Not too long after launching my site I was blessed with the opportunity to partner with Ann Taylor so the company is very near and dear to my heart. Living in the U.S. for several years I was already familiar with the brand but became an official part of their family when I was named a Brand Ambassador a year and a half ago. Over the course of this time, I have seen the brand transform from creating classic workwear collections for the mature career women to really providing chic and comfy separates that fits into the lifestyle of every woman, of any age. Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the woman that dresses America (and now Canada), Ann Taylor Creative Director Lisa Axelson, and got to pick her brain as to what inspires her day -to-day, insight into her personal style, current obsessions, things she can’t live without and a sneak peek at the upcoming holiday collection!
SE: Each season I look forward to seeing a new twist on the brand with the launch of each collection, with of course a few classic mainstays. What can women expect to see with your upcoming Holiday collection?
LA: I grew up between Seattle and Vancouver and there’s something about the holidays that get me nostalgic about home. Rustic and authentic rugged textures are the main theme but it was important that we made it really modern and urban for today’s woman while keeping it comfy and chic. It is all about bringing the texture into the brand that was inspired by mountains and tress. You will really see my love of knitwear this season. Taking traditional woollens and tweeds and transforming them. We have a plaid coat in black, grey and white, very traditional colours, but the wool is brushed at the mill, pressed and the inside is bonded to neoprene. Neoprene is really huge right now and gives the jacket a really great sculptural look.
SE: Let’s chat about fabrics. There’s seems to be a wide variety of them in your upcoming holiday collection. Probably more than I have seen in any of your past collections…
LA: I love fabric in general and doing new things with fabric, especially at our price point. You always see fabric experimentation at the high end and I feel that it’s so hard to get that level of experimentation at a lower price point. You will see quite a bit of vegan leather next season…animal friendly AND at a great price point.
SE: I took a sneak peek of the holiday collection before our chat and clearly have my faves. What pieces are near and dear to your heart that you feel will be must-haves?
LA: We have a white textured sweater that I adore and I feel resembles cracked snow. There is also a backless tuxedo jumpsuit that I wore to this year’s CFDA’s. Olivia Palermo was my date for the evening and I felt so cool and chic in my look beside her which is amazing. The bootie is my absolute hands-down favourite shoe from the entire collection. You name it; the “Biker” bootie, the “Quilted” bootie…I love them all. The leather jogger will be my go-to travel pant this Fall with a cashmere sweater and trainers. I am not schlepping around Paris in high heels…I’m just not! *laughs*
SE: I love how passionate you are about these items. What are some of your other current obsessions these days?
LA: I am obsessed with all things comfortable. Sweatshirts in brocade fabrics, leather that is comfy and not restricted and outerwear. No closet is truly complete without a few key outerwear pieces!!!
SE: I have to be completely honest, I really love your style. You seem to have perfected the “Effortlessly Chic” vibe. Can you share more on your personal style?
LA: Some days call for me to be a bit more formal, so I’m more tailored and pulled together, while on other days I’m the happiest in jeans, a cool top, a jacket over top and some sneakers. I show up to the office looking different every day depending on my work day. There are those days where I have to dash off to a dinner party afterwards in which I throw on some jewellery and exchange the sneakers for a pair of heels.
SE: In the last year or so I have noticed the brand has gone from workwear for the corporate woman to now creating chic and comfortable separates that fit into every woman’s lifestyle for a much wider age demographic. Do you feel pressure to keep up and top every season?
LA: Yes and yes. I don’t know if any of us would be any good if we didn’t feel some sort of pressure. I’ve always felt some sort of pressure since my days at design school. I frequently have that moment and say to myself, “Oh my God, what if I don’t have the next idea? What is I can’t come up with that moment, that colour, that something that lights my fire?” To help with the design process my team and I frequently go through the different scenarios of a woman’s life to help in developing a collection that mirrors today’s woman’s lifestyle…which is a bit of a challenge with there being little separation between work, home life and social. And it can be daunting because the deadlines come faster and faster and there’s pressure to deliver for a brand this big but we just have to get passed it and not dwell on it so we can find the inspiration.
SE: Speaking of inspiration, I have always wondered how designers and creative directors do it; find inspiration that is. Do you go out of your way to find it or do you just let it come to you?
LA: I think every designer is different, but for me I almost always have to be out of the office, like away from deadlines, tasks, like out of the work environment and from people asking me questions. *giggles*
SE: That’s pretty funny…but I am guessing you are being dead serious…
LA: Yes…it could be 3am and I’m half asleep and something hits me, a trip to Europe or a week off on Summer vacation. I just find that I have to get away from it and let my mind relax and the ideas just float to the surface. Interior design and architecture tends to flood my inspiration a lot in credit to my parents. My Dad was an Architect who owned his own firm and my Mother worked for him. I was always around it so I often look to that to get my first spark of inspiration. I actually love starting with something that’s non-fashion related because it forces you to think more openly, instead of combing the catwalks because then you are just repeating something someone already did. So I prefer looking to art, books (I love to read) that get me thinking about a storyline. Hemingway’s Moveable Feast was the inspiration for a Fall collection a few seasons ago.
SE: Outside of the collection, what are three things that you just couldn’t live without?
LA: Ha…there are quite a few things that I can’t live without. First, maybe Summer vacay. Family…because without them I would never get through the hard times and my iPad – the device for all things inspiring. It’s single handedly changed my life *laughs*. Maybe not for better because it’s with me all the time. Between blogs, shopping, email, music. I do so much research and get really inspired. I mean…forget about it…Pinterest! Once I start, I can’t stop. It is like the rabbit hole. If it’s 3am and I can’t sleep, there I am tapping and pining my life away.
After viewing some of the key pieces and what Axelson believes are the pillars to the upcoming 2014 Holiday Ann Taylor collection, I am convinced that they will have all your office party, cocktails with the girls, date nights outfit needs and everything in between covered this holiday season. I will be sure to give more updates before the collection hits stores and online. For more information on Ann Taylor and to view their current collection click here – and make sure to follow the brand on Instagram and Twitter for some style inspiration!