Understanding Fabiola Arias

“I’m really inspired by nature and making my own textures and surface treatments.That’s really my main interest in design. I’m not satisfied buying something already made.I really loved the challenge of cutting up and shredding fabric and stitching it back together. Collaging it. I felt like I was painting with fabrics.”

interview by Charles Beckwith
photography by Ned and Aya Rosen
hair styling by Hitomi Mura
make-up by Isabel Ruiz
artwork by Aya Rosen
model Olga Karlovich from One Management

Fabiola Arias was born in Havana, Cuba, and July 18th of this year was the 20th anniversary of her arrival in Miami. Attending arts schools since she was a child, Ms. Arias has a background in sculpture and painting. The mediums collide with fabrics in her collections, where she likes the idea of not working on flat surfaces. It has led her to be interested in creating her own fabrics, the Fashion Group International Rising Star Award, brand placement in the Neiman Marcus couture boutiques, and an almost cult following by some of high fashion’s most elite consumers.

“I’m really inspired by nature and making my own textures and surface treatments. That’s really my main interest in design. I’m not satisfied buying something already made. I really loved the challenge of cutting up and shredding fabric and stitching it back together. Collaging it. I felt like I was painting with fabrics. [My signature technique] is an array of silk organza squares and sequins sewn to a base of organza. This sort of collage effect, I started developing in high school.”

How do you characterize your work? “Really what I do is take classic silhouettes, very feminine and elegant silhouettes, and I build on top of them. I create the textures for it and we do it all in-house.” So for every dress you have to stitch together thousands of sequins and little scraps of fabric? “Yes. and it sounds very painstaking, and it is, but we’ve created a very strategic way of dealing with it.”

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How would you deal with an order of, for example, 5000 copies of a dress? “Well, I wouldn’t get an order for 5000, because what I do is couture and for special occasions. I sell to Neiman Marcus couture salons in ten cities. These are pieces that it’s about the quality and the fit and the look of it. My last order was 60 units, and for me that’s a lot. And for these pieces it’s a lot, because it’s so labor intensive. We do everything here [in the Garment District]. On the 14th floor is my factory. I just got this studio. I used to be in my factory every day all day working with the seamstresses and on my feet all day long, and I said ‘ok that’s enough, I need my own space,’ so… yeah.”

From a business perspective, how do you expand your business if that’s your model? “I keep doing beautiful pieces. It’s very slow how this business expands. It’s not like ‘ok, next year I’m going to have a fragrance line.’ With couture, because the main importance is fit, the look, customer relations. It’s really about expanding my clientele, and you do that by just by meeting new people. I’ve been really lucky that I’ve met really amazing women who have beomce my clients, and because I’ve made something very special for them and they’ve gone on to tell their friends, and their friends tell more friends, and it spreads. So, it’s really about maintaining and growing my client base. I always say, every client is a blessing.”

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It is a dangerous world for emerging and veteran designers alike to be producing only high end without some sort of diffusion project. “I understand that. I’m so young. My company is so young. A lot of designers get really overexposed and grow really fast. I really want to hone my style and aesthetic and really spread that. I want this [ array of silk organza squares and sequins sewn to a base of organza] to be my ‘No. 5’, and this is really my signature. Little by little I want to expand into accessories, into fragrance, into different product lines that make sense within this business. Because I don’t have a backer, I really rely on growing my clientele. It’s not Neiman’s that keeps me afloat. It’s my clients, my private clients, because that is my best business, and it’s direct to consumer. Because of that I’m able to sustain my business, rather than having to wait so long for a store to pay.”

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Tell me about your collections. What is the progression? Has each one had a personality? “The way that I’ve grown, I think, with my collections, has been in quality. I’ve learned a lot in terms of construction of pieces. I started in 2008, I was still in school, I was at Parson’s, I came out with a ready-to-wear collection, which was very different from what I’m doing now. I did a ready-to-wear collection, and it still had some elements of couture, but I wanted to see what worked I wanted to just test the waters. So it was pants and jackets and tops, and then I had this evening dress that stood out, but not in a good way, because it was this couture dress with this ready-to-wear collection, but that was a dress that really got a lot fo attention, and it was in this [current paradigm] kind of style. People kept gravitating toward that piece, that one piece out of that entire collection. Ikram [Goldman in Chicago] was my first retailer to pick up the line. She really loved it and she asked me to do it in different colors. Then I realized, ‘ok, this is what people like the best and this is what I like the best and I feel like I can express myself the best, and so evening is the direction I’m going to take. Then after that I wasn’t doing collections, I was doing a series of dresses. That’s what I would show clients and that’s what I show Neiman’s, and the relationship with Neiman’s has evolved that way, just with the buyer, She wasn’t asking to see collections, she just said ‘make me a beautiful dress. Make me a few beautiful dresses.’ So, it really just evoked like that, very niche. I’ve grown with my understanding of construction. This past February I had my first show, first official show during Fashion Week, and I made a collection for that. I was thinking of the inspiration being birds of paradise and beautiful winged creatures.”

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I saw the images from the show, with the hats. They really stood out. “Yes, my mother makes those. She is a milliner in Miami. We work together really nicely. She’s been doing that as long as I’ve had my collection. We started putting shows on and she would make these beautiful headpieces, and they would just go so well with the dresses, and we’ve always had theatrical sensibility, and it just worked. She’s been selling to private clients herself as well.”

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Do you have a vision of what the world should look like, or do you design for how someone should go out into the world that exists? “I consider my pieces like paintings, like works of art. So, I really feel like when we’re blending these colors it really is like I’m doing fine art. But it’s just a fabric. I want women to feel like they’re the most beautiful woman in the room and sometimes somebody can be afraid of these pieces because they’re very different. They’re not traditional evening-wear. It’s a lot of color. It’s a lot of texture, It takes somebody very confident to want to wear something like this, and it;s really the most satisfying part when a client buys it and wears and tells me ‘oh, my God, I’ve never gotten so many compliments. I’ve never felt so beautiful before’. . . . The pieces are really light. I’ve been working on making the construction very light weight. It’s not like the dress is wearing you, so you feel totally comfortable. That’s another compliment I’ve gotten, they can’t believe how comfortable it was, how light it was. So that’s really important too.”

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“When I was in my teens I was becoming really interested in painting and sculpture. My painting aesthetic and style was with very thick brushstrokes. I’ve always loved texture and was always touching things. I really liked painting with very thick brushstrokes, almost making an image look pixelated. Very impressionistic. When I started playing around with fabrics and sewing, I subconsciously, I don’t really remember if it was intentional, I started to cut these little pieces of silk and stitch it back together. It wasn’t as pristine back then. I was just starting to do this square effect, this petal effect. I started realizing this looks like this, my paintings. It looks like brushstrokes. I just kept going with that. I want my pieces to look like brushstrokes.”

Being from Miami, what is the impact of the New York City environment on your designs? “Obviously New York is where designers should be, because the whole industry is here, but I don’t think that for my soul it has had a positive effect, which is why I live in Jersey City now. I left the city to live. I feel like I am very sensible and very sensitive, so I think the rush of all of this, the city itself, just walking down the streets, having so many people walking next you, is bombarding, visually overstimulating. I think of myself as an artist, whether doing a painting or making a dress. I think to be in this industry, to be working, you kind of have to distance yourself. That’s how I feel.” Does the chaos make it into your work or do you try to push it away? “I push it away, because otherwise I get really anxious.”

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