One to Watch: Patrick Cupid
Patrick Cupid is a New York designer whose work combines the influences of the US with his experiences from travelling and working throughout Europe. He has been designing clothes since he was a child and focuses on elegant womenswear with striking colour combinations. With stockists in the US and Paris, he now has his sights set on the UK and there are plans for a move into menswear.
He tells us about his life, his influences, his ethics, his ambitions and his observations on the wider fashion industry.
Can you tell us a bit about what inspired you to become a designer in the first place? You say you have been sketching since you were a child, do you know what sparked that?
I've been designing clothes since childhood. I would make doll clothes for Barbies or sketch ideas based on the books I read and movies I'd seen. I was fascinated with fairytales, mythology, and history, spending hours watching archaeological documentaries, period films, sci-fi, and old movies.
My very first sketches were of triangle-shaped dresses. I only learned to draw people so that I could better draw clothing on them and create whole looks. It was fun for me! Somehow I knew exactly how to construct the garment before I sketched it. I could see it come together in my head. No one taught me this; it was just there.
I later learned that both my father and maternal grandmother had worked in the garment district, making dresses. My mother had also worked as a fit model for the Maiden Form company. All this before I was born. When I was about 11 or 13 years old, I discovered Karl Lagerfeld through a show called Fashion File on Bravo. When I saw him work, I saw myself. Everything about me made sense. I had no clue designers existed. I thought clothes were just made by seamstresses and sold in shops. But this new information told me I was born to the occupation. From then on, I wanted nothing else.
You studied at some of the most prestigious schools, F.I.T., Parsons and Politecnico di Milano, what did each of those experiences teach you?
My education has provided me with a useful vocabulary in design and business. Fortunately, I had professors that believed and encouraged freedom of expression. School gives us alternative techniques and tested methods to explore. The taste, innovation, and talent are unique to every individual and must come naturally from the designer. I have perfected my draping and pattern making through these institutions; the vision, however, remains own.
Politecnico and Italy itself has bolstered my drive toward respecting the planet, F.I.T. strengthened my work ethic and deepened my fascination with contemporary art, and Parsons helped to sharpen my instincts. Collectively quality in design and respect for the craft the most significant takeaways. If not for all three institutions, my ability to make a well-fitting pattern would conflict with my practice of only making one pre-production sample.
Before setting up your label you divided your time between the US and Europe as a consultant designer and stylist, those twin influences seem evident in your work, can you explain how you bring them together?
The Patrick Cupid brand is very much influenced by my work and time living in Europe and the U.S. It has become a private joke I have with myself. When I presented my collection in New York people, responded with, "wow, it's so European." When I arrived in Paris, they said “it is very American”. The good thing is they all loved it.
I always have liked comparisons. You can see it in the All in Jest Collection. The concept is derived from Western European Medieval culture and is paired with '80s New York street style, breaking the ideas down their core. The result is a minimal representation of two periods that were all about hyper glam and elaborate dress. Both periods epitomized power dressing, and the central figure behind the concept embodied that.
I was curating art exhibitions in the U.K. around my studies in Italy, traveling back and forth between Milan, Belfast, and London. I conversed with artists in two different countries daily. It exposed me to many new ideas. The vibrance of the art in Europe is astonishing. I fell in love with London's street art scene and Italian youth culture.
Galleries around East London have an emboldened aesthetic and are more welcoming to new ideas and a younger audience. I have yet to see an installation as exhilarating as the Gonzalo Borondo exhibit in 2015. The whole experience changed me.
In Italy, I learned to appreciate the nature of the human body. Italian clothing and fabric allows the body to move and undulate the way nature intended. It is magnificent, even the way the shoes wrap your feet, the clothes respect the bodies innate beauty.
The US offers so many counter-cultures. You see it just walking the streets of New York. I grew up seeing Jamaican women who had pink and purple hair in the '80s and '90s; this was just everyday fashion to them when the world laughed and called them ghetto. Now everyone's hair is pink or green. It was only a matter of time that we started eating from each other's gardens. New York is home to many variations in music, ethnicity, flavors, art styles, and fashion. The culture derived from Black people in the Americas has changed the world.
The Bronx has quietly been influencing fashion for years. It is a place where multiple cultures trade unique style concepts, promoting new trends. Unconventional and full of inspiration is the only way to describe the particularities of fashion in the Bronx.
Patrick Cupid, the brand, carries staple items that have a personal connection to me. Sweatshirts bring the comfort of home and that little bit of street edge. The clothes are versatile because I have learned, no matter what the city you're in, women have developed a personal. There are no more social dictates for taste. I have changed since I first began to travel, and so naturally, my design aesthetic evolved. I began to appreciate fashion in New York now that I could see it from the outside and get a clearer picture.
Fashion in Europe has to be functional; in the States, it is representational. I have simply merged the two sensibilities, understanding that women are individual and no longer adhere to dress codes. I could give you numerous concepts and ideas based on cultural differences and art movements that inspire what I create. But in truth, it is merely the women I have encountered that dictate my design.
People ask me, "Who is your customer? Who is the woman you design for?". Indeed there is no one "woman". I design for women.
In your brand video, you say your designs are not what people expect; before they see your work, they are expecting something perhaps more urban or sports influenced and it's not that at all, do you enjoy defying expectations or do the assumptions frustrate you?
People don't expect streetwear from me; they think it is what I should be doing. Because to them, street fashion requires no talent at all. Even after seeing my work, it is suggested that I design a streetwear line. People have said to me: "you are Black, and from the Bronx, you should do streetwear; it will sell big in Europe because they like Black American style. They are obsessed with the ghetto. So you should pretend to be more hip-hop". They propose streetwear as if they have discovered the key to my success. Supposedly, designers, who happen to be black, can only find a modicum of success in streetwear.
The word black before the word designer is used to label it as other or lesser. Like being asked, “how come you're so talented?” It is just hard for some people to accept.
Even during my studies, I was relegated to specific expectations. I had a project once we had to design a collection that expressed our origins. I chose a place called Wave Hill because of its gardens. The professor shut it down immediately and said this isn't the Bronx, where is the graffiti? The Bronx I grew up in had trees and houses. My house had a white picket fence and an inground pool. It is ridiculous, like those who say I should be dressed in black all the time, so I look "more like a designer".
I laugh at these things. Not because I enjoy defying expectations, but because it's absurd for anyone to think they know something they have never experienced. I will simply do what I believe in, regardless of what others expect. There is no greater affirmation than to see someone wearing what was once just a figment of my imagination.
My appearance has nothing to do with my design sensibility and the level of attention I put into my collections. Everything I design comes from ideas I expand upon through research. It is personal to me because the concepts are mine. But the clothes are meant for others.
Your colour sensibility is incredible; what inspired you in particular when choosing your palettes?
There are many sources of colour inspiration. It depends on the concept I am working out. I never look for easy combinations, though.
For the Summer 2020 collection "Elementary", I merged several ideas. In this collection, I use colour as a way to express them all. For example, the maxi dress in the coral print is sunburst pleated in a lightweight silk georgette. The silhouette is similar to temple columns, and the drapery styles found in Egyptian hieroglyphs. The full circle cut allows the dress to billow and float as you move, composing an ethereal experience for both the wearer and the audience.
I have a fascination with mythology and theology. The original idea for the collection started with research on Voodoo and Santeria, which derive from the ancient Yoruba religion. It then evolved into the Caribbean and Latin American anthropology.
I imagined being on this huge wooden ship looking into the water for the first time, in the new world, and seeing the coral reef in the waves. Then, I considered how colonialism corroded ancient cultural identities. In the same way, the rain and sun rust metal.
There is a myth of Oshun bringing Ogun back to the city and saving the Orishas. She achieves this because she is a woman. Ogun, an ancient deity, is the Orisha of Metal in the Yoruba religion. Yellow is the color of Oshun, and the deformity of rusted metals and a coral reef distorted beneath the waves inspired the pallet and prints. Sounds of Latin music and the Caribbean breeze dictated silhouettes and texture.
It's not easy setting up a label, how did you get yours off the ground and how did you build a client base?
Not a simple task when you are a one-person operation! Thankfully, I have a brilliant network of people in my corner who helped me fund the first collection and mentored me along the way. Without them, it would have been much more difficult. Though I am also ambitious enough to pursue anything, I set my mind to avidly.
I have worked in almost every possible job one can do in fashion. I have overseen a models agency, a PR agency, a consultancy, a photography studio, a furniture showroom, and an art gallery. Still, nothing compares to designing clothing for me. So I applied the experiences I've already had to launch my brand.
I am still building that client base every day. Fashion is continually shifting, and with the recent effects of COVID -19, drastic reforms are at the door. However, I believe in slow, steady growth.
My goal is longevity! So with each collection, I look for newer markets and buyers I have not encountered before. I have been showing the collection during Paris Fashion Week, which has introduced me to a broader audience. I am not here to be today's trend and be gone tomorrow.
I have made several attempts to build a brand in the past and failed. But each time taught me that I was more talented than I realized. I changed my approach and opened myself up to a fluid business model, focusing on my core beliefs in responsible design, quality, and controlled production.
Let's talk about distribution now, you have stockists in NY and Paris and you would like to expand, are there particular markets you particularly want to get into?
The United Kingdom is an essential goal for me, then probably Hong Kong, or somewhere in mainland China. I want to foster relationships with stockists. I have been talking to boutiques in Turkey and Dubai. So hopefully something will come of that. They are two key markets where I am eager to have a presence.
I believe in supporting the stockists rather than flooding the market with product. I would much rather have a strong relationship with one or two critical retailers in each market, where customers can experience the brand, as opposed to 10 or 20 locations all competing. I think this is one of the significant problems retail has in terms of sales performance.
You've just launched e-commerce, in the middle of a pandemic we should, add. How did you achieve that and how has it been going?
The period of quarantine has allowed more time to develop an on-brand e-commerce site. I'm a small brand without massive funding, so I take on most of the workload, including designing e-commerce sites. You have to learn so many things to move forward.
Initially, I was hesitant to sell direct through e-commerce. Having customers experience the brand in person is always preferred. However, having a new site (www.patrickcupid.com) has given me much more visibility and a platform to express the brand identity more clearly than through social media. So far, the site has seen a lot of traffic, and I have noticed my Instagram following increasing daily.
When I launched, I posted a few small ads with some social media vloggers. The ads helped to drive traffic. I think now is the right time to have launched the site, as people are spending more time surfing the web. Though I still think nothing compares to the brick and mortar experience when buying emerging designer brands. So my goal is to continue communicating with buyers, to ensure customers can still experience the clothing in a physical space, and not just online.
Can we talk about your approach to seasonality and sustainability? Are you adhering to the traditional seasons or are you taking a different approach?
I like the idea of telling stories through clothing, instead of focusing on a particular season. The narratives evolve but are still relative to the previous collections, like a book of poems. This way, the assortments communicate with each other; instead of following multidirectional trends and prolonging the life cycle of garments in each grouping. Pieces from previous collections layered with garments from more recently available styles. Keeping ideas and looks fresh, allowing the wearer to invent her style by mixing and matching pieces. The Sweatshirt from Fall 19 paired with a blouse or dress from 2021.
To make this a reality, people have to love what they are wearing. Not just because of how they look in it, but also what it means to wear it. So quality and ethics are of the highest priority.
Patrick Cupid is a responsible brand bringing love back into consumerism. What I want to sustain is a relationship between brand and buyer. That is why the collections are more like poems than driven by season. Now, I feel like Scheherazade, saving fashion.
So, when I started the brand, I had several questions to answer. Why does someone only wear a garment once or for a short time? Why do clothes end up on the sale rack or in the rubbish bin? The answer is; people no longer have any relationship to what they buy. When everything is cool, nothing is cherished.
Sustainability is a made-up term that many people don't fully understand and causes a great deal of confusion for both brand and consumer. To sustain means to repeat, maintain, or prolong. I am learning new things every day and hope that Patrick Cupid, the brand and I, continue to evolve in innovative ways. I believe in protecting life, not a way of life.
I am very cautious about the environmental impact of the Patrick Cupid brand. The people who work to make my dream a reality, deserve a decent living too. I certainly never want to find anything I design in the rubbish bin. That's worse than a 50% off sale tag.
It is not just choosing the best natural fabrics. I partner with manufacturers that have a higher work ethic. I repurpose materials from previous collections and produce limited quantities to avoid overproduction and waste. These efforts make the brand more exclusive, keeps garments out the bin, and helps manufacturers pay fair wages to their staff. The only thing I design for the ocean is a swimsuit.
Your clothes are all made in NY; was that important to you?
There is no place in the world equal to the Garment Center in New York City. The world built it, and in return, it has influenced the world through fashion. People know your name, and I've met many producers just riding in elevators.
In other markets, there are very few jobbers and suppliers. If you are an emerging brand, it is challenging to break through without massive financial backing. Designers are obliged to deal with merchants that have huge minimums for fabrics – forcing them to produce vast quantities of products, which also creates a lot of waste.
Everything is available in NY, and there is room for a brand like Patrick Cupid. Manufacturing in NY allows for higher quality control and transparency in the supply chain, which is vital for a growing brand in its early stages. The access it offers makes a brand like mine possible.
Very often, comparisons are drawn of the quality in garment construction based on European standards. But it's forgotten that the majority of the NY garment centre comprises of businesses started by European immigrants spanning generations. Entrepreneurs who worked with the couturiers of the past. So the technique and skill is still very much alive here, just evolved for commercial production. Unfortunately, as rent increases and most people no longer study to be tradesmen, many of the businesses are dwindling.
There are two brothers I've known since I was in high school; Amid and Hamed. They each owned a fabric store that carried some of the most beautiful deadstock fabrics. Now there is only Amid who always greets me with a smile and lets me run wild with a scissor.
Presumably, making locally and keeping the collections tight, means less waste? Are there other ways you try to make your collections sustainable and ethical?
Local development also means shorter production times and faster deliveries. The very thing fast fashion has tried to emulate has been happening in NY for decades, without the negative social and environmental impact.
Re-educating consumers is vital, which is why terms like sustainability are a problem because they are too broad. I'd like to get people to value their belongings and attach sentiment to what they buy. Achieving this means less clothing in landfills and oceans.
The goal is to get consumers to repurpose their clothes through styling and, hopefully, creating heirlooms in the process. Small adjustments applied in the construction of the garments help promote this concept. I design pants with a 5/8" seam allowance enabling them to be altered and adjusted for fit. Applying philosophies like; the skirt that never gets old is never a waste but always a good investment.
Using natural and biodegradable fabrics is another way of being responsible. I primarily use of cotton sourced from local mills, that don't require long-haul freight and available materials stocked at local suppliers. Even the dying process is done here in New York City, in a process that uses less water and produces much less chemical waste than larger dye houses in foreign countries.
Having all of the suppliers and factories within walking distance eliminates the need for cars or trucks, so we're pretty low on carbon emissions. Patrick Cupid recognises it doesn't take much effort to be a responsible brand. It's merely about conscious decision making.
Fashion is doing a lot of soul searching at the moment, for various reasons, what changes would you like to see?
COVID-19 has been a great revelation on so many levels. Many things that have long been ignored and passively dismissed have cornered us, and addressing them is paramount. Racism in the fashion industry is now coming to a head, along with big brands and large retailers' lack of empathy for the factory workers producing their products. With only three months of factory shutdowns, the environment has reacted in positive ways. There is no going back from here.
Throwing together three or four South Sudanese models is not diversity. All black people do not look alike and do not live in Africa. I don't see why there is always a wave of Black type. And where are the Asian models? Every brand seems to want that Yuan, but where are the faces?
I would like to see if more inclusion of emerging brands in retail and press. The doors of the fashion industry used to be wide open for new talent. However, As time moves on, it becomes more restrictive, as companies only show interest in partnering with established labels.
It's like we forget that the major brands of today were once small labels that partnered with and supported other small businesses. As a result, they grew together. Where are the individuals who dare to be different? We don't see innovators anymore either. There would be no McQueen without Mrs Blow.
From 2002 - 2007, I would post listings on the Fashion Calendar for events I was producing during NYFW. The founder of the Fashion Calendar, Ruth Finley, was a wonderful person who would advise me on the best dates to present and avoid conflict with other brands. She was very supportive of new talent. This kind of openness no longer exist. The CFDA took over the calendar, and now they dictate who gets to list on the official schedule. Without that listing, it is tough to get attention from the right people. Buyers are slow to show interest in new brands. New labels need all the help and exposure they can get.
Changes in the current retail buying model could use a bit reform too. Many boutiques and department stores carry the same brands; meanwhile, the label has an eponymous boutique just down the road. It makes no sense to me. I would like to see more retailers carry and promote exclusive products, not just buy solely based on-trend. Stores inundated with repeat brands, where most of the products will end up on the sale rack as they continue to close or file bankruptcy.
If we stay focused on what we know and are familiar with, how do we grow? New revenue comes from new business; new products generate new business. Not just about flooding new markets with more of the same.
What is your opinion about Fashion Weeks? They seem to be facing some sort of existential crisis that has been worsened by the COVID crisis. How do you see the future?
As more brands talk about producing digital events and 3D shows, I worry about models and agents. I used to be a booking agent, and many of these showrooms mean a great deal. What will happen to an industry that pulled a lot of young men and women out of poverty and offered another way to live?
“Piano, Piano” is an Italian expression, meaning step by step or slowly. I think people are in panic mode, afraid of the uncertain. But, the past can offer many answers and solutions. I think using the downtime to make the best-informed decisions is critical. Some brands will survive, and some will falter depending on the choices they make.
Given the current situation and what we now know, I think it is wiser to focus on strengthening brand awareness domestically and exploring local production resources, even as a backup. A lot of brands suffered because of the quarantine. The inability to fill orders or produce garments due to quarantine and border closures proved that brands should not rely solely on foreign production. Travel will be slow, but that means people will be staying closer to home.
Companies could take advantage of this test run at remote working, which could save a lot of capital, requiring less office space going forward, and video conferencing replaces six to twelve-hour flights. Yes, many people are out of work, but new jobs require new clothes, while others have been saving money by not frequenting the pub daily. So I suspect people will be out shopping.
Being fluid and adaptive is imperative as we wait for clarity. You can't solve problems you don't fully understand. I worry about companies who have completely changed their entire strategy without testing it or knowing what the market will do.
Brick and mortar shops will still be relevant as customer service will be a significant driving force in brand loyalty. Experiences will become a driving factor in attracting business. Domestic presence will be what saves some brands going forward.
Designers need to slow it down. There are four seasons in a Year, not eight. Planning your collection for the entire year or biannually broken into several deliveries would save you time, and you'd be able to combine your production, helping you to meet your minimums without overproducing and overselling.
Small brands are more likely to deliver products in shorter time frames. Most small labels produce closer to home, so should we see another quarantine. Working with emerging brands, to keep shelves stocked, is probably less risky.
Finally, what is the future ambition for the Patrick Cupid label
The website is just the first step in going direct to consumer. My goal is to open a retail location if I find the right space away from other retailers who carry the Patrick Cupid brand. Direct to consumer sales and retail must be symbiotic going forward, supporting each other rather than competing for the same audience.
I am seeking out new retail partnerships while planning the next chapter. Menswear is definitely on the horizon and late summer early fall, I am hoping to host a pop-up. I am excited to see what the next season will bring.
Find out more about Patrick Cupid at www.patrickcupid.com
One to Watch is a series of features shining a spotlight on independent brands and designers. If you would like to be featured or nominated a brand or designer to be featured, please email [email protected]