Nancy Van Ostren: Designer Interview

Nancy Tauber has been running her own label since 2009 and has even worked with the likes of Victoria Beckham and John Rocha. She tells Ana Peralta how she got where she is and why she hates the Fashion Industry…

Not many interviews with young designers have started with the words, “I hate the Fashion industry.” Yet with more than ten years experience in the industry, one has to allow Nancy Tauber of Nancy Van Ostren,  permission to say whatever the hell she likes. “I love what I do but I hate the industry.” she announces unapologetically.

Nancy Van Ostren single handily restores your faith in the world of fashion and fashion designers. Confident and incredibly business savvy, not to mention extremely talented at what she does. I dare you to find a stitch out of place- even her toile’s are near perfect.  Her enthusiasm and love for the art remains pure and free from the ultimate evil which consumes many a person within the industry- money.

“It’s not just about the money for me. At the end of the day, I don’t want to be stuck in a studio, looking eighty years old because of the stress.”

Her journey towards running towards her own label, was shakier than a Balenciaga bench at Paris Fashion week.

“I spent a lot of time with my grandma and she was a dress maker. She had the old Singer machine which I still have here. I spent a lot of time with her in her little sewing room and just all the fabrics and trim boxes and everything in there. I used to just sit there watching her, and I grew up with that.”

Knowing she wanted to become a fashion designer at the age of six, Nancy went on to study Art and Textiles at school. An experience, she recalls, was nothing more than a complete waste of time. Instead of her passion for making clothes being nurtured and encouraged, it was met with resistance from a disgruntled textiles teacher.

“My textiles teacher was bloody awful. Obviously she hated me because I would go and learn how to do bound button holes and beautiful lapel jackets from my grandma. Techniques that I wouldn’t learn at school and obviously my teacher did not like that.”

The skills she had learnt from her grandma were too advanced for school, and it seemed Nancy would pay the price for her talent. “I got a D in textiles. I didn’t need to know how to make an oven glove, I wanted to know how to make a jacket!”

Having been put off textiles and designing, as her teacher had “taken all the fun out of it”, she looked for another creative path and decided to do a beauty therapy course.

After making it through the beauty therapy course, she went into the beauty industry and worked there for three years. Throughout the whole processes, she excelled in the make-up department, and began freelancing as a make-up artist. However, it wasn’t enough and soon the cracks began to show- there was a hole in her professional life.

“I said to my mum: I’ve got to go back and do it. So I did my own portfolio, I didn’t even know what I was doing, just chucked it together. Went to the open days and got into foundation at London College of Fashion, then ended up getting into the  degree.”

She finally giving into her true calling, and began falling in love with her dream once again. One of the most impressive students, she stood out for her attention to detail which would define her future collections.

During the work experience segment of her second year, it wouldn’t only be the tutors who would hone in on Nancy’s talent for design. She successfully managed to secure a placement with John Rocha and impressed the design house so much so they offered her a job, before she had even finished her second year. Unfortunately due to the demands of the graduating year, she had to decline the invitation after a trial period of working two days a week.

After graduating, she found the job market difficult, working on the shop floor Selfridges and Liberty’s, to keep the money coming in. She applied to many jobs, attending interview after interview,  when one in particular caught her eye.

“I went to an interview at Future Classics and I really loved it there, the studios the people, they did fashion week and they were quite quirky- and I didn’t get the job and I was so upset. Two weeks later I have a job interview at Burberry and I get it.”

Within the three years she worked for Burberry, she got promoted twice. Moving from her initial position at Fabric Production to Season Coordinator, and then finally to work as  Knitwear Designer Developer.

It seemed her luck was only just beginning. After gaining experience from one of the most important and influential, British Fashion houses, Nancy would go on to work for one of the most important personalities in fashion, before she had become a fashion sensation and an aspiration in design.

“I was offered the opportunity to work with Victoria Beckham  and that was good because it really showed me how to start a label from scratch, I was there when it was literally just the denim and sunglasses.”

Nancy got to see the birth of what was going to become one of the most progressive labels in fashion. She saw the start of Victoria Beckham’s career in fashion and inadvertently learnt what she would need to create her own label in the future.

“They shut down the fashion department, so I got made redundant. I was really struggling, but I had money. I had always wanted to start label so I though well, I’ve got the money, so why don’t I just do it now? So I set it up, wrote my business plan and went for it. That wasn’t calculating a recession!”

Although her luck had run out and she was forced to think about her future in fashion, she began making a business plan for her own label and never lost the determination to achieve her goals.

The label went live in 2009, the name “Van Ostren” was borrowed from her grandmother (it was her maiden name), whom she owed her impeccable knowledge of sewing and dress making to.

Taking inspiration from architecture and machinery, Nancy’s designs are structural and precise. Sharp lines, geometric shapes, balanced out by the fluidity of her chosen fabrics, 100% Italian silk, Jersey, English Wool and Napa Leather.

The rigidity of her lines aren’t suffocating, on the contrary they accent the clothing, giving an edge to every garment. The perfect balance of young femininity with sophistication that comes with stellar tailoring.

Her first collection (Autumn/Winter 2010) made up of only nine pieces, saw a colour palette of navy’s, fresh metallic ash grey, with hints of olive green on patterned short sleeve silk shirts. Here she concentrated mostly on the minimal side of the label- it was an experimental first try, and a way to ascertain a signature look for her brand. There were hints of her love of structure in the shoulders, her razor-sharp hemlines.

For her Spring/Summer 2011 collection, she went in a very different direction- frills, pastels and a fairy tale vibe.

“I tried to follow the trend on that one. I did my trend reports and everything, and the reason why that didn’t sell at all was because that wasn’t my signature.”

Spring Summer 2011 saw the return of 70s Glamour with Marc Jacobs leading the pack in  collections so vibrant, the creatures who inhabited Studio 54 in its heyday would have been falling at his feet to wear his clothes. It was also the time when 50s silhouettes marked their return- the female body was adorned by pretty pastels and figure hugging  A-line dresses. It was clear that in order for an up and coming designer to stand out, they would have to go against the grain. Something which Nancy acknowledges:

“I did a pink frilly shirt that season, and Mark Jacob’s did a frilly shirt- you’re a buyer, who are you going to buy? An unknown or mark Jacobs? They’re running a business, they’ve got to make sure they make money as well.”

She came back stronger than ever the following season, when she returned with the sharpest of her collections to date. No holding back, she went for full on with striking silhouettes. Strong elongated spiky shoulders, protruding waistlines with embellished crystals. A monochrome palette, with drops of fuchsia and dewy blues accenting dresses and skirts within the collection.  With pieces including 3D like patterns, it is no doubt this woman has a talent for weaving fabric into architectural pieces of wonder. Every piece in this Autumn/ Winter 2011 represents what she was trying to achieve with the label- they almost make you want to unravel it all, to see how she put it together.

“There was a dress that sold out in two days, which is the one I call the tube dress. I had to make it again for a private order. But I forgot how complicated it was- it was all made out of squares”

Although she sends her work to a factory to be made, she is a one woman powerhouse. Not only does she do the whole design process on her own, but manages the business side with the same precision she lends to her clothing.

Despite the glamour and the prestige that comes with being a fashion designer, the reality of starting out can be a harsh and slow process. A lot of the time, most young designers have to divide their time between running their own labels and working for someone else, in order to keep the money coming in. If not enough orders are made from the collection, you have to have a backup plan, and just like any other business, things are bound to get shaky, especially in an unstable economic climate.

“People complain that a dress costs £600, but if they saw the amount of manual labour and everything else that goes into making a garment…  They don’t even realise how much it costs to make a collection per season, not even just the fabrics. Just with what you need on a day to day basis, is ridiculous.”

Taking a season out is considered suicide for most designers, and it usually marks the end of a label. However, instead of focusing on the negative aspects surrounding her business, Nancy took a different approach- she lived. She went to festivals, did one off pieces for special orders and was even asked by a friend to design her wedding dress.

“If you want to design a collection, if you want to be inspired, you’ve got to be able to go out there and look at exhibitions. Travel or go up to London to see what people are wearing, look at architecture- life is inspiring in itself. If you’re stuck in your studio all the day, the four walls aren’t going to really inspire you.”

All things she insists she would have “never be able to do if there was a big collection to design”. She took the opportunity to take a step back and think about what she really wants out of her career, and it truly paid off. After reassessing the situation, she devised a new business model and returned with a strong Autumn/Winter 2012 collection, which is selling extremely well.

So after all the experience she has gained over the last couple of years, what does it all boil down to? Is there another part to her dream?

“My dream had always been the same. I can have my little shop, have little collections in there, then maybe have some interiors. I could get other designers in as well and almost be like a buyer as well. But then have a bespoke service at the back.”

It may not be the biggest dreams; after all she hasn’t declared she wants to be the biggest designer around, and something tells me that’s not her style. It seems she enjoys the personal touch when it comes to making clothing. She talks fondly of the look on the person’s face when they see the end result, of a dress they envisioned. It’s these small moments she craves the most. “That’s my little dream. Not a massive dream but it’s my little dream.”

There is no doubt her grandmother is extremely proud of her. This isn’t the last we have seen of her. If only her textiles teacher could see her now…

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