Robert Danes designs for women. I met Robert when he was just starting out, working out of his apartment and thinking about what having a "first show" would be like. Robert dove into that first show in an old Chelsea storefront, climbed the ranks as a CFDA member and is always thinking about doing something different "next season". Salt of the earth, Texan and all, he was never much into the sensationalism that fashion often turns to, and just wants to make beautiful clothes for women. Robert Danes is full of surprises. Seemingly simple in facade, Robert is as complicated as his patterns. One has to have a certain kind of rugged fearlessness to navigate patterns the way that Robert does. And he does it beautifully.
I picked Robert up in my city-worn Volkswagon convertible to talk to the real guy away from the cutting room. His dad had the same kind of car when he was a kid in San Antonio, back where his dream was born. The story goes like this: Robert's parents had just finished grad school and drove down from New Haven in their VW, right before his arrival in the world. His mom was a pianist and his dad had a gig as an organist at the local parish. Texas in the '60s was bust or boom, with more emphasis on the optimistic boom, so Robert grew up with an overwhelming sense that anything was possible. The music so present in his household represented universal possibility. His father's rare ability to build a harpsichord from scratch opened the doors to understanding how an idea can take shape in reality. He developed a strong love for engineering and at 18, headed to Yale to study architecture.
Breaks were still spent in Texas where there just weren't a whole lot of options for expressing personal style. So Robert got busy. When he traced that first pattern from a store-bought shirt that he wanted to make in a better fabric, his Grandmother introduced him to the sewing machine. A new future began. Every vacation that followed was centered around making clothes for all of the women in his life. He started with Vogue patterns, studying the instructions word for word, adding his own embellishments along the way. He was soon "building" his own patterns and each one developed a life of its own. "The gratification that came from a finishing a garment was so immediate compared to making a building. Not to mention, easier to tear apart, rebuild with changes and put together again." His vision. Fast. There was no surprise when his graduation present was a sewing machine.
With architecture and women as his long-time obsessions, in another time and place, Robert would have been the cowboy that opened a dressmaking store so women could ride horses in comfort and still look pretty at suppertime. Already close to the nation's fashion capital, Robert moved his dream to New York. He began his business designing for men but it just didn't give him enough satisfaction. When he met Rachel, his partner in business and life, she encouraged him to make clothes for women again. Darn good thing, because Robert Danes loves women and it shows.
He feels strongly that, "A woman should wear her clothes and not the other way around. What a woman is wearing should enhance her beauty and not rival it." His clothing evolves in a truly modern sense because he never bases collections on a theme or motif, but instead shapes them purely by the spirit of the woman who wears them. To Robert, design is all about evolution. He designs through a stream of modifications, working with the fabric and patterns until it "feels" right. The results are incredibly constructed clothing made of fabrics from heaven that make ordinary women feel otherworldly.
A thinking woman's designer, Robert is more interested in where women will be in the future and not so much where they've already been. New possibilities. Unlike the strained genre of designers who rely on Hollywood movies or European catwalk trends to "inspire" their collections, Robert's true muses are his clothing and his customers. His clothes are alive and they can evolve on their own if he guides them softly and listens to the women who wear them. He travels with an open mind to trunk shows all over the country so he can meet the women who buy his clothes. In his own words, "It matters to me to know a little bit about the homes that my clothes are going to."
Above all else, his main concern is how a woman feels when she's wearing his clothes. "A comfortable woman is often a confident one and a confident woman exudes her own beauty and doesn't need much outside help." Rachel is a welcome party in maintaining the comfort factor. Few things leave his studio without a real woman trying them on first.
Robert's favorite place back home is South Texas.
The rough and barren terrain where the rattlesnakes and cougars live in the wild. The part of the world that bites back. I can't help but imagine the strikingly beautiful house that Robert could build there, with breezy terraces and unconventional views overlooking a raw unshapen landscape - chock full of possibilities.
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