Behind the Seams: Pamella Roland’s Love Affair with Art

Fashion imitates art for Pamella Roland‘s spring/summer 2013 collection. Roland, who celebrated 10 years in fashion last year, talks to The Thread about her latest muse, American painter Ellsworth Kelly, and why she felt inspired to channel his black-and-white drawings into her latest design scheme.

THE THREAD: American painter Ellsworth Kelly provided the inspiration for your spring/summer 2013 collection. Which particular works of his did you infuse into your designs? What about his aesthetic resonates with your own?
Pamella Roland: I actually own an Ellsworth Kelly black-and-white painting. He’s an amazing artist and also a great person. I’m on the board of the Whitney Museum of American Art, and so I got the opportunity to get to know him better. I’m just impressed with everything about him; he’s a very interesting man. I collect art, and because I own one of his black-and-white paintings, I just decided it would be great to do a collection that paid tribute to his work. His ability to create a powerful work of art in a minimal way resonates with me. I’m not a fan of over-embellishment.

Tell us about your work with the Whitney Museum. How has your role on the board aided your overall creative process?
Pamella: I am the secretary on the Board of Trustees at the Whitney Museum. I have supported the arts pretty much all my adult life. I was one of the youngest to be selected for the board of the Grand Rapids Art Museum, a post I took up at 25. And I’m now a life member on the board. I have always been into the arts probably more than fashion, in a way. At the time that I was growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, being a fashion designer was somewhat hard to fathom. I had always loved fashion and had worked at various clothing stores from age 14 through university, but when I was younger, I never really thought I’d be a fashion designer. I hold a business degree from Michigan State University, but my minor is in art history because art is something I’ve always loved. My father was the type of person who didn’t believe you could make any money with an art degree. I’m glad I have my business degree because I own and run a business. Oftentimes, being a designer and knowing how to run a business don’t go together.

Your collections are known for their use of color, but for SS13, we see a slight deviation with the use of black and white and a more tailored assortment. What prompted this change?
Pamella: When designing a runway collection, I usually do either art or travel. I really love modern art, but I’m also involved with American art history, and I love it when I get the chance to fuse the two disciplines together. You’ll see the marriage of the two in my work and also in the way I decorate my home. The new collection will see this too, but I have to keep some anticipation for Fashion Week.

Yes, we are known for color, which is funny because I’m known as a person who loves to wear black. But as I become a more creative person, my interest in how I dress isn’t as important as my collection. The collection allows me to express my creative side. When I was younger, I wanted to look perfect all the time. Now that I’m 54, I am more of a minimalist. I did do this more black-and-white tailored collection, and what promoted the change was Ellsworth Kelly being my inspiration. You cannot do Ellsworth Kelly and a bunch of ruffles—it just would not go together.

Last fall, you celebrated 10 years in fashion. What does your design POV say about you? How has it evolved?
Pamella: I have evolved a ton. You’re always learning, and of course, you learn from your mistakes. The core reason I started this business was to make beautiful clothes that flatter women. I started this business when I was in my forties. I was approaching middle age, but today, I think middle age is more like 50 than 40. I wear the clothes, so I understand that a real woman’s body is not a model’s body, so I stuck to that. We’ve always been told that our fit is very good, and that’s because I am so picky about it. Even when it comes to runway, we fit the models. I have a design team, but when it comes to fit, I can see what works before anyone. I have become aware of the clothes. In the last 10 years, I have evolved as a wife, mother and entrepreneur. I have three children. I have been told that I’m very calm before a show. My design team is not about drama; I’ve had too many dramas with teenage daughters who are now in their twenties. You can get past anything when you deal with teenage daughters.

Which online fashion personalities are on your radar?
Pamella:’s street style photographer Tommy Ton as well as illustrator and writer Garance Doré.

Describe how your fashion philosophy influences your collection.
Pamella: Now that I’ve gotten older, I dress the daughters and the mothers. I don’t wear everything I design, but we have clothes for every type of body. My twenty-something daughters wear my designs. Jane Seymour, she wears our things so beautifully, and she’s 61, and then on the other end of the spectrum, you have country artist Kellie Pickler, who is 26 and looks stunning in my dresses. We’ve also dressed Queen Latifah, who is 42, quite a few times. These women represent three different ages and body types as well as my universal design appeal.

With New York Fashion Week a month away, what’s getting you excited for fall/winter 2013?
Pamella: Right after a show, you have to start thinking about the next show and your next line. And now that our fabrics and beading are coming in, and we’re designing, and it starts coming together, I get excited because now it’s about asking my team what we want this to be. I have large collections and we always have to cut them down, but there’s so many things I end up wanting to do and that I get excited about. What I love about this job is the ability to create.

Interview by Qianna Smith | Photo credit: Nigel Barker & Pamella Roland

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