the emerging art world in New York, so it’s been great to work with the artists and dress them for gallery openings. They’re doing such [good] work.

COOLS: A lot of your inspiration comes from neo-classical and modern art. Does fashion and art have an intertwined relationship for you?

CG: Yes, but I couldn’t go into fine art, because I’m very interested in the commerce side too. I like the idea that [my collection] is gonna go to more than one person. I don’t think I’m the kind of person who could internalize it so much and just produce one piece of something. But, I appreciate art and I look at it a lot for inspiration. There are so many people doing such cool things in New York right now in the art world, so how could I not look at it? There’s just so much happening all the time. There is so much good [art] out there.

COOLS: Anyone in particular?

CG: Chloe [Wise]. Shoutout to her. [Also] my friend Jamian Juliano-Villani, he does really cool work. Henry Gunderson… I also look at a lot at 18th century and Dutch masters. The clothing in it is amazing.

COOLS: The industry puts a lot of pressure on young designers to be leading movements in sustainability. Is that part of your brand?

CG: I would love to say yes. But, if I were to do it, I would really do it. I’m vegetarian, so it’s hard [because] I use animal material in my collection. Everyone always asks about that. We have stores that are like, “Can’t we just say it’s sustainable?” I’m very into keeping the New York garment district alive, and making things here, and [being involved in the] production. For me, that’s our cause.

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