California designer Raquel Allegra on her LA vibe, luxury tie-dye and recycled prison T-shirts.
A California girl through and through, designer Raquel Allegra began her own by label selling re-worked T-shirts from Los Angeles county jails in 2007. Since then, she’s developed her own unique collection incorporating tie-dyes and shredding to create a label with a distinctly laid-back LA vibe, stocked by Net-a-Porter and Farfetch. She talks to Drapers about the stories behind her design process and her secret ambition to be a cowgirl.
Raquel Allegra pre-spring 17
Your first collection was made from recycled prison T-shirts – how did that come about?
I began by reconstructing one-off recycled T-shirts, which I sold through trunk sales at my apartment. As demand grew, I needed to find a continuous source for recycled white T-shirts and began searching for rag houses around Los Angeles. I finally found one, and it wasn’t until I was physically sorting through the pile that I learned they were from the LA county jail. When I first realised they had been worn by inmates I had conflicting feelings about using them, but I grew to see the process as something very beautiful: the transformation from something unvalued and restricted into something deeply cherished.
How did you develop the shredding technique you use in your designs?
My creative process is very intuitive, playful, and organic. In the beginning I was crocheting, working with torn up old pieces I had found. When I couldn’t find pieces with tears I liked, I began making holes and tearing them myself, starting with small details and growing the shred increasingly bigger. I was, and still am, fuelled by my customers as well. Early on, a few influential women said of my shred, “We love this, can you do more?” And I just kept going. I love when my customers present me with challenges and I get to solve a new puzzle.
You use techniques such as tie-dying too – why? Why do you think they’re not used more often?
They are difficult and labour-intensive, and most people don’t have the vision to take these techniques beyond the conventional perception of “hippie” or “rock-n-roll.” It is easy to make holes in a T-shirt and do a classic tie-dye spiral, but we take these concepts to a very elevated level. We spend months experimenting, playing, and destroying fabric to develop new techniques.
How do you balance the laid-back and luxurious design elements of your collections?
It’s all about making women feel comfortable, confident, and sexy, while at the same time creating art.
Do you think the atmosphere in LA affects the way you design?
Very much so – my brand is a California brand through-and-through. LA is my home, I’ve lived here for 13 years and I’m a born-and raised ‘norcal’ girl. There is a sense of freedom in self-expression, and laid back ease.
Raquel Allegra pre-spring 17
How does London compare with LA?
Both are huge, diverse, buzzing metropolitan cities. I love the creative energy of London. LA has year–round glorious weather, ocean, mountains, and we perhaps take ourselves a little less seriously.
If you could change one thing about the fashion industry, what would it be?
I think that the business aspect of fashion can confuse and stifle creativity. I would love to see fewer copycats and more visionaries.
What’s the best business advice you were ever given?
Way back in the beginning, several large clothing companies expressed interest in partnering with me. The best advice I was given was to listen to my heart and don’t sign anything with anyone unless it feels 100% right.
Favourite clothing brand?
My own: Raquel Allegra
Favourite places to shop?
1st Dibs, Barney’s, Net-a-Porter, Farfetch
Last fashion purchase?
Stella McCartney’s Panties of the Week
Sweden, to visit my bestie
Last book you read?
The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
Last film you watched?
A Bigger Splash
Retail at In Brief, a high-end lingerie store that used to be on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California
Cowgirl, bareback horse wrangler