Chelsea Goldman, Designer
INTERVIEW BY : RANA TOOFANIAN | PHOTOS BY : DANA BOULOS
CF Goldman SS18 Seen By Dana Boulos
Sharpening her sword at the legendary Central Saint Martins, and shortly after under the eye of it’s even more legendary star alumna, Phoebe Philo at Céline – designer Chelsea Goldman founded her eponymous brand, CF Goldman, in 2014, when she returned to her New York homestead to discover there really wasn’t anybody else she wanted to work for. Taking cues from the historical – most notably 18th Century corsetry and shirting – CF Goldman unifies high concept European design with American streetwear. The result: a casual yet profoundly editorial medley of contemporary essentials.
To mark the launch of CF Goldman’s SS18 collection at Barneys, WestwoodWestwood and photographer, Dana Boulos, teamed up with the New York designer, Chelsea Goldman, to discover just how she translates Victorian undergarments into must-have accouterments.
Can you pinpoint where your primary interest in fashion came from?
My mom was a childrenswear designer and so growing up I remember she was always sketching. When I was in high-school, I enrolled at special programs at Parsons [School of Art & Design, New York] where my mom had also studied. By then, I don’t think there was a time I didn’t believe I wouldn’t go into fashion. I interviewed for Phillip Lim at 14, and they said, “You can barely get around the city by yourself, you can’t work here!” Looking back now, I was a real aficionado – sneaking into shows at New York Fashion Week and being able to recognize every model, designer or editor – I just loved everything fashion.
How would you say that your work has evolved over the years since graduating and launching your own brand?
Throughout my time at school, I had a very playful attitude towards my work because I felt that being a student was my time to be ridiculous and do whatever I want. I based my entire final collection on children’s pageants and even dragged my brother and dad to Texas to do field work! In the end, everything was bright pink with sparkles – it wasn’t intended to be for a customer, or anyone for that matter [laughs]. Today, it’s much more about ‘the woman’ and what I can create that intersects with how she dresses than designing based on a fantasy. I worked at Céline during Phoebe Philo’s first year at the house. That was my first experience observing a woman designing for a woman and perhaps also when I realized that an emotional approach to design also interested me.
You launched CF Goldman in 2014 at 24 years old. What are the most significant challenges of being a young designer and business owner?
Back when I was studying design, we were very focused on developing specific technical skills. Today, I would say that design amounts to about 20% of what I do every day – so, the whole process has been a learning experience! Figuring out how to do your taxes, establish a cash flow, trademark your name…There is a lot more to running a fashion business than producing clothes. And I would say the market is very challenging right now – technologies and behaviors are changing so rapidly that many of the retailers don’t have a grasp on what they want.
The challenge was how to re-imagine these historical undergarments as contemporary essentials in both their construction and styling.
You mentioned trademark which is a concern for many young fashion business owners – and also the subject of heightened debate thanks to vigilante exposé accounts such as @DietPrada. What have your experiences been with theft of Intellectual Property and protecting yourself against fashion criminals?
It happens. There is an Australian brand that copies everything we do. We can’t do much about the IP, and it’s not worth my time to sue a brand who has endless resources at their fingertips. To counteract that, we just have to give our consumers the best quality, which is something that they aren’t capable of. I know Zara can’t make corsets the way I make my corsets. Maybe I’m green, but I’m also still a little flattered when someone copies us! [laughs]
Other designers are out buying 1990s Helmut Lang, I’m hunting down a corset from the 1800s!
Corsetry is a substantial part of the DNA of CF Goldman. Ironically, from waist-trainers to tight-laces and bodices, the 18th Century seems to be having a moment in womenswear right now. What drew you towards these more historical references?
In the beginning, it just stemmed from wanting to position the brand as having a strong focus on craftsmanship. Corsets create shape and silhouette. They can change the way you move, stand and feel. So, to be effective, a corset has to be made properly. There’s no getting around it: a crappy corset won’t get you anywhere! The challenge was how to re-imagine these historical undergarments as contemporary essentials in both their construction – we added stretch into the back of ours to make them more comfortable – and styling. I do a lot of research and vintage shopping, but while other designers are out buying 1990s Helmut Lang, I’m hunting down a corset from the 1800s!
Do you design with a specific woman in mind?
I would say the collections are created with real women – the women around me – in mind. Our customer is young and very diverse – they tend to discover us on Instagram. My stylist, Vittoria Cerciello, is someone I always talk to and continually ask, “Would you actually wear this?”
The SS18 collection launches exclusively with Barneys. Can you tell us a little more about the inspirations behind the collection?
What is the inspiration?! [laughs] I have to think, it’s like four seasons ago in the design world! My design team is small, we’re mostly women, and we think a lot about how we want the collection to feel season to season. I wanted to do something that felt brighter and happier which always happens whenever I come off designing a darker season. As a starting point, we began looking at how we could reinvent these ditzy 70s prints, like liberty florals, in ways that felt both contemporary and feminine.
To celebrate the launch of the collection in Barneys, you collaborated on a photo series capturing real Los Angeles creatives with local photographer and filmmaker, Dana Boulos. As a pure-bred New Yorker, what is it about Los Angeles fashion and style that interests you?
It seems as if there is something exciting happening in Los Angeles right now. Fashion in New York is massively oversaturated whereas over here there appears to be more excitement around new brands and voices. The L.A. woman has a more casual and relaxed approach to dressing which I find very refreshing – in New York sometimes people take fashion a bit too seriously!
What’s next for CF Goldman?
It would be amazing to diversify into other product categories in the future, but right now I want to continue to stay focused on establishing the brand and making sure that our vision is clear. We’re a small team just trying to be the best we can at what we do.
Flowers by Isa Florals