When we interviewed womenswear designer Rosie Assoulin, she showed concern about contradictions. She wanted to make sure that when her second sentence was an unlikely predecessor to her first sentence, we understood what she meant. It was a fitting concern, because Assoulin is – in our opinion – an incredible designer that’s come to own unlikely pairings.
Our first hint? Assoulin picks Puffy’s Tavern as her shoot spot. Our second? Assoulin orders an Italian panini and a Stella while rocking a sleek white jumpsuit. Our third and most important? (And something we’ve always known) Assoulin designs pieces that work for both the 8am girl grabbing coffee and the 10pm girl event-hopping. The list goes on.
Here at TNP, we love unlikely pairings. We like to believe that things like food and fashion now go together like PB & J. Turns out, we still had more to learn on the topic from Assoulin, whose musings on her Brooklyn upbringing, love of dressing up (and the occasions that make one do so), New York inspirations and a penchant for jumpsuits made us realize one important thing: Both food and fashion make people gather. So gather around the computer – and our brand new site – for one of our favorite stories yet…with the fashion industry’s toast of the town. Food pun intended.
The New Potato: From start to finish, what would be your ideal food day?
Rosie Assoulin: I would wake up and go to Bubby’s for pancakes, because that is the best thing ever. And then I’d get a coffee at Laughing Man, even though I don’t really drink coffee; I just like going there because it’s really cute. And I’d get a donut. (I’d get the coffee because I was going to get the donut.) Then for lunch, I’d go to Sushi of Gari. For dinner, I’d order in and watch a movie.
TNP: What would you order in?
R: I’d order in from Tamarind or something. That’s pretty much our life, right there in a nutshell. Do you want me to go crazy and go to Brooklyn? If I go to Brooklyn, I would go to Syrian stores and I’d get everything that they had. On Avenue U, and King’s Highway, it’s a lot of Middle Eastern grocery stores.
TNP: So what was the food scene like in Brooklyn when you grew up there?
R: It was not really a food scene. You’d go to this one place and get these things called mefunekets. Have you ever heard of that? It was the greatest thing ever. It’s basically a sandwich on a sesame roll with egg, cream cheese, olives, lettuce, labna, tomato, cucumbers, black and green olives, and za’atar on the top and that’s it. That was the best sandwich ever. Everyone would go there on their rollerblades after school and get one.
TNP: Now so many great restaurants are in Brooklyn…
R: I know! Well, it’s a different Brooklyn. My neighborhood in Brooklyn that I really love – I don’t know what they call that neighborhood – maybe Ocean Parkway? It has the best food, and everybody is the best cook. They’re like athletes at cooking, it’s just amazing. And at eating. Good eating, all the time, no matter what. Whatever house you go to.
TNP: How did growing up there inspire you as a designer?
R: Well, we always had lots of family events and celebrations to go to. Family and friends were always having parties, for whatever life cycle was happening at the time. Everybody always had to get dressed up, so I guess I always really liked celebration clothes. I like everyday clothes, but I really like things that are about friends, family, community, getting together, and happiness of some kind – especially around a good event. It’s the good stuff in life, you know? That’s cheesy, but…
TNP: No, thats great. So is it that mix of high fashion and functionality?
R: Yes, always. Only because I can’t do it. I can’t be the girl with the Mary Poppins bag, and whip out a three-course meal of clothing – different outfits for every part of the day. I can’t do that. I’ve gotta get dressed in whatever I can wear. If I could, if I was that glamorous, who knows how I’d be different, but comfort is a really big thing for me. I really think about comfort. I really think about what I want to be wearing for more than an hour or two and having a good time in.
TNP: So you’re thinking about someone that can wear something all day, 8am to 10pm, when you’re designing?
R: Sometimes, yes. Or if they’re wearing it to a formal event or celebration, it has to be comfortable. You don’t want them to go home because they’re not comfortable and want to take everything off.
TNP: What about New York City? Did you grow up coming into New York City a lot? Did that inspire you as a designer?
R: The Q train! (Laughs) [I was] Downtown, a lot, and in SoHo and Nolita a lot as a kid. You can’t really mark and measure the way a city like New York has an effect on you. It’s such a big part of it. I really did love growing up in Brooklyn and looking at New York as this other kind of place, but still feeling like I was part of it. It was this amazing place where – oh my God this is going to sound so cheesy – you can make it happen, and where you can do whatever you want, you know? That was New York for me when I was a kid. Now it’s even more beautiful. Bloomberg put some trees up, and now we get to enjoy it. It was a little scarier when I was a kid. We didn’t walk around at night, especially in some neighborhoods. Now we can.
TNP: It was a little grittier, right?
R: It was. It was grittier, and now I have kids so I’m happy that there are trees and parks and park benches and flowers. Or maybe I’m just noticing it more; I didn’t notice that when I was a kid.
TNP: So speaking of New York, how do you ideally see a woman in New York – or anywhere – living in your clothing?
R: I don’t ever really see “a woman”. I feel like there are so many, I have two sisters, my mother, my mother-in-law, and my sister-in-laws, and they’re all so different. There’s no one thing about them. They can all wear the same item, and wear it in different ways. And I love that. I love, love, love that. That’s why when people sometimes ask me, “Where’d you get your lipstick?” – and some people don’t like to share that – I’m like “It’s going to look totally different on you.” Everybody wears something and makes it their own, you know? My friends and I all have the same stuff from the line and we all wear it in totally different ways. It’s kind of what’s amazing about women and individualism; they all bring their own stuff to the table. New York is really about individuality to me.
TNP: What’s a common mistake women make getting dressed?
R: Good question. I think sometimes when we look in the mirror and we’re getting dressed, we’ll say “Okay if I walk around like this the whole night [stands up straight and puffs out chest], then the look is okay.” But it’s just not going to happen. We don’t really walk around the way we look in the mirror. I can relate to that. It’s like, “If I stand with my arms out to where I don’t touch my body, then I can wear this strapless top.” You’ve gotta be you in it. Sometimes you’ll do a pose, but that’s not what you’re going to look like. You’ll have a goofy smile, your posture is going to be weird, there’s going to be a bulge of fabric somewhere. Instead, just go with it.
TNP: So what advice would you give a woman looking in the mirror and getting dressed?
R: Oh God. I mean there are so many (again contradictory) things. One is to get outside your comfort zone and then the other is to make sure you’re inside of your comfort zone. Push it and have fun with it, but also make sure it’s authentically you. Even if it is a little bit of a departure from what you’d normally do, it still has to be you. Authentically you. Because you can read that [when it isn’t]; you can sniff that a mile away. You won’t feel good, and that’ll turn the whole thing off. That’s really what it is. That’s why Max, my husband, knows not to ever say anything about the way I look. He can’t say “You look amazing” or “That’s not the right thing” because it’s gotta be about you. It’s your personal conversation with everyone in the world.
TNP: That’s so true. It’s not something easy to put into words, but you just did.
R: I think it’s fun – colors, shapes, new proportions – those are fun things to play with, right? The people that always look the best look effortless, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying at the same time, you know? There’s something really great about trying and caring. I just watched the Advanced Style documentary on the plane, and the women are so wonderfully amazing. It’s so dynamic and so alive. They don’t just “get dressed.” It’s a thing. I think that’s very inspired, to push yourself a little bit. But also they look so much like themselves! Even though they’re wearing these crazy hats and tons of jewelry, they make it look like them. It’s really great.
TNP: I feel like people used to “dress up” more – like when you say dressing for special occasions and for events when you were growing up. I feel like people used to dress up to go to a restaurant for dinner, or to go to the theater. Do you think people still do that?
R: No. And I don’t think that we should really mourn it so much. I think we should just find the ways that we do get dressed up and enjoy those. It’s never going to be what it was, with white gloves and a matching hat and jacket and shoes and bag. It’s not going to be like that. But it could be another place, where you explore how a person wants to dress when they’re exhausted or jet lagged or looking for physical comfort. Those are different explorations; it’s just a different thing. I don’t like mourning things that ‘aren’t’ anymore. I think that we’re moving in a good direction; we have to find the good things in new places, you know? I’ll always like getting dressed up. When you’re getting dressed up for something special, you really have to think about it. There are so many existential questions – I hate to get so heavy about it – but it’s interesting: what we’re saying, what our dreams are, what our hopes are. All those cheesy things that people think about, really come through in clothing, I think.
TNP: So in terms of not mourning the past, we have to ask, would you ever do a wearable?
R: I don’t know. I’ve been thinking a lot about this stuff. It has to feel right and real, but I think first it’s going to feel weird. So, I might be a late adapter. I think that you’d be an idiot to fight it, to fight technology, and to fight the way it affects us and the way it works. Don’t fight, and don’t try to make it about the past too much. Don’t say “It used to be great when…” I hate that conversation; it’s so sad. There is a better way in the future. Just find that, whatever it is. That’s the challenge, right?
TNP: What’s the main thing you ask yourself, if you’re getting dressed up?
R: I have a weird conversation in my head and I always have to self-correct it. I think the weird conversation is: “What’s the right thing to wear?” As if I’m trying to fit in or trying not to be inappropriate, you know? Not dressy enough, too dressy, etc. So then sometimes I just self-correct it and say “No. What do you want to wear?” I have to literally say that out loud to myself when I don’t know what the situation calls for and I don’t know what is expected of me. I get a little bit of anxiety. I think most women do. But you have to just stop and say: “What do you want to wear?” It’s so simple, but it works for me.
TNP: How inspired are you, when you design, by the past?
R: I think really good stuff is in conversation with the past, the present, and the future. We’re talking about a lot of things when we get dressed, we just don’t always know it. We’re saying so many things. We are saying where we came from, where we are, where we want to go, and where we think we want to be. We’re showing people where we are…or where we think we are.
TNP: Our Dad always said, “Don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you want.”
R: That’s a very good way to put it, because that’s really what we’re doing. It’s crazy when I think about how terribly I can dress when I wear pajamas without anybody else around – when I know I won’t be seeing anyone. I think about that, the really comfortable stuff, and how that has to factor into real life too…
TNP: Or even when one goes out to eat in a certain outfit…
R: You make the deals with yourself, right? “I’m gonna wear this, but I won’t eat that.” Don’t do that. Because you’re going to eat, you’re going to drink something, and it’s gonna be a mess. Just enjoy the bulges, and have the food! And be like “I had the greatest time tonight and I was a sausage by the end of the night because I was stuffed!” It’s fine, but just be okay with that, you know what I’m saying?
TNP: Do you see any parallels between food and fashion?
R: It’s an expression, right? I mean I hate to say this, because I don’t want to be so literal, but in both there are updated classics. There’s something in us that does want the past, that does want the comfort, that does wants the known. But, we want it to feel a little bit exciting, and a little bit new – like gourmet sliders or a new denim jacket. I’m one of those people who thinks everything is connected. I don’t know if I’m right, I just feel that way. Food styling, clothing, photoshoots…there are just so many parallels. It’s an energy. It’s something you’re trying to put into a visual context that can be consumed.
TNP: Let’s say you opened a store, and you had a restaurant in that store. What would that restaurant be?
R: My sister Elise would run it, because she’d be really good at it. And my friend Adele would be the chef. I will eat her food any and every day of the week. She’s a nutritionist, and she’s a chef. She just makes really good food. I would make it comfortable and make it approachable, but at the same time say something new and different.
TNP: When you worked with Oscar de la Renta and Alber Elbaz, do you remember a piece of advice that they gave you that was really effective?
R: They just did it with their work ethic. They led by example, with a passion, a work ethic, and their vision. While they were open-minded, they were committed to the direction and helping it evolve. I try to think about those things: a commitment to a really strong vision, and at the same time, letting it evolve.
TNP: What are your top three items in your closet?
R: Maybe it’s a norm core thing, which I don’t really understand, but I really like jumpsuits. I’ve always liked jumpsuits – like the really generic ones you get from paint stores and prep stores – you know Dickies and overalls and stuff like that. And I really like Dries Van Noten. Other than my own clothes, that’s all I really wear. And Max’s shirts. I always like a men’s shirt.
TNP: And what are some of your favorite restaurants?
R: I love Jack’s Wife Freda. I just love it. It’s just the greatest: the energy the food, the vibe. Terra is really good! It’s right on the corner of Franklin and West Broadway. And my friend Adele’s food I really love. I like home-cooked meals, like my mom and mother-in-law’s food. All the good stuff.
TNP: What’s your favorite thing to cook?
R: It’s always different. When I didn’t do clothing design, I really put it all into my food. So I would have my friends over and I would cook for them and get everybody together and put it all into the food. Now I have a different outlet.
TNP: It seems like you love when people come together…
R: Sometimes life is a little bit challenging, and every excuse you have to get together, connect, have a good time and learn…that’s the best. That’s the whole thing to me. Am I crazy? That’s the whole thing!
TNP: It’s what you look forward to – food does that, and fashion does that.
R: Exactly. And it’s those things coming together that bring people together, right?
*Rosie Assoulin, photographed at Puffy’s Tavern in New York, NY by Danielle Kosann. Rosie wears a Rosie Assoulin jumpsuit and jacket.