In an age of social media, rarely is a fashionable stone left unturned. The Instabrand is ubiquitous; every influencer-turned-model turns designer. For new talent, social media savvy is a double-edged sword. Those that manage to find a gap in the market, fill it. And that’s exactly what 27-year old Alana Johnson did when she launched downtown label Orseund Iris – a collection of seasonless separates that seamlessly transition into any wardrobe. From the signature off-shoulder knits and corsets that feature underwire moulding, these are feminine power pieces for the modern woman. The brand’s cult-worthy designs have amassed a sprawling following, from Kylie Jenner, to Alana’s own girl gang of models, singers and artists. That’s just the thing about the Orseund girl – inclusivity is part of her exuding coolness. Though social media is the lifeblood of OI marketing, Alana is creating a world for the brand #IRL, too. We sat down with the designer to talk about inspiration, attitude, and how she’s fixing the broken fashion system. Read the candid interview, below.
COOLS: How did Orseund Iris start?
Alana Johnson: I have this special love for vintage and that’s where I started; the dig, the nostalgia. I live for those scenes in classic movies – when the lead would go in and out of the dressing room, changing into every decade possible, picture an over the top 80s purple ruched dress, ugly but somehow perfect. Dabbling in vintage, my mother sat me down, kinda felt like an intervention looking back at it now. She was really tired of me talking about my hypothetical future as a designer, “I don’t want to work for anyone, else, I want my own thing… blah blah blah”. It was time.
After that big push, I’ve been pivoting ever since. I decided that on a personal level and how I work, it was crucial to hone in on each design, as if it was one entire collection. The goal has always been to make styles that I actually want to wear, to live in. Those pieces that you find yourself wearing on repeat. Each style launched goes through a life span. A quick cut and sew sample, wear it out, see the feedback and interaction it evokes. If it does at all, fingers crossed. If the style is worthy of production, we move forward. Simplifying this process is what I believe propelled Orseund Iris.
COOLS: What’s the significance of the name?
AJ: Orseund Iris [OAR- sünd – EYE – riss] doesn’t have [a] real weight in terms of “meaning.” It was born solely on the diction and pronunciation, forming two random words inspired by old-world Norwegian names. It’s a fictional fashion baby that I gave birth to.
COOLS: Who do you design for?
AJ: I design for myself. I have about x1290182 different fashion personas. I like to play dress up and take on those different roles. Sometimes, aesthetically I’m feeling a Celine inspired look – clean, minimal and sharp. Other times, I like a very rock and roll [look], lots of leather, a Doors vintage tee, very undone and messy. But I also love the femininity and [regality] of a Victorian lace blouse perfectly paired with old school Levis.
I design for the feeling. How you feel when you wear something, whether that be strong, free, graceful, wild, etc. I would say how clothes make you feel on a deeper level. That, and a mix of the variety of stylish women and men walking the streets of NYC.
COOLS: Who is the ideal Orseund Iris girl?
AJ: A bit sassy, playful, a little daring. A fearless individual; a gal or guy who owns it.
COOLS: Your designs are strikingly feminine and very sultry. How do the women in your life influence the way you design?
AJ: The women in my life have always been incredibly powerful, strong and independent women. It’s been a big influence in the way I design. My mother has always been a force to be reckoned with. First hand, I saw how she manifested the life she wanted. She simplified this idea that if you dream and project into the Universe the life you want and do the hard work – you can and will make it all happen.
My pieces transpire a feeling of power and strength throughout the line. The Off Shoulder Knit, a style that gracefully accentuates the bust, to a style launching [very] soon, the Workwear Jumpsuit, almost unisex, gives me Rosie The Riveter feels.
COOLS: So much of what you do is rooted in social media, how do you translate that same story into real life?
AJ: Portraying this story IRL is ultimately through the customer experience. The dialogue – our language, the special OI token you receive with purchase. Everything is very thoughtful. Since we are specifically e-commerce at the moment, product development is crucial. The Workwear Jumpsuit, has taken over 6 months to “perfect.” Being thorough and having the styles not only look aspirational on social media, but having them translate in person, in real life.
COOLS: You’re a born and bred New Yorker. What does the city mean to you?
AJ: It’s my New York. This city gives me so much fuel and endless ideas. I find it wild when people say New Yorkers are cold. I’ve never met such creative and inspiring people. People are always moving and shaking. I think we all feed off of that energy.
COOLS: The brand is mainly direct to consumer. What are some of the challenges/advantages of this?
AJ: [The benefit is that] we get to share this unique relationship with our customer that no one else has; exclusivity on certain styles, showcasing, curating and styling our collection in so many different ways and aesthetics, educating the customer about our product and the infinite ways to wear it.
On the flip side, I would say that it may feel unfamiliar to potential customers their sizing or how styles may look in motion. I love this challenge. The vision I see for Orseund Iris in 2017 is to have every product in action. Video based, so the customer can feel 100% about the fit and the style. No hesitation.
COOLS: The fashion industry often looks towards emerging designers to effect change and set a pace for what’s to come. How are you doing this?
AJ: I believe I’m paving my own path, focusing on what’s relevant at the moment, creating beautiful designs and showcasing them in the most highly visual way. I think by foregoing this “seasonal” calendar that new designers like to fit in is key. I don’t think people care for this. That formula is way too expensive, and for me unrealistic. I think it’s straining and rare that your entire collection is going to be A++. I’m fixated on this edited wardrobe of transitional styles that are so thoroughly designed, leaving out any styles that are there for fillers. The flexibility that having a non-seasonal calendar brings – dropping styles whenever we see fit.