I met Samantha Rei several years ago when I attended a fantastically fun show she put on at Hell’s Kitchen with an amazing live band and endless stellar looks. Her steampunk-influenced line was called Blashphemina’s Closet back then, but she’s moving forward with an eponymous line and the descriptor, “Beauty. Strength. Rebellion.” Her bio closes with the line, “Samantha strives to help women feel confident, strong and comfortable in their own skin. She believes they can all be beautiful warriors.” Can you see why I adore her?
Samantha is smart, witty, warm, and fantastically talented. I am so excited to see where her new line and direction will take her. Let’s hear from Samantha!
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Did you study fashion or design in school, or have any formal training in sewing or tailoring?
I was self taught through most of the beginning of my career. I learned to sew from my mother when I was very young (she’s been sewing since she was about 4 or something). I went to Minneapolis Community and Technical College at 25 for Apparel Technologies.
At what point did you decide you wanted to launch your own clothing line? What made you take the plunge?
At about 13 I decided I wanted to be a designer. I didn’t exactly know what my design aesthetic was, though, until I was about 18. I was the goth kid in my high school, but I was also really outgoing and bubbly. I like anime and Japanese stuff, cute things, story books. When I stumbled onto Lolita fashion I became obsessed with it. It was all the things I liked, spookiness, cuteness, sometimes bright colors. By the time I was 19 I realized I couldn’t get that stuff here, especially in my size, and that other people in the U.S. might be having the same problem as me. So I started “Blasphemina’s Closet.” Making clothing accessible is really important, so I decided there was not better time than then. As of September 2013, though, I’m closing BC and launching my new label, “Samantha Rei.”
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Feminine, whimsical, soft yet powerful, original.
What do you love about designing? What is challenging and frustrating?
I love that I can tell a story with my designs. Each season I can create my own narrative and bring the viewer and the client into the world I created. I love getting to go through my entire creative process. People are generally surprised that I have 2-4 collections planned out in advance. Well, that’s how you do it in this industry. Preparation and research. Those are the keys to success.
The most frustrating is trying to create that vision in a way that will both get good reviews and sell. One of the things I can’t stand is when something is looked at on the runway and called unwearable. I feel that invalidates my clients. If it was unwearable, people wouldn’t be wearing it! I understand not understanding runway styling, but if it wasn’t over-the-top styled for the show, people would complain it was boring. Look at my F/W 2013 collection “Party Monster” for example. OTT runway styling (eyeballs and yarn pony-falls), but underneath it all it was party dresses, leggings, and t-shirts.
Do you envision your work on a New York runway? In a department store? As an underground favorite? How would you define success for your line?
Absolutely, all of the above. With my new label “Samantha Rei” I feel so free. My new collection “Cyclone Wasteland” is probably the most ME collection I’ve designed in ages. I loved my last two collections with all of my heart, but I feel with the restraints of Lolita and alternative fashion lifted from me, the designs have become more honest. I would love to sell in CUSP or Kirna Zabete. I like those stores because they are run by bigger entities but are for people in the know about fashion so the client will still feel like they are the only one with that dress. They won’t have to worry about running into someone at a party wearing their look.
Success would make me a household name amongst fans of fashion and women with confidence. Success would have “Samantha Rei” become synonymous with both strength and femininity.
Can you tell us a bit about your new collection, Cyclone Wasteland?
Cyclone Wasteland is based on the Wizard of Oz and influenced by Mad Max. Dorothy goes to Oz, awakens Ozma, and assembles a group of fellow citizens of Oz to reclaim their country. If you’re in a pretty dress and you have to fight, are you going to take it off or put armor on over it? I’d like to think a pretty dress doesn’t ruin your ability to fight. I think the ability to incorporate it into your daily armor makes you even stronger. The women of Cyclone Wasteland are beautiful warriors based on Art Nouveau paintings. Ozma is an Art Nouveau princess and she was one of my style icons growing up. I wanted to add an ambiguous tribal edge to the already floral/feather headpieces so Apatico teamed up with Artist Built to create beautiful Art Nouveau headpieces for our group of beautiful warriors in their quest to take back what was ripped from them. The collection is a study of beauty, femininity, and strength and how these things can go well together without sacrificing any one thing.
What would you suggest to anyone hoping to create and launch a clothing line? Which of your own experiences were the most valuable/useless?
Be patient (most designers don’t “make it” until they are 35), learn EVERYTHING, don’t be defensive, don’t take reviews to heart. Look through reviews for the constructive parts. If there aren’t any, ignore them. Save money, do research, take on internships. Be ready to be exhausted, take time for yourself, make LOTS of contacts (a lot of this industry is who you know). Study different types of fashion (mainstream, alternative), be open minded and above all else, be brave. Forge headlong into battle with no regrets. If you’re not ready to fight for it, you’re not ready. Listen to the fire in your heart.
Model images by Fairshadow Photography