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2011 March 10

A Moment With...Suzanne Rae Pelaez

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Suzanne Rae Pelaez Suzanne Rae Pelaez
Suzanne Rae Pelaez
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(NEW YORK) With a Taxi TV promo and well-received Victorian-grunge Fall collection at Lincoln Center's penthouse during NYFW, designer Suzanne Rae Pelaez of Suzanne Rae seems like your typical up-and-coming artiste. Au contraire. The Brooklynite, whose apartment doubles as a studio, holds a degree from Bryn Mawr in Economics and Art History atop her Parsons' AAS education. Did we also mention she moonlights as a New York salesgirl by day? We met up with the down-to-earth womenswear designer at the corner of Grand and Allen.

What was the economic world like for you?
When I was graduating, everyone was going into investment banking, so I went through the rounds—I met with Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Smith and Barney. I even bought a suit from J.Crew. I would stress out so much. I think I went through 13 rounds at Goldman Sachs and they finally asked, 'Why are you here?' and I was like, ‘I don’t know! I’m so tired!’ I wasn’t a finance person, and I didn’t care to follow the stock market. I didn’t know what I was talking about. I just felt so much more comfortable and useful in the art world.

Did you always know you wanted your own line?
I started my line soon after I got married—I’m separated now—and I didn’t want to have some conceptual name because it felt like the line was going to evolve with my personal evolution. Suzanne Rae is my first and middle names. I purposely didn’t put my last name in because I wasn’t sure if I was going to take my husband’s name, which I did not. I was sort of evading this archaic male patriarchal system of ownership by removing the last name and using the two names that were given to me as an individual.

How much did it cost to put on a presentation during NYFW?
A lot. It was sort of manageable, but it’s definitely an investment. I’m in the middle of the investment part of my business because right now it’s not extremely profitable. I don’t have any financial backing. I do this all on my own. So, I have to have a part time job--I work at the Isaac Mizrahi store.

Where do you find your fabrics?
I started out using hemp fabrics from California. But there’s not that big of a variation within hemp so I started looking at dead stock fabrics which they sell at these little local stores here. I felt really good about that because I’m supporting local business and reusing/recycling.

How did your Taxi TV appearance affect your life?
My boss called me during Fashion Week because she was upset that she saw me on Taxi TV. She didn’t have any idea. It doesn’t affect my work there, so I keep the two separate. But I had no intention of making her feel sideswiped.

Do people at Mizrahi treat you different now?
A little bit. I’m on my boss’ radar more, which adds stress to me. Some of the people are more interested in talking with me now. I was just a shop girl and I’d go into corporate and say hey and be really casual. Now people are like, ‘I saw you on the taxi’ and I’m like, ‘It’s okay, you don’t have to whisper.’

Do you mute Taxi TV when you're in the cab?
All the time. I get carsick really easily.

Have you seen The Fashion Show?
What’s that?

Isaac’s show with Iman.
We talk about it all the time, but I’ve never seen it.

Would you like to be on it?
No. I was asked to be on Project Runway once, but I didn’t want to do it. Have you ever seen the movie They Shoot Horses Don’t They? It’s kind of like that. These reality shows are not for the people on the shows but it’s for the audience and the producers.  It’s not about creating something, it’s about entertainment.

How long do you get for breaks at the store?
I don’t really have a break. I don’t leave for lunch. I eat quickly and then go upstairs. It’s such a small boutique—it’s only like two people.

Do you ever have to do chores?
Yes. Garbage, washing dishes. I don’t have to clean the toilet but I have to serve coffee to people all the time. I always joke around that part of the job requirements is being a barista. We have an espresso machine and we try to get people to hang out and shop.

Have you met Isaac? Does he pop in the store often?
Yeah, he’s really nice. He "saged" the store [ed note: he burnt sage to purify the space] when we first opened it. He’s cool like that.

Do customers recognize you?
Yeah, existing customers have told me, 'I was in a cab and I just saw you!' I think they want to ask me if I want to leave, but they don’t.

What’s the salesperson's ultimate pet peeve?
When customers spend a lot of time and try on, but don’t buy anything because you have to clean up after them and coddle them.

What do you do when a customer stays after close?
I’m pretty patient, but if I’m not, I start turning off the lights. If they don’t get it, I turn off the tv monitor and then I start to pull out the garbage and turn out the lights while they’re still there.

Do you feel like you’re living a double life?
Yeah, kind of. When I’m there, I’m focused on the store. I try to be a nobody, because I don’t want to draw attention. Having your own line, you’re aware of where you are in the fashion world and where you are in your growth process.

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