Interview with CEO Anne Deane &
Creative Director Jacob Park
On a Friday morning commute into the city, I grab myself a iced chai at Gasoline Alley and walk a couple blocks down into Chinatown to meet up with CEO Anne Deane and Creative Director Jacob Park of ÖHLIN/D. Buzzed in and walked up to their 2nd floor studio. Natural lighting filled the space with a row of desks lined with computers and a workstation towards the back where their pattern maker was busy at work. We sat down, shared a couple laughs and got into the questions.
Nicole Gavrilles: Tell me a little about yourself and how you got to where you are now.
Jacob Park: I was born in Los Angeles and moved to San Francisco. For two summers during high school, I went down to LA doing a lot of production assistant work assisting the wardrobe. That’s how I first got into clothes by putting outfits together. I always felt the need to express myself with how I dress since I was little. Everything I know about fashion I cultivated myself. I had a couple mentors along the way. Kristy Caylor (Founder and Creative Director of Maiyet) was working for an LA based designer at the time while I was interning for that designer. And that’s when I really learned what a woven is versus a knit as well as working and sewing different types of fabrics. I got a big crash course in fashion when I was 18 when that happened. After high school I went to college where I studied a lot of art history and created my own art on the side focusing on everything fashion related. After I graduated college, my friend called and asked if I wanted to come interview at Vera Wang in New York. So I packed a really small suitcase, came out here, got hired on the spot and never went back to California. I was at Vera Wang for about two years where I learned a lot but I felt like I wanted to explore a different part of the fashion industry. I also felt very limited from such an established brand since they already have their vision, which I couldn’t affect in that way. I started working with this contemporary accessories brand called Bond Hardware. They’re very downtown VFILES type of scene, very s&m inspired. They’ve done the accessories for Prabal Gurung for their last season and DKNY’s jewelry. Again I was in a situation where I wasn’t able to directly influence designs only the visuals. And when I first met Anne, rewind 2 years, she told me that she wanted me to work for her one day to start a fashion brand. While I was at Bond Hardware, Anne called me and asked if I wanted to come in a talk about starting a brand with me. And then I came in and then kept coming in every day [laughs] until it became a real thing.
Anne Deane: I was born in France and I grew up with a very cultural and global background. My parents pushed me and my brother to go see the world. I grew up in a world of art, culture and an understanding of the cycle of poverty. When I was little, if you asked me what I wanted to do I would have said I wanted to save the world. Initially, I started off in the non-profit sector and I did an internship at the UN. And something I realized working in a lot of grassroots organizations and then going to the UN was I was very interested in combining both business and doing social good at the same time. I entered college with that mindset and perspective. I majored in political science and in English: Creative Writing focusing on human rights. When I left college, I went into affordable housing. I gained an amazing business background that I also gained from my family. Which reminds me - When I was little I used to sit at the dinner table with my brother and my dad would quiz us on compound interest rates. I would sit there drawing dresses, always interested in the arts. I would take art classes at the museum and still have sketches from when I was younger where I would price everything at $5,000 with diamonds on it [laughs]. When I was working in affordable housing and finance and realized that wasn’t what I wanted to do but always knew I was very interested in fashion and art. So I went down to South America, where I have a lot of roots and family, and decided that I wanted to start a company that could really stand for something both fashion and focus on conscious manufacturing. I wanted them to go hand-and-hand to create a real brand that’s disruptive innovation within the fashion marketplace, which is something very important to me. I also want to breath a little life back into fashion. To me if you look at great designers, I consider Alexander McQueen one. And he was brilliant because he still looked at fashion as a form of art. I think that is something as a company we are able to do and really lucky for. When I met Jacob one night of partying at The Standard, I instantly knew that he was one of those creative visionaries who I’m going to work with one day. I called him up with I formed this company and said the only person I want to do this with is you. From there we sat down and created this thing together and now he’s my day wife [Jacob and Anne laugh].
NG: It’s kind of like it was fate in a way for you guys to meet that night.
AD: Actually, we were on Bowery and it was raining and I remember the moment I turned to him, ‘Jacob one day I’m going to hire you’ [Jacob laughs] and he was like yeah okay whatever. [laughs]
JP: Yeah I didn’t think it would happen but it did. [Anne laughs]
NG: We touched upon this a little but was fashion a part of your life growing up?
AD: Yes, I used to play dress-up in my mom’s closet and she used to check my bags all the time because I would go in there and go shopping. She’s definitely a role model and inspiration for me for what girl I wanted to be one day. Everyday I think that.
JP: Yeah it’s always been a really important way for me to express myself when I was younger. In high school and college I was always disguising myself. Still to this day I wake up every morning wanting to look like a different person. I just love dressing up and just love clothes, always wanting to experiment with how I looked through clothes.
NG: Did you have any mentors guiding you towards the right paths?
AD: I would say that I have a board of mentors in a way. And rather than guiding me towards one specific path the really pushed me to explore the world to go and figure out what I wanted to do, to always ask questions and follow your heart. I’m a really strong believer that when your heart and your mind are connected you can achieve anything. This is something every single day I wake up and know that I love what I’m doing and know this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. It wasn’t an east journey to get here but I think that my mentors (not one specific one) just really pushed me.
JP: Two people have really mentored me. Hayley Keenan who is an LA based designer and artist. When I was younger I used to think she was the most beautiful and fascinating person who was super creative. She has her own little store in Venice where she sells dresses that she hand sews and cuts along with her paintings and unique jewelry. And through interning her, I met Kristy Caylor (who I mentioned before) who is the Founder and Creative Director of Maiyet. Knowing how amazing, smart and down-to-earth Kristy was, always gave me hope there could be something more meaningful in the fashion industry. She was always an amazing mentor to me.
NG: How did you two initially meet?
AD: We met through a mutual friend one late night at The Standard Hotel. And then Jacob and I met again.
JP: Yeah we met again at a nightclub.
AD: Which is definitely where you want to find your business partner [Anne and Jacob laugh]. And yeah, we kind of just became friends.
JP: Yeah we just became friends after that. I just moved to New York too didn’t know many people.
AD: To be honest, when I first met Jacob we started hanging out and I thought that he was one of the most fascinating people that I knew wearing platform shoes and black lipstick saying I want to be friends with that guy!
JP: I was dressing really wild back then [laughs]
AD: And he was an inspiration to me.
NG: What got you interested in starting a business?
AD: My father was an entrepreneur and I think I just grew up with a very entrepreneurial mindset. I realized from all of my mentors to explore the world and to not be afraid of failure or take risks. I always think of this quote from Legally Blonde [laughs] where the two law professors are talking about Reece’s character saying, “Do you think she woke up one day saying, ‘I think I’ll go to Law School’”. In a way I sometimes think I one day came to the decision where I think I’m going to start a company and I’m going to do this. And I just decided to do it. There wasn’t any other question. It was either do it or go get another nine-to-five.
NG: How did you come up with the name ÖHLIN/D?
AD: It’s a family name. I have a lot of family on my father’s side and I thought it was really unique. So we started with OHLIN and added the “D” for my last name to the end of it.
JP: And the word ÖHLIN is derivative of this ancient Peruvian word that means infinite, which is really beautiful.
NG: I love that. So how do you concept each collection?
JP: I was an internet kid growing up. All my computers end up crashing because I save everything I like on my desktop [Anne laughs]. The internet has always been very comfortable to me so it’s more of a natural starting point to seek out inspiration and search through Tumblr. In my physical life too, I’m a really nostalgic person, always thinking of my old Lisa Frank stuff. I always turn to the past to look for inspiration. Every season, I try to stay away from looking at what the other designers are creating. Also keeping up with all the museums and art exhibitions to looking what’s around me everyday. For example, this season we got inspired by Chinatown because our office is in Chinatown and there are so many beautiful colors down here.
NG: Do you have an underlying theme for your brand?
JP: We wanted it to be something different and comfortable. We use a word a lot to describe the specialness of the brand while maintaining a feel of luxury is that it’s happy. We never wanted to it feel too sever or feel like it’s unattainable to be the ÖHLIN/D girl. We want it to feel relatable, beautiful and aspirational but at the same time we want it to resonate somewhere other than a rich world.
AD: I think the ÖHLIN/D woman is very effortless and it’s an inherent style, so she is everyone. And it’s a second skin, which is very important to us. When you put on something that is ÖHLIN/D, it should feel natural and something that you can wear from season to season. It’s different and special but it’s never going to go out of style.
JP: I think the brand messaging is always happy and comfortable. Everywhere you are you see these mass marketed companies like Old Navy and H&M where their message is happiness but it’s really hard to find an advanced contemporary brand and/or fashion house that has that messaging.
NG: Are their any other mediums you draw inspiration from?
JP: I think music is a huge inspiration too. I’ve always been surrounded by my friends’ music shows.
AD: And books. Both Jacob and I studied English and Literature. I think there’s something about that that comes through the brand. It is a heritage in a way.
NG: What’s a typical day like for you guys?
JP: We come in by 10:15 and Monica our pattern maker gets here at 8:30 every day. I wake up a little earlier to answer emails from my computer at home. We come in and we’re usually pretty quiet around the office working on their own and by the time lunch comes, we’re all regroup. We’re like a family, which can sometimes be distracting [laughs] because we have so much fun together. Everyday I regroup with the design team about what we’re working on to check in on new developments, stitching, etc. to make sure we’re moving towards the vision. After to review everything then we present it to Anne to see if it has her stamp of approval.
AD: And usually by 5:30 or 6 there’s some craziness and usually ends up on someone’s Instagram.
JP: It ends with me wearing a wig dancing on the floor to Ariana Grande. [laughs]
AD: I think that speaks a lot to how our design process works. I’m a true believer in forming and running a company that has a comfortable atmosphere. If there’s a happy vibe and energy at work, you’ll create happy and beautiful things. That’s really important. That’s part of what my role is making sure everything is going smoothly.
JP: We want the energy of the brand to be seamless throughout the whole company. Even the office environment we want to feel the same way the clothes feel.
NG: Are you going to continue focusing on apparel only?
AD: For this upcoming FW15, we branched out and put out a line of shoes just one style with different heights. It’s something that we’re looking into. I think that the future holds all different possibilities.
JP: Yeah we’re also perfectionists so we want to make sure everything is perfect with our clothes before we try to develop something else.
AD: We are two years old but definitely we plan on taking over everything [laughs].
NG: Have you shown your collections at showrooms yet?
JP: We’ve done small press appointments, more of an intimate showing. We’ve had a dinner. And for our upcoming season, we’re preparing for a show.
NG: That’s so exciting! Are there any goals you’ve set that you’re looking to accomplish?
AD: Yes, I think a five-year goal for us is to open a store. We definitely have goals in terms of being in certain stores at certain times and to just be spread throughout the United States. We just got picked up by LN-CC in stores and online for both this current SS15 and FW15 collections. And that’s really exciting to us and we want to continue growing and placing ourselves within reflective places in the marketplace. It’s very important to make sure that not only do we have a very curated collection but where a collection is placed is also curated and a reflection of the brand.
NG: Who would you love to see wearing your pieces?
JP: If you look at our Tumblr inspiration, it shows a lot of women that are not around anymore or older. I love the old vibes with Jane Birken.
AD: Nicki Minaj, I’m obsessed with her and would love for her to wear our clothes. I think she would look great in one of our bodysuits. Also Chelsea Clinton and Drew Barrymore. But mostly, I would love to see anyone wearing out clothes. Regardless of who you are, weather your famous or not.
JP: I would just love to see someone walking down the street in New York wearing our clothes.
NG: Is there any advice you would give designers starting out?
JP: Don’t give up because it’s really hard. I think a lot o the fashion industry tries to enforce a strange code of conduct and there’s established ways of doing things. But I think there’s a lot of new ways you can try. Don’t hold yourself to what has already been done; try something new. Pave your own path.
AD: Don’t be afraid of failure because that’s the only thing that can hold you back. You if you achieve whatever you want.
JP: We fail every day but we just don’t care. [laughs]
AD: Exactly, it’s failing forward.
For more information about ÖHLIN/D and to check out their recent collection, head to ohlin-d.com.
AW15 CAMPAIGN —
Photography Luke Abby
Styling Jacob Park
Hair Joey George
Makeup Kouta at Jed Root
SS15 CAMPAIGN —
Photography Luke Abby
Styling Jacob Park
Hair Joey George
Makeup Ayami Nishimura