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Dauphinette founder Olivia Cheng believes that her fun-loving clothing, jewellery and accessories can lift your mood. We spoke with the up-and-coming designer about style icons, sustainability and how to spend 24 hours in New York City.
One of the greatest things about fashion is its ability to instantly change your mood, something Dauphinette’s founder Olivia Cheng knows all too well. In fact, the rising star describes the New York-based brand’s uplifting clothing, jewellery and accessory collections as “the happiest on earth”.
She’s right on the money – the wispy plumes fluttering at the collars and cuffs of the label’s coats are enough to make anyone smile, and they’re always realised in serotonin-boosting hues and lively patterns. What’s more, aside from just looking good, since Dauphinette’s inception in 2018, Cheng’s designs have all been made locally and sustainably using recycled fur and leather, plus hand-painted techniques. Here the designer tells us about how travel and art provide endless inspiration, and the best way to spend 24 hours in NYC.
New York City
Where are you from?
A small town outside of Chicago, Illinois.
When did fashion first spark your interest?
I’ve always been very interested in fashion – first as an experimentational tool and later as a way to navigate our cultural atmosphere. One of my earliest memories about clothing is from when I was four and my mom sewed me a pink swing coat with leopard print buttons and a matching beret. I was extremely shy and didn’t speak up much, but I remember wearing the outfit to preschool and feeling like an emboldened version of myself. In my designs today, I try to capture that childlike essence of excitement and imagination.
What inspired you to start your own brand?
A trip to Paris. I was vintage shopping in Le Marais and noticed how people were neglecting the incredible selection of vintage furs and leathers in favour of 80s and 90s nylon sportswear. I knew I had to pay it forward to these pieces and their histories and give them a new life in a contemporary marketplace.
Where did the name Dauphinette come from?
“Dauphin” is the French term for the male heir to the throne, and the word had been on my mind a lot when I was first thinking about the brand. Since Paris was where I came up with the brand concept, I decided to feminise Dauphin in a subversive way, and it became Dauphinette.
What does your design process look like?
It’s very internal and would probably seem chaotic from the outside. For our repurposed styles, I source a vintage piece to follow a particular vision I have, or sometimes I discover an incredible vintage piece and build the design around it. For our main seasonal collection – which will be new for SS20 – I began by thinking about the types of materials I wanted to use, sketching a lot, and approaching a more traditional development process with an unconventional perspective on materials.
You often hand-paint things. Have you always been into art?
Yes! As a kid I was always, always drawing. Later, I also trained in classic oil painting and metalsmithing. Some of my favourite artists are Monet, Manet, Sargent, Rothko and Warhol.
How would you describe the Dauphinette customer?
A joy-seeking human who approaches dressing optimistically.
Which items have been the most popular so far?
The Jackie coat, Rambutan bag and Garden Party earrings.
Where can we shop your collections?
Who do you dream of seeing wearing Dauphinette?
Michelle Obama, Gemma Chan, Zendaya, or any of the women in John Singer Sargent’s portraits.
Who are your style icons?
My mum and Princess Diana.
How would you describe your personal style?
In the summer: a flowy combination of sunshine colours, flora and fauna. In autumn and winter I prefer darker colours and styling a turtleneck underneath something bright. I always carry a colourful bag too. My most-loved item of clothing is a vintage fuchsia sequined dress from the 80s. I haven’t been dancing in a long time, but I love to wear it backwards at night.
Where do you find design inspiration?
Inspiration comes best through experiencing and imagining, not from the pursuit of it. Ultimately, I derive a lot of inspiration from food, flowers, art and my journal. I’m extremely fortunate to have travelled frequently, and I find that the opportunity to travel teaches us how to be ourselves in new contexts. I write down every idea in the Notes section of my phone, which may be one of the best resources to come out of the digital age.
What’s always in your suitcase when you travel?
A Dauphinette Rambutan bag and Garden Party earrings, my journal, vintage dresses, a 35mm camera, refillable water bottle and snacks galore.
Tell us three destinations on your travel hit-list.
Tell us about Dauphinette’s stance on sustainability.
We only us recycled fur and leather, and we repurpose a lot of vintage. I believe that sustainable practices and objectives should be expected from all companies, rather than seen as being exceptional and brand-enhancing. We should all take action in our part of the supply-and-consumption cycle.
What’s next for Dauphinette?
I’m currently developing our first collection for SS20. It’s just a small number of styles, but each full of love, soul and a bit of madness. Longer term, I would love to open a store and a restaurant. I’m deeply in love with the idea of a Dauphinette clothing store/ cheese-and-wine bar.
Insider Guide to NYC
Best place to shop for stuff that’s not fashion…
Bibber and Bell in Williamsburg has an incredible selection of biodynamic and organic wines. Pick up fresh peonies in the Flower District, a block-long flower market, or books from The Strand. For small furniture and antique jewellery, there’s a store called Pippin Vintage on 17th Street and 7th Ave – the store is inside a 19th-century blacksmith’s cottage, and you enter through a narrow alleyway lined with baroque mirrors.
Top three places to thrift:
1. Madame Matovu in the West Village. Rosemary, the owner, is fabulously eccentric. Her store is luxurious, tiny and packed with magical pieces. Whenever I go in, Rosemary is always busy embellishing silk handkerchiefs with broken vintage jewellery, chatting with customers about some historical event, or quietly boycotting the Starbucks around the corner while wearing pounds of vintage Chanel jewellery.
2. East Village Thrift Shop on 12th street. You can find some amazing pieces here for under $15.
3. Vintage Thrift on 3rd Ave. It has an incredible edit of homeware and antique art for reasonable prices.
What are your favourite museums and galleries?
The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dia Beacon and the Brooklyn Museum.
How should we spend 24 hours in New York?
Start with brunch at Miss Ada in Brooklyn, then walk through Fort Greene Park before heading to the Flower District in Manhattan to buy some fresh Japanese peonies. Walk downtown along the Hudson – if it’s summer, you can kayak for free at Pier 26. Stroll through West Village and soak up the magic of a New York sunset. Stop for dinner at Delice & Sarrasin on Christopher Street. It’s a small vegan French spot tucked under a twisted tree. Order the vegan cheese plate and mushroom escargots, the buckwheat galette with konjac “salmon”, and finish with the lavender rice pudding. Cap the night off by taking in a jazz show and heading to one of the neighbourhood speakeasies for elderflower margaritas.
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