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Marin's New Guard of Young Designers



Rag trade reality: Christopher Collins at work in his Sutter Street design studio.

Photos by Tim Porter

It takes chutzpah, creative chops and business acumen to launch a fashion collection. In Marin, we caught up with three young designers who are rising through the fashion ranks one collection at a time. The lines conceived by San Rafael’s Christopher Collins, Mill Valley’s Catherine Fitzsimmons and Tiburon’s Anyi Lu couldn’t be more different from one another, but each hopes to parlay a personal aesthetic into the
fashion world’s next obsession.

With the economy still not hospitable to seekers of success, the question is, what does it take to make it with your own label far away from Los Angeles and New York’s fashion glitterati and have staying power in a world where you’re only as good as your last collection?

Christopher Collins isn’t exactly new to the fashion world; in fact, he has over a decade of experience in the industry, with previous stints at Neiman Marcus, Tadashi and Dina Bar-el. However, the 30-year-old designer not only recently launched his own contemporary couture collection with his business partner and creative director, Erica Filanc Tanamachi, but is a contestant in the eighth season of Project Runway.

Best friends for nearly their whole lives, Collins and Tanamachi traveled through South America and visited Machu Picchu together in their 20s. After a four-day hike to the end of the Inca Trail, covered in dirt, they made a pact to someday run a business together.

“Everything I’m not, she is — it’s the perfect union,” says Collins. Almost a decade later, after he showed at Bryant Park with the designer Tadashi and had learned the real ins and outs of design— sketching, conference calls and dealing with production overseas— Collins knew it was time to design his own line. His eponymous collection has an attention to detail, is perfectly tailored and includes fabrics that (shock!) actually feel good on the skin. Goals for the future of the line include continuing to build brand awareness and getting items into major department stores. “Our mission statement and goal is to provide wearable fashion for the everyday woman,” says Collins. “We dress real women in every shape.”
Christopher Collins, 415.440.2464, christophercollinscollection.com

Anyi Lu is one of the most talented new additions to the footwear market, although seemingly unlikely for that role. The former chemical engineer and competitive ballroom dancer started designing footwear after noticing a lack of shoes that look good but still feel good. When her husband, David, succeeded in convincing Lu she could give up a stable job at Chevron to pursue a design career, she jumped feetfirst, taking illustration classes at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, then moved to Los Angeles to work with the well-known shoe designer and former orthopedic surgeon Taryn Rose. Lu says her collections can be inspired by just about anything. The ideas for her spring 2010 line came from the Philippine coral reef at the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco; other pieces have come to pass after days spent just people-watching in Marin.

With a hectic travel schedule (she flew eight times to Florence last year to work with shoe factories), jet lag is one of the hardest parts of her job, but the time investment seems to be paying off. The brand is on target for a 50 percent growth in revenue in 2010, and Lu says she hopes to expand from two to possibly four collections each year. She also has thoughts of stepping into the bridal and wedding market.
Anyi Lu, 415.789.8891, anyilu.com

Catherine Fitzsimmons is one of those rare types who after years of skimming the perimeter, has finally found not only what she’s great at but what she really loves. Her brand Rikshaw Design started after Fitzsimmons left jobs as a visual merchandiser for Ralph Lauren, a textile buyer for Pottery Barn and a stint in interior design to create her own line.

Always passionate about beautiful fabrics and bringing a complete look to life, Fitzsimmons wanted to bring a line to the market that had a “different flair.” From her Mill Valley studio, she creates women’s kurtas, baby hats and bloomers and crib bedding, all with Indian-inspired fabrics that feature block-printing and exciting color combinations.

The self-taught Fitzsimmons admits she isn’t a technical designer by any stretch, but she instinctively knows what she likes and what she doesn’t, which lends her designs a specific aesthetic — one that her clients can’t get enough of.

For the future, Fitzsimmons hopes to expand the line to create more adult offerings, accessories and older children’s clothing.
Rikshaw Design, 877.474.5742, rikshawdesign.com

For future designers, Marin’s up-and-coming have advice you can only get from experience. Christopher Collins suggests never losing focus on “who your customer is, where she is and what makes you so perfect for her.” Anyi Lu recalls Thomas Edison’s sage advice: “Genius is 1 percent inspiration, 90 percent perspiration.” And Catherine Fitzsimmons says, “Start your business with the goal to sell one piece. If you start with lofty expectations you will be let down and then your momentum stops. It’s all about the momentum.”

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