Sam Giordano is the creator of NYC-based womenswear line, Dolores Haze. Her unique take on fashion is no doubt a reflection on her thorough investigation on the dual nature of the modern female experience. Borrowing from the name of the title character in Vladmir Nobokov’s novel Lolita, Giordano launched Dolores Haze in 2013 with a stunning Spring/Summer ’14 collection and has since debuted a dynamic Fall ’14 collection that only begins to reveal her creative vision for the line. Much like the story of the fictional character, Giordano’s line is never what it appears and yields unexpected combinations: feminine pleats in plaid with short, devious hems; innocent pastels given a masculine edge through accents of UK moto-inspired leather; and classic dresses boasting sleek silhouettes modernized with sexy, peek-a-boo cutouts constructed of menswear fabrics. These along with other subtle details (right down to the buttons she thoughtfully chooses) succeed in elevating the line to high-end sophistication.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, photographer Andrew Segreti and I visited Giordano at Dolores Haze HQ in Brooklyn. Her studio was a beautiful hodgepodge of sewing supplies, clothing racks, meticulous collages of drawings and magazine clippings upon the walls, bouquets of dried flowers, and personal artifacts begging to tell their stories. It soon became apparent that she has a broad range of knowledge on many topics that find their way into her art. As Segreti set up, he and Giordano struck up a casual conversation that began with their shared interest in Phillip K. Dick, transforming into a discussion on existentialism that revealed Giordano’s fascination with philosophy and how things that appear one way can be another underneath. This stumbled into speculation on Nietzsche’s digestive troubles (I, previously unaware of his health problems, proposed a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease), then took a turn when Giordano promised Segreti a personalized astrological reading.
The day lingered on pleasantly into the fading light until we parted, only to leave me feeling more intrigued by the talented Sam Giordano and her striking Dolores Haze.
Interview by Jessica Straw. Photographed by Andrew Segreti.
Your choice of fabrics is quite unique, elevating pieces that would more commonly be associated as girly cuts to mature styles; what prompts you to use materials in this way?
I often find myself inspired by nostalgia, and for the Fall ’14 collection, this was translated into using menswear textiles. I spent much of my childhood hunting alongside my father and waiting around in British menswear shops in a sea of the finest traditional men’s hunting fabrics. I love plaids and tartans but finding this type of fabrication in a dress is pretty arduous, and I often find myself wearing men’s buttondowns as a makeshift tunic instead. After searching NYC for interesting fabrics, I stumbled upon some vintage dead stock menswear fabric that unlike most was drapey and perfect for a womenswear collection.
How did you get your start in fashion, or rather, what series of life events lead you to start Dolores Haze?
Art has always been my passion, but I didn’t flirt with the idea of being a designer until the end of my senior year of high school when I landed a design internship at Nicole Miller. Later that summer while on vacation in Los Angeles, I saw t-shirts that I had hand dyed and embellished – it was the coolest feeling! After that I knew I wanted to be a designer. The very same year I read the book Lolita and thought to myself “when I have a fashion line I am going to name it Dolores Haze, after Lolita,” and here I am a decade later. Throughout my undergrad I studied sculpture, where I’d create these installations that involved neon, images of the virgin Mary, and dresses surrounded by melting candles. Funny enough, an old friend from college mentioned how she could see the way my voice has endured over the years and is present in the aesthetic of Dolores Haze.
Your FALL14 collection features a striking Mother Mary print; how do you source the fabric and what inspired you to incorporate religious icons into the collection?
I am always drawn to archetypical images of femininity, and happen to have stumbled across this print on a recent trip to London. My Italian, strict Catholic grandmother worked in the fashion industry and the print is an homage to her. The fabric was sourced from an Indian immigrant-owned shop in London, who sourced the religious African-wax print from African vendors in Denmark. Typically, all Dolores Haze fabric is domestically sourced in NYC, but the Mother Mary print allowed us to be part of the global fashion community by supporting small business owners and the tradition of immigrants moving to the West to pursue a better life for themselves and family.
What motivated you to establish Dolores Haze as a brand that promotes sustainable fashion?
I learned about New York’s Triangle Shirtwaist Factory incident as a ten year old at Hebrew School. I am Eastern European Jewish and the garment industry’s ethical mishaps are part of my cultural identity. I was taught the importance of fair labor regulations after futilely attempting to read excerpts from the bible in Hebrew. On top of that, I have lived in the Lower East Side for five years now and I can look out my window and see the corner where activist Emma Goldman stood giving speeches to crowds of garment workers in the early 20th century. Factory jobs are essential components to our economy and the American Dream, we rarely think about the impact of globalization on our economy and social mobility.
It was not until later, when I was designing for a major corporation that I realized how horrific fashion is for the environment. If you break down the carbon emissions from one garment it is insane: fabric is from Korea, zipper is from Hong Kong, embroidery done in India, tags made in China, and the finished garment sent to a warehouse in the US then sent to store. One shirt may have gone on many plane rides across the world before it even gets into your hands. Global warming is not a joke, and it is important to realize what is effecting it goes beyond just cars and recycling bottles.
Have any specific designers or artists influenced the label; or is there a particular world of art you look to stimulate your creative juices?
I constantly try to expose myself to different creative stimuli when searching for inspiration. However, there are several artists whose aesthetic have become permanent fixtures as my creative influences. I repeatedly find inspiration in the artistic works of Tracey Emin and illustrations by Egon Schiele, along with photographs by William Eggelston, transcending these concepts into youthful silhouettes that echo the message of a return to femininity and girlish charm with a hint of melancholy. These artists share a similar earnest voice along with soft color palettes that I always find myself gravitating towards.
You state that through the brand, you are “… reexamining the subversive meaning of Lolita, and the dichotomy that exists in our understanding of the feminine.” What in the FALL14 and SS14 collections do you feel speaks to this dichotomy, and how will you continue this investigation within the next Dolores Haze collection?
For the Fall ’14 collection this was manifested through fabric, where leather and mens’ textiles created something undeniably feminine, and of course the Mother Mary print is a reference to our cultural understanding of the feminine. The styling for both collections was a nod to this as well. For the SS14 film the models adorned dark oxblood lips and heavy silver jewelry while posing in silky pastel garments. While for Fall, the model rocked a septum piercing with dark red lips again. I love juxtaposing the harsh with the delicate, which strongly echoes the story of Lolita.
Given your education in social services as well as fashion design, do you feel your background in case work has influenced your approach to Dolores Haze?
My background in social services has only further impressed the importance of social responsibility and understanding of the notion that we are part of a community.
Assuming Lolita was not a fictional character, what pieces from your collections would you pull to style her for a leisurely Spring day in Brooklyn?
Lolita dies at the end of the story, so I have never really thought about how I would dress her. I am far more interested in what she has come to represent as opposed to how she dressed. Our understanding of this character is solely through the male gaze, Humbert Humbert. I find myself thinking about how I can design clothing that makes women feel positive about themselves, as opposed to dressing in a way where they unconsciously self-objectify.
Where is Dolores Haze currently sold?
And for the Wild Card Question: What mythological creature would you choose to be the Dolores Haze mascot?
The Dolores Haze mascot, no question, would be Sirens, the original femme fatales!