I recently had the chance to sit down with George Zaharoff, designer for Zaharoff men's clothing and furnishings. Zaharoff gets his inspiration from his travels spanning the globe, bringing out the color and spirit of exotic locations and translating that into the fabrics and patterns of his clothing. You can hear the passion and excitement in his voice when he starts talking about his clothing and the pride he has for it really shows. And he should be proud. Before our interview even started, the tailor for the department store came out to sing praises for the incredible quality of his pieces.
The incredibly comfortable and stylish bouclé jacket for Fall 2010
We started by checking out the collection. Immediately I noticed that there were no plain black suits. Every item has combinations of colors, patterns and stripes in grey, blue and subtle brown tones all with unique color accents. These are truly suits with something extra. They walk the line between stylish and professional so gracefully that you can see these suits looking great in a wide array of situations. And that is one of the biggest benefits of the Zaharoff line; it is designed for a hectic lifestyle that demands versatility without skimping on quality fabric and construction.
An example of the large variety of beautiful fabrics in the collection. Pictures don't do justice to the look and feel of the fabrics in person.
YGG: How did you learn the "art" of fashion?
GZ: I grew up with it. My mother was a fashion designer and I was exposed to it at such a young age. She not only designed the clothes, but she also made the fabrics, so I grew up with the actual yarns. She used to take me to fabric mills all across Europe. After graduating from DePaul University, I went to Italy and they really taught me the finishing of the garment, the quality, the way things drape and the way things are made. So between my mother, going to Italy, and spending time in the factories there, I had a huge amount of exposure to it.
YGG: How do you feel about fashion trends and do you consider them when designing a collection?
GZ: Fashion is based on trends. People makes purchases based on trends and if designers ignore them completely, they won't be competitive. For example, if people are buying two buttons suits and I only designed three button suits, I wouldn't sell anything, so I have to stay within certain boundaries or certain colors. Also, the fabrics I'm picking from at the mills, others pick from too. However, I view trends as a box. Trends are what's inside the box and I try staying within the box, but at the very, very far edge of it. A lot of design houses have teams of stylists and designers for their collections and it becomes over-stylized and overly trendy. For example, mirrored leather is really in right now, so a lot of fashion houses have mirrored leather in their collection. It gets over-stylized and starts to look like everything else. So, to get back to your question, I like to stay on the very edge of the box. I follow the trends, but not too much.
YGG: How does your personal style and taste influence the Zaharoff brand?
GZ: I am a Zaharoff customer and I am my pickiest customer. When I travel, I see the Zaharoff man traveling, flying first class. He expects quality and can buy clothes anywhere in the world and I have to compete with that.
YGG: When you begin the process of creating a new line, do you start with fabrics and materials or just a concept, and what was the inspiration behind your current line for Spring 2011?
GZ: Always the concept. The spring was about Zanzibar and I was inspired by the spices the island is known for, which the colors in the collection are based on. Even the burlap sacks that held the spices were inspiration. The shades of blue and shades of grey were the inspiration. The blue water, the blue sky, all of that inspired me. And then I have a direction for the line that I work with. I go through ten thousand fabrics, so I have to have a concept in my head before I go tackling it. Of those ten thousand fabrics, I have to narrow it down to 100 sport jackets and 100 suits.
YGG: It seems almost overwhelming how many choices there are for fabrics. How do you go about narrowing it down?
GZ: It can be overwhelming when you go to the mills. I'm trying to expose myself to more and more mills. There are mills in South Africa, South America, everywhere, but I have narrowed it down to the countries that make really good fabrics. And that's easily ten thousand fabrics. Then I probably pick 2,000 of them and the factories send swatches to my office. I sit down and narrow it down to 300. In the case for the next collection in Fall 2011 it was 400 because I just couldn't narrow it down anymore. You just have to get into it, but it's tremendously overwhelming. And thats just sport jackets. Then there are shirts, outerwear, sportswear, neckwear and so on. It's awesome though, it's exactly what I want to do, but you do get overwhelmed. It's the nature of the work.
YGG: What makes a Zaharoff suit different than any other suit I can pull off the rack?
GZ: There are three things that differentiate Zaharoff suits. First, they are made in the USA. Second are my fabrics. And third are the customers that I make it for. It's usually someone who travels and needs very durable, well made clothing that can withstand the vigors of travel and a hectic lifestyle.
YGG: Where do you see Zaharoff going in the next few years?
GZ: I've got big dreams. I'm hoping to be able to create a lifestyle brand and that's what Zaharoff is all about. I'm just hoping I'll be able to increase the distribution and scope of my products while keeping in mind that I still want it to be a special product. I don't dream of being everywhere.
YGG: Do you have any advice for guys who want to make it in the fashion industry?
ZG: Never, ever, ever give up. I think you have to be aware that your products need to be commercial. Whatever you do, you have to create something that is artistic, but also something that sells, because thats the most important thing to remember when it comes to fashion. It has to sell.
Tips from George Zaharoff on caring for your suits:
1. Never store your suit in a plastic bag in your closet. The fabric has to breathe and it will release odor and flatten itself out naturally over time.
2. Take a common plastic dry cleaning bag, cut it at chest level and leave the part covering the shoulders on the hanger with the suit. This will get the suit the air it needs as well as keep dust from setting on the neck and shoulders.
3. If you do not need to have your suit cleaned, take it to get it steamed. Avoid dry cleaning at all costs; dry cleaning suits will ruin the fabric and destroy the color. Steaming it will freshen it up just fine and keep it looking new.