Earlier this week, we sat down with bi-borough based fashion designer Samantha Giordano to talk about her line, Dolores Haze (℅ Lolita). Giordano lives in the Lower East Side but for the past year she’s worked out of the Bushwick studio space that she’ll open to visitors for Bushwick Open Studios this weekend. From Friday to Sunday between noon and 9 p.m. you can check out her designs in the flesh and purchase t-shirts and sweatshirts she made for the occasion. But before that, preview them while reading the B+B Q+A.
I started the line in 2013. I was working in Philadelphia and didn’t like my job, so I decided to move back to the city and go for it. I was freelancing for a little while, and it ended up becoming a lot to do both at the same time, so after the fall collection I decided to quit my job. But I’ve been thinking about it for over a decade, so it was kind of like– I can’t be all talk and no game.
No, my passion has always been fine arts, and sculpture, installation art. I originally studied sociology and theory so it’s always fun incorporating that into art. At the end of my senior year in high school we had to get an internship, and so I wound up getting one at Nicole Miller.
I really enjoyed it. That summer I wound up going to Beverly Hills to visit my boyfriend at the time, and I went to a shop and I saw– I had hand dyed these tank tops [while at Nicole Miller] and I saw stuff that I had designed, which was like the coolest feeling ever.
I really like French New Wave film and Anna Karina. But sometimes I draw inspiration from the most random things. I got really into this ’60s experimental filmmaker Toshio Matsumoto and the imagery and sentiment evoked by his films. I was always really influenced by The Virgin Suicides. I feel like saying that is almost trite at this point. But the colors in the film are something that really stayed with me for a long time.
I really like the idea of subversiveness and juxtaposing things that are overtly feminine with things that are harsh at the same time. [The line] is named after Lolita, so I think conceptually that’s where I sort of draw that inspiration from.
Even when I was in college and I made my portfolio I named it Dolores Haze, and this is what I would present at interviews. But the old VP of Urban [Outfitters] sort of took notice and was incredibly supportive, and was just an amazing mentor. I think she gave me confidence in myself and also pointed out that I was detail oriented. And so I think that having that experience of somebody of that clout like appreciating and valuing my work definitely gave me the impetus to go off on my own.
And then in school I had one professor who really, really liked my work a lot and I think that was reassuring. I didn’t understand why everyone had to draw anorexic Barbies. You know? And I sort of liked when you don’t do that, or you do collage, or other things. So the contour drawings are more creative and I became more creative. So I went about doing my portfolio and designing in a way that was very antithetical to how everyone else was doing it, and [the professor] really valued that and really appreciated it, and that made me feel good.
I studied sociology [as an undergraduate], so I have very fervent feelings on all this. Most textiles are all made in China now. Like nothing is really made here. So if there’s something off with the color, or if [a factory overseas] overproduces something, usually they’ll just burn it or throw it away. But there’s also these people that take what’s left over and bring it to some warehouse in Queens and sell it to these small vendors. So I’m using [that material] and it’s basically like recycling this fabric that otherwise would be just thrown away. And there’s a lot of issues, too, with people in China putting dyes into the water and things like that. And then sometimes some of the stuff [I use] is deadstock fabric.
Everything’s made in New York. But what’s really special about the factory I work with is that most factories in New York get paid per garment, but the factory that I work with gets paid hourly. And because of that everyone has health insurance. They make things with more care, and it’s more ethical I feel like.
It makes the cost of things a little bit more expensive, but at the same time being socially responsible is really important. I have always believed in workers’ rights, but after working in corporate design you really realize that one shirt– the buttons are from China, and then it gets embroidered in India, and then it’s sent to a warehouse, and sent to storage. And all these carbon emissions are all a byproduct of one product.
Yeah I’ve always had this mentality that in terms of collaborating I’ve never wanted to compromise my own aesthetic to work with somebody else. But doing the video was really one of the best experiences ever. It was so awesome sitting with the director and watching. I essentially creative directed it, so I showed him all these reference images for cinematography, and color, and lighting, and everything. It was really cool to watch my vision come to fruition.
But I think when you’re first starting out, before you’re collaborating, it’s essential to have a very defined aesthetic that people can go off of.
But the one thing I think about Bushwick that’s really special is that New York doesn’t really have much support for artists or people who are working in the creative industry. So I feel like this is a special place– especially off the Jefferson stop– where everything is affordable, and there are more opportunities, for example a platform like Bushwick Open Studios. Stuff like that allows young artists to showcase their work, and it’s completely devoid anywhere else in New York. And it’s really sad, because I feel like this is a really creative city. But at the same time I feel like there really is a lack of support for young creatives.
There isn’t a real support network for young designers [in the city.] I find it really infuriating, but I think that has to do with the way Americans value art. I really like being part of a creative community [in Bushwick], there’s nowhere else in New York where you can really have that. And that’s sad.
I would just go to a store and buy a pattern in your size. And if you’re a resident of New York, Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) is a really wonderful place that people should take advantage of. It’s only $90 per class. So if you’re really interested in fashion you can go take a draping class or something. There’s a certain point where learning things is a trade. But I think being a good artist or designer is something that’s innate and can’t necessarily be taught.