ALL POSTS Interviews Style

Rachel Comey on Gender-Fluid Dressing and the Fate of the Fashion Runway

“I just put on a pair to do quality control,” says designer Rachel Comey of her new Frisco shoes. “It’s this crepe-soled shoe that’s an alternative to an espadrille. You can wear it everywhere. It’s very comfortable but fun.”

Rachel Comey Fracture jean

We are talking about the Rachel Comey pre-fall collection: what’s new, what’s returning, how her 15-year-old brand has evolved and continues to. Presently Comey seems to have found her niche in comfortably cool designs. Her shoes have developed a cult following (staples like the Mars bootie and the Calder pump in particular). Denim styles, like her near-essential Legion jean, also regularly appear on the practical but chic street-style starlets.

Rachel Comey Legion jean

“For the first 10 years of my career, I was intimidated by denim,” says Comey. “But what is great is that you can experiment with it but it is all so wearable. However you wash, dye or cut it, you will still get some use out of it; it still has a utilitarian feel.”

This season, Comey branched out into black denim for the first time. No doubt her Legion jeans in this fabric will catch on with her devotees. She’s also added a brocade to hems on her Fracture jeans, and extended her use of the floral fabric to jackets and accessories. It adds a lush element to a collection that seems inspired by both the prairie and the city.

Designer Rachel Comey

“Often when I design things, they become Western-looking, even if I wasn’t thinking about it,” says Comey. “At this time of year, I think of long days and hot humid nights, and for some reason that gives me a Western feel.” Duster-styled jackets, chambray dresses, yoking and ruffles all contribute to the New West looks in this season’s collection.

Even if there are influences that Comey regularly returns to, she obviously welcomes innovation and evolution as well. “My first collection was menswear,” she says. “Now we have men shopping in our store again. Those lines are being blurred. What is specific to men and women—it’s no longer so divided.” Her fluid designs fit and flatter an array of figures, and, as it turns out, genders. Asked if she intends to return to menswear in any way, Comey notes, “We don’t have a plan yet. I don’t think that we’d do it fully. But there are styles in the collection that men can wear now; they’re sized big enough. Will we evolve some of the styles to fit men? I don’t see why not. We might extend our product line and sizes.”

Behind-the-Scenes Images from Rachel Comey’s Spring/Summer 2016 Dinner-Show

Hers could be one of the first fashion lines to bridge the gender divide. Rachel Comey is no stranger to groundbreaking and influential moves in the fashion world. Years ago she chose to forgo the traditional runway show in in favor of a dinner in Paris during which industry folks hobnobbed while models weaved past the tables.

“We’ve been trying to be intuitive about the moves we make,” says Comey about these shows. “When we first decided to do the dinners, it was because we didn’t feel fashion shows were working—they were 10 minutes long, and we weren’t sure anyone was getting what they needed out of them.”

Her shows have become one of the most sought-out Fashion Week tickets. For her 2016 Resort Collection, she staged a site-specific dance piece by the robbinschilds dance company, a work that had inspired the collection. But for the last two seasons, Comey has abandoned the idea of performance altogether when presenting her collections, opting instead for an under-wraps photo shoot.

“For pre-fall we just did a photo shoot,” the designer says. “That seemed right at the time. We only released the images to Vogue last week; we’ve held them since December. I think that’s nice. I don’t think those images had to be in the world six months before the clothes arrived.”

Rachel Comey shirt, Pre Fall 2016

With moves like this, Comey is aligning more with the customer’s needs and wants. Her growth has always been thoughtful, but she seems even more interested in playing with seasonality and fine-tuning her deliverables. Her conscientiousness makes for good, responsible business. “One of the things we do is not overproduce,” Comey shares. “And we’ve been more focused on delivering the product when it’s appropriate. I don’t even know what ‘pre-fall’ means, really. Just call it something. We try to focus on what people want in June.”

After 15 years in the industry, nothing about Comey’s strategy is a given. Like the women—and men—she dresses, Rachel Comey is always open to novelty and reinvention. But like her clothes, it must feel honest and comfortable.

“We’ve grown honestly and organically,” she reflects. “We’ve grown by word of mouth. We’ve learned from our customers about what sets us apart: our fits and fabrics. Now I feel so comfortable in our fit, fabrics and delivery.”

Seems like the onetime indie designer is feeling pretty established, just not settled.

SHOP: Rachel Comey

—Britt Olson