From crafting her own jewelry and footwear to hand dying her own fabrics, Liv Ryan is proving that young designers really can--and should-- do it all.
Liv Ryan is a rare bird in New York’s emerging designer landscape. The recent Pratt grad is actually a born and bred New Yorker. Growing up in the city with artist parents, Ryan was aware of her geographical advantage at an early age and chose to stay in NYC for design school despite encouragement from some to seek her creative education elsewhere. After her most recent collection caught our eye, we decided to chat with Ryan about her work, her inspirations, and the challenges of gaining a foothold in an ever-evolving industry.
You grew up in a very artistic household--but did you always know that you would pursue design?
Definitely not. I’d studied theatre and costume design at LaGuardia High School but it wasn’t even on my radar as a career path. But I visited Pratt and it just felt so right. I remember a speech given by the department chair where she said, “it’s totally ok if you don’t know how to design, sew or draw. We’re going to teach you all these things.” I think a lot of people have a negative view of fashion that it’s elitist, but it’s very much it’s own art form and that’s how Pratt taught me to approach design, with less focus on the industry at large and more of an emphasis on being creative and using clothing as the outlet for my art.
It’s unusual to see a young designer already diving into accessories. How did that come about?
I actually took an accessories class my senior year and thought, well, if I’m making all of these pieces then I want them to go with my collection. I knew right away I wanted to do earrings because most of my collection was very streetwear-heavy and had a tomboy feel to it, which is very much how I dress. I wanted to play with the balance between the feminine and masculine elements and an elegant ceramic earring seemed the best way to do that. As for the shoes, I repurposed a rib knit and softened the platforms by applying gesso to the soles, which I was unsure about but it turned out quite malleable and lovely. A happy design “mistake.”
You’ve talked a bit about straddling the line between masculine and feminine design elements but your most recent collection was labeled as menswear. Have you seen an interest from female clients?
A lot of my work I think of as unisex but I’d never done a strictly menswear collection so I wanted to challenge myself. It could definitely go either way, and though that seems to be a larger industry trend, I personally try not to pay to much attention to trend. Most of my inspiration doesn’t come from clothing but from visual art and my surroundings. But particularly in New York, this whole streetwear aesthetic is so big, as it was for me as a child growing up. So many people are now non-binary in general, not wishing to associate with a particular gender. I have male friends who’ve placed orders for skirts or dresses, not seeing the garments as inherently feminine. Associating a garment with a specific gender is only a product of the industry at large.
How have the majority of your customers discovered your work?
With the exception of the jewelry, I’m currently making everything to order. I’ve received quite a few commissions via social media as well so I’m also open to that aspect of the business. I decided to begin posting on instagram after the ceramic earrings in my senior collection generated a bit of buzz.
You’ve mentioned art and architecture as major influences on your work. Can you describe your design process a bit?
I remember sophomore year being really into the De Stijl movement and though I try to branch out, some element of that is always present in my work, whether it’s the hard angles and geometry. Even the more industrial architecture in New York tends to grab and hold my attention. Recently architect Frederick Kiesler has been a big inspiration, who founded biomorphic architecture which is characterized by all these loose angles and kind of goes against everything that the the De Stijl movement was so I’m currently trying to juxtapose the two. But nature, too, is a big influence, even just walking around and seeing familiar things through a different lens. My big thing is trying to avoid the fashion industry itself as too much of an influence.
It seems that no corner of the fashion industry has been immune to change--how are you and your classmates managing?
I just graduated in May so I’ve seen the people sort of fall into these holes where they don’t really know how to navigate and are getting quickly deflated. For the graduate collections, you’ve worked on something for so long that is very much an extension of yourself so to add to that the stress of a job search is a lot. My goal was to keep myself as busy as possible while doing my own designs on the side. There just aren’t a lot of jobs to be had. I’ve heard of it taking people six months to secure a position doing something they actually want to be doing. For me personally, I knew that I didn’t want to do anything corporate so I did turn down a few job offers because I was fearful of having a soul sucking experience. So I’m currently working for Tyler Hays, who’s a furniture designer but has extended into clothing and ceramics and it’s been an incredibly supportive and inspiring work environment. I think being around just the fashion industry, for all its creativity, can be incredibly closed minded and it’s important to realize that design is all-inclusive and so much bigger than that.
Your most recent collection was inspired in part by Jacob Riis Beach. How do you go about translating a place into a collection?
I try not to be so conceptual but I loved the relationship between the color and the softness of the beach sand to the ocean and the concrete boardwalk so I was really trying to take more from the actual texture of the beach. I made sure to go on quiet days during the week when it feels like such a special, desolate place that’s only 30 minutes away.
Photography Liv Ryan