By Walter Thulin
(Title Image via New Haven Register)
Large clothing retailers prioritize ease of production over artistry. Buying clothing cheaply has increasingly gotten easier, while finding bespoke or unique items has become incredibly difficult. Ease of consumption has made clothing more disposable and fashion trends fickle and shallow. Large clothing retailers outsource designs to trend-forecasting companies, which results in homogeneity even among competing brands. These companies, like WGSN, control the trends that will frontline fashion shows for years to come. Set behind steeply priced paywalls, only the largest fashion houses can access them.
Breaking away from disposable fashion is Neville Wisdom, a designer based out of New Haven. Wisdom’s clothing isn’t inexpensive: blouses run around $200 and dresses can run upwards of $250. For that price, however, Neville will tailor and customize the clothing to specifically fit the customer. Wisdom’s philosophy is simple. The customer is always first, and clothing is designed specifically to fit his or her aesthetic. To explore this design scheme, Y Fashion House interviewed Neville Wisdom and Brand Director Lauren Sprague.
Dissecting the label of a $5 dress is notoriously difficult. The price factors in material cost, assembly, shipping, the markup for the store, and company profit. At the end of the day, the money gained from the sale of a dress goes to those who actually construct or source materials. Neville rejects this format for selling clothing.
All of his clothing is constructed in-house. Between one and five tailors work on producing clothing each day. “They each have holidays, vacation time, and get paid overtime,” Neville proudly states, “It’s a huge difference between producing locally and outsourcing across the globe.” Employees at the Neville Wisdom boutiques are part of a close-knit family that focuses on making Neville’s designs come to life. Fabric is selected by Neville and Lauren for different clothing lines and brought back to the storefront to turn Neville’s designs into a reality. While this entire process makes his clothing more expensive, it also makes his fashion ethical. Wisdom avoids the production line operations that allow larger companies to operate cost-efficiently but promotes exploitation of workers across the globe.
Meanwhile, his clothing production is incredibly eco-friendly. While describing his own ecological footprint, Neville’s eyes light up. “We have almost completely eliminated paper! We can design each dress just using CAD software,” the designer exclaims. Meanwhile, Lauren has focused on drawing attention to waste and disposal with her “War on Wrap” fashion show, which featured clothing made from items that we would traditionally consider trash.
“Our business is making our clients happy enough to come back,” Lauren exclaimed briefly after meeting me, describing the philosophy driving Neville Wisdom’s boutique. Neville Wisdom’s clientele base is incredibly varied. It includes working professionals from New York and Boston, Yale Professors, and even Marta Moret, President Salovey's wife. What they all have in common, however, is hands-on treatment. Neville selects and perfectly tailors clothing to fit their differing aesthetics. Keeping these customers happy can involve spending a day tailoring a specific clothing item to be worn for an upcoming party, or specifically buying different fabric to match a color or texture criteria. Most important to Neville, however, is that the customer leaves the store happy, with a clothing item that he or she will actually wear. “Our design is driven by our clients,” he repeated, “without them, we wouldn’t exist.”
Fashion and Art
When asked about his thoughts on the distinction between clothing and fashion, Neville paused. “Fashion is every part of our life,” he said slowly. “Fashion is much more than what you wear. It’s how you wear it. It’s why you wear it,” Neville continued. “You can put someone in a beautiful dress,” he said gesturing towards a multi-layered, lacy, mid-thigh dress, “and if they’re not comfortable in it, you can tell, and the clothing won’t project their confidence onto the world.”
Fashion is the projection of oneself in the world. Wearing the same clothing as everyone else projects the same, boring image. Small, independent boutiques, like Neville Wisdom’s, keep the ability to uniquely project oneself alive. There is little overlap between clothing owned by Neville Wisdom’s customers, and with the pieces being tailored to each individual. No two outfits look the same. Small designers break from the mold created by trend forecasting companies. In not subscribing to conventional trends, smaller designers can tailor pieces towards their customer base, allowing those customers to better express themselves through their dress.
Neville Wisdom’s boutique is located on Whalley Avenue in New Haven, CT.