designer suzanne rae wants us all to play dress-up
Her namesake line challenges traditional ideas of gender and champions freedom of expression.
Image courtesy of Suzanne Rae.
Suzanne Rae Pelaez didn't always know that she wanted to be a designer. It was not until she was preparing for the Medical College Admission Test and working in a NYC art gallery that she recognized that she wanted to take the plunge. Although she grew up citing fashion as a constant form of inspiration, Pelaez says that choosing a career path in fashion was not in her line of vision — her parents had always motivated her to choose a job in the medical, financial, or legal fields. “After some soul searching, I thought that perhaps I should consider fashion, which had always been a constant despite all my dabbling in various departments,” says Pelaez, "I also thought that perhaps fashion would be good vehicle for enabling me to explore and express my interests in art, feminism, and socio-economics.”
Pelaez’s draw to these subjects has informed her designs greatly since the brand’s inception. She studied women’s studies in college and cites authors, such as Simone de Beauvoir, Judith Butler, Angela Davis, and Paula England, as great influences. “When I'm designing, I do think about what I'm doing and what it means — for me and for the wearer,” she says, “I think the exploration of feminist theory and gender studies comes through in both the details of the clothes as well as our visual communication.”
Steeped in feminist ideology and challenging traditional ideas of gender, Suzanne Rae’s Spring/Summer 2019 collection creates a world where total freedom of expression is encouraged — “Where anyone — he, she, they — can be as unapologetically ‘girl-y’ or as ‘beautiful’ as they want,” describes Pelaez, “It is within this fantastic realm where the often disregarded or underrated female sphere, including the art of dress-up, is recognized and respected.” Featured in the collection are pink, green, and blue hues alongside romantic shapes and forms — such as Rococo bows, puff sleeves, and tulle.
Similar concepts are further explored in the Fall/Winter 2019 collection, which Pelaez has nicknamed "WHITE COLLAR, BLUE COLLAR, NO COLLAR." "Having just given birth to my second daughter in November, I was reminded of the immense work that is motherhood and of how little our society appreciates it basically because there is no monetary compensation for being a mother,” shares Pelaez, "This notion then led me to think about the various fields of work — how they have been categorized, classified, stereotyped, and, most importantly, how they are being challenged and changing."
The collection transforms traditional items of clothing that are associated with these different classes and reimagines them: For instance mom leggings and suspender skirts reminiscent of aprons are paired with mechanic jumpsuits and work jackets. Postal worker-inspired denim is seen alongside mini-skirts, and hoodies and blazers coexist in the same realm. “The collection takes visual cues from the different classes — white collar, blue collar, and no collar, for example stay-at-home mothers or fathers, and playfully mashes them up so as to create a dialog that deconstructs the socially fabricated tropes and defies gender, class, and race,” shares Pelaez. “While the lines are blurred and the mash-up is intentional, the common thread is that anyone can create her/his/their reality and look fabulous in any job or position they hold.”
Besides boundary-pushing designs, Suzanne Rae also holds a strong commitment to social awareness, sustainability, and slow fashion. For instance, most clothing items are produced locally in New York City’s Garment District. Making garments locally helps to cut back on production’s carbon footprint, while also creating jobs that can, in turn, assist in stimulating the community’s economy. Having factories nearby also allows the brand to have a personal relationship with its workers, thus ensuring that a code of conduct is upheld. “First of all, there is just too much out there,” explains Pelaez, “Too much of everything. So if we are going to produce more, employ people, and keep certain crafts alive, we must do so in a way that keeps people and our Earth healthy and thriving. That’s it. Otherwise, we are the problem and not the solution.” Apart from sustainability, Suzanne Rae is passionate about social causes and supports women’s groups, such as Girls Inc. and WIN (Women in Need), and environmental organizations, such as the Endangered Species Coalition, among others.
When asked why these pillars: social awareness and sustainability, should especially exist at the forefront of everyone’s lives, Pelaez offers a simple but powerful response that reminds us just how interconnected we all are: “We get so caught up in our own lives that it's easy to lose sight of people and things that don't directly affect us,” says Pelaez, “But the thing is, it all affects us, and we affect them.”