UK to HK to LA - the story of the Waldmann label
American designer Elle Waldmann has an international outlook when it comes to fashion. Having grown up in Seattle, she came to the UK to pursue degrees from London's top fashion institutions, Central Saint Martins (CSM) and the London College of Fashion (LCF), and worked for numerous fashion houses in Hong Kong. Now Elle is back in Los Angeles starting her own eponymous womenswear label, which she describes as "subtly subversive and romantically modern". Originally planning to follow her parent's footsteps by pursuing a career in law, we are happy Elle Waldmann has opted for a sartorial career and are excited to share our interview with her.
Describe a typical Elle Waldmann girl.
Most of my clients are in their late 20s to 40s, and I would describe them as curious, professional, and culturally driven. No matter how diverse their interests are, it’s usually about what's next that they're changing fashion-wise, not necessarily in a trend sense but more an exploration sense. They’re not very frilly, but serious. It sounds ubiquitous, but she’s a modern woman charting her own path, feminine with an edge.
Where do you see your brand going in the next five to ten years?
We’ve recently relaunched in LA. I'm in the process of building a great team and really developing my client relationships. So I’d like to grow it that way. It was event-based in Hong Kong, so I'm bringing that to LA in the same style. We're currently focusing on selling through private shopping and pre-orders and we'll be showcasing at a couple of boutiques with trunk shows.
How about setting up shop in London?
I would love to grow a business in Europe; London is very close to my heart. It’s very easy to spread yourself too thin though so I'm focused on quality not quantity at the moment.
You studied at both Central Saint Martins (CSM) and the London College of Fashion (LCF), two of the most prestigious fashion universities in the world. How did these two experiences differ from each other?
The reason I wanted to go back to do my masters at LCF, was that it was very technically focused. At CSM, I really enjoyed the drive and focus on exploration but it was more focused on 2D visual process. You have these great ideas, but how do you actually make the concept into a reality? I had a number of friends who did their MA at CSM and they had a great time, but at LCF it wasn't really about just dreaming up a collection or dress, but actually creating it in a market ready way.
How does the Hong Kong woman differ to the UK woman?
Of course the climate and humidity mean their wardrobes differ, but each country celebrates different aspects of creativity. Hong Kong can be quite conservative in a lot of ways but they play with texture and silhouette in more subtle ways, while in London, you wouldn't be shocked if you saw someone in mesh trousers and a tutu.
What advice would you give aspiring students regarding the first steps to starting a label?
It’s hard. There's always more to do in a week than is humanly possible. It’s difficult when you’re starting out. There is no secret formula, there is no set answer. Go with your gut and commit.
Do you have any advice for past Elle?
Don't be so impatient! Don't be too critical because perfection to a certain degree when building a business is a learning curve not a state of being. For many of the studios I worked for, there were inspirational female entrepreneurs, creative directors and owners. I saw how these women ran their businesses and I knew I wanted to make that happen for myself.
How was the experience of working at the Couture studio at Alexander McQueen? What was the most memorable experience from this?
I loved my time there. It was quite formative, the couture studio was separate from the main building of womenswear and menswear, so it was kind of its own island. From both a creative and a technical standpoint, the experience was incredible and I learned a lot. The other amazing element was that a large proportion of the team leading the studio had already been at Alexander McQueen since the beginning, working with Lee since its inception. Working behind the scenes at McQueen you are really able to see the level of dedication and craftsmanship that goes into creating a gown.
Were you working ridiculous hours at Alexander McQueen?
There were a lot of late nights but that's not exceptional. I’ve worked at studios in LA before where you're working until 3 am and rock up the next morning at 8 or 9. It's just part of the creative fashion industry at times.
When did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in fashion?
It was sort of a moment of awakening. As I was growing up in Seattle, fashion was not a huge theme. I started university, receiving a BA in literature, with the intention to go onto law school as both my parents had. ‘Fashion' was always something I would do on the side. I was always sketching or drawing– all my assignments had little sketches on the margins. I would style friends and be involved in the costuming of the film department of the university. It really all came as an epiphany on the eve of applying to law school; that realisation that I needed to pursue a future in fashion.