Isabel Varela knew from a young age that she wanted to be a fashion designer. Varela is one of few lucky people whose dream became reality.
After graduating from the University in 2008, she went straight to work, participating in internships and traveling around the world. From Paris to China to New Orleans, Isabel has an impressive résumé. In an exclusive interview with The Daily Reveille, she chronicles her triumphs, challenges and inspirations as she takes on the fashion world. Varela shows off her collection at a trunk show from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. today at nk boutique on Corporate Boulevard.
TDR: How did you get your start in fashion?
Varela: After I graduated, I went to a program in Paris. After I did a competition in Miami, I was chosen to go to Paris for a school there. We did everything from conceptual design to embroidery to just working with different surfaces and textures. Then I went in for a global fashion field study; two days after that I had an internship in Dallas. I ended up moving to Dallas. After college is when I really got involved with fashion and working with [Abby Farne, my mentor]. I would also do freelance and wardrobe styling.
TDR: How did LSU prepare you for a career in fashion?
IV: I got the basics and the foundation here, so that was really important. And then with the different outlets, too, because we did Hemline, and New Orleans was close, too. Getting involved with fashion shows and my last year I had a professor with different contacts, and through that was how I was able to go to Paris to do extended studies, so that was really helpful, too.
TDR: What are some of the inspirations for your fall collection?
IV: The main inspiration was a woman coming out of her shell and letting go of all the different layers and becoming the woman that she is supposed to be. I design my prints for each season, it’s a mixture of the snakeskin molting off and a door that’s about to be repainted. I wanted to keep it monotone with black, white and gray. I wanted to make it like my point of view with structural lines. Everything is tailored. And using my favorite fabrics leather and wool. Architecture is a huge inspiration — that’s always been a huge inspiration for me. My favorite era is the 1920s, and menswear inspires me.
TDR: What was it like to intern at BCBGMaxAzria?
IV: That was really cool. When I first got there, the first two weeks when you’re meeting everyone, you’re doing the copying and printing and I was like, ‘No I want to do something else,’ because it was like a vertical integration. You have the cutters, the sample-makers, all the different designers and then all the other different parts of BCBG. I ended up wandering around because I wanted to get to know the whole building and I just walked into the accessories part, but then in the corner there was the senior designer of the conceptual team and I just went in there and said, ‘Hey do you need some help?’ and she said, ‘Oh my God, yes I do!’ From that point on, it was really awesome because she’s pretty much the main person that thinks of the concepts of the new trends and new patterns to work with. I would go vintage shopping with her and pick up different old items. She would give me different projects.
TDR: Do you have any advice for recent graduates looking to break into the fashion industry?
IV: Yes. Most important thing, networking. Keep your relationships, and follow up consistently. I have one example, from Dallas career day, there’s one woman who’s in charge of it. Since my third year of college in fashion, I’ve kept in contact with her. She’s been a huge supporter of my line, and she’s helped me get different contacts. It’s been maybe six years, and now she’s helping me out. It is so important to get those relationships. Diligence, persistence and try to get involved with everything. I’ve done everything from wardrobing in movies, visual merchandising, to retailing, to fashion production. Because if you want to have your own business, it’s important to have an understanding of every aspect, just like any other business. Keep on trying new things and meeting people and ask a lot of questions. If someone says no, someone else will tell you yes.
TDR: How would you describe Izavel as a brand?
IV: Izavel is a confident woman, strong, sexy and sophisticated. She can be a trendsetter, jet-setter, CEO, businesswoman — always unique and each piece is versatile throughout the collection. You can wear [pieces] to work all the way to nighttime with just a change of accessories.
TDR: What was your proudest moment as a designer?
IV: This one’s hard because I’ve had a few. Probably restarting my brand again under new ideas and it’s me in the brand. That was exciting to relaunch that. Getting into stores, I would say that’s the most exciting. I visited a lot of different boutiques because I was selling myself and selling the line. I got 17 no’s and the last two said yes. You have just got to keep going. You start realizing there’s a boutique and a client for each design always, you just have to find them.
TDR: How did you come up with the name Izavel?
IV: When I was young and I would get in trouble my mom would yell, ‘IZAVEL, where are you?’ My mom is from Honduras and my dad is from Panama, so that’s pretty much the way she pronounces my name.
TDR: How was NOLA Fashion Week?
IV: It was actually really exciting. It was seamless. The makeup was perfect, the hair was perfect. I had 12 looks and I had a model for each look. I got some good feedback, too. People were like, ‘Where can I buy your stuff?’ I was like, ‘Online, or you can place a pre-order right now!’