Ten Minutes With Sarah Phillips
couture fashion designer
Sarah Phillips spent many years working for Dior, Yves St. Laurent, and Ralph Lauren before launching her own collection of women’s couture clothing. While her label is Sarah Phillips New York (sarahphillipsnewyork.com), she lives in Wilton. She moved in 2003 with her husband and son, and works from her airy second-floor studio. Here, she talks about design and her impeccably tailored collection.
Have you always loved fashion?
I used to take clothes apart and sew them back together, changing details. While I grew up surrounded by Lilly Pulitzer and pants embroidered with frogs, there were women in my family who wore Balenciaga.
What did you do after graduating from Parsons?
I worked in men’s wear for St. Laurent and Ralph Lauren, and eventually for Dior women’s wear. I traveled all over Asia and Europe. I was in my twenties and single. It was a great learning experience.
When did you launch your collection?
In 1989, while at Dior, I designed 12 pieces for my own line, found a pattern-maker and a factory in New York to make them, put everything in the back of a taxi and went to Henri Bendel. They bought my whole collection.
Within several years, I was selling at Neiman Marcus, Saks, and over sixty other stores around the world.
You’ve dressed Hillary Clinton?
Hillary wore one of my suits for the Democratic National Convention, and asked if I would design her gown for the inaugural ball. I did sketches, put together fabric swatches, and went to meet with her.
What was that like?
It was all-consuming. Her gown was made with delicate lace, but had to be constructed to hold up to a lot of movement. God forbid she waved her arm and something ripped.
Why did you stop designing?
I was pregnant, burned out, and decided to take time off. That was 18 years ago. Now with my son in college, I’ve re-launched my line.
What has changed?
Couture has always been labor intensive, but the cost of fabric has risen so much. The Internet has made it possible to sell directly to private clients; if I sold my clothes through stores, the pieces would have to sell for twice the price.
Dior. And I design clothes I would wear. They’re timeless. And structured, which works for almost any shape. My new collection includes many pieces, all designed to work together.
Your palette and materials?
I love subdued, saturated colors—charcoal gray, ink blue, navy, pewter, ice blue, and of course, black, and very high quality French and Italian fabrics—cashmeres, double-faced wools, silks, lace, cut velvet. My pieces involve complicated tailoring, and many are cut on the diagonal. I love the drape of a bias cut.
Your biggest challenge?
I love to design, but I don’t really enjoy the business end. My biggest challenge with the re-launch is reaching customers; the ones I have tell me they’re happy I’m back.