We sit down with Sam Giordano, the talent behind fashion label, Dolores Haze. Sam tells us why the main character from Nabokov's classic, Lolita, inspires not only her fashion line but the way we portray archetypal images of femininity in modern society.
Where are you from?
I was born in New York City and when I was about five we moved to New Jersey. I grew up in the suburbs about 20 minutes outside of the city. You can see Manhattan from my street so we’d come into the city all the time.
In high school I did fencing so I’d commute to the city almost everyday after school.
How did you get into fencing?
My dad fenced so he tried to push me into it but I always wanted to be a cheerleader in high school and despite be an overly qualified ballerina they rejected me. So, I decided to start fencing and I loved it. It sort of became my life for a little while. I fenced for New York Fencers Club.
Do you still fence?
No, absolutely not. It’s something I did in high school so it would feel like going back to that time.
Is fencing a physical workout?
Yeah, I guess. It’s very tactical, like physical chess. It makes your body lopsided. I had surgery in college so I wound up quitting in my junior year.
How did you get into the arts?
I guess my parents were both artists. They had me taking art classes at The Met when I was a little kid. Art was the “football” of my family. I would go to art openings with my parents all the time. So there was never really a transition. I used to take classes during high school at FIT but then for college I got recruited for sport.
What did you study?
I studied sociology and concentrated on feminist philosophy. I still integrate that into my work.
How do you do that?
Dolores Haze is the real name of the character in Lolita. I studied post-structuralism and was looking at binary oppositions. What I found so interesting about the character Lolita is looking at her story in the novel, which is super tragic and dark versus the colloquialism of Lolita in contemporary culture, which is super feminine and flirtatious.
I’m really inspired by the notion of something appearing feminine but with an undercurrent of darkness. That plays into looking at different perceptions of femininity.
I’ve never read it but it’s such a classic.
It’s crazy to think it’s not Nabokov’s first language. He is Russian but he actually wrote it in English. It’s written so beautifully.
Why did you fall in love with it?
I don’t think it was the book that I necessarily fell in love with. I’m more into the idea of looking at different archetypal images of femininity. So I think looking at Lolita as this subversive dichotomy within that character in the book and in culture is what I found inspiring. Not so much the person.
So how did you get from studying sociology at university to fashion?
I guess when I got injured during university I decided that I wasn’t going to be a fencer when I grew up so I should spend my time productively. That’s when I started taking fashion instead of fine arts courses.
As an aside, I used to make installations and sculptures in college so a lot of the stuff I made back then is very similar to the fashion that I do now. My friends always say how funny it is to see my work transition into making commodities.
I was taking classes at FIT and then I decided to start interning. I interned at Teen Vogue and W magazine, seeing different aspects of fashion. Afterwards I went to study in London at Saint Martin’s because I have family over there and when I came back I did a program at Parson’s and learned the trade skills aspect of making clothing.
Do you think you’d go back to London?
Oh, I’d love to.
Your clothes very much remind me of British fashion.
That’s because I’m obsessed. [Laughs] I feel like they have a really great sense of personal style there.
How long have you been focussed on Dolores Haze?
My first fashion internship was in high school with Nicole Miller. I ended up going on vacation and seeing something that I helped make in a store. It was the coolest thing ever. That’s when I knew I wanted to do this.
I read Lolita when I was 18 and I bought the domain with the thought that one day I would have my own line called Dolores Haze.
During the first two collections I had a full time design job so I’ve been focusing on it for about two years now.
Was the transition to being on your own difficult? Like, “now I have to do my finances”…
Yeah, it’s intense. I did this accelerator program that was really great and they showed me a lot of organizational things for the finance side.
I think one experience having your own business has taught me is knowing what I’m good at and what I’m able to delegate to other people. I also have an assistant who is magical and super talented.
Do you think the variety of education and experience you had was really helpful or could you have just gone straight into fashion?
I think about that a lot. The one nice thing about having an education in sociology is that a lot of marketing and fashion is about the collective unconscious and how people consume trends. So I think that gives me an interesting perspective. In terms of my inspiration I cultivate it from things that aren’t necessarily from what you would imagine.
You’re working on Spring 2016 now, what’s the process of designing a season?
I have pieces that are my staples no matter which season it is. So over the months leading up to a new season I’ve been sourcing different types of fabrics I might want to use, I’ll make a moodboard and go back over it applying my swatches. Then I’ll do illustrations. For things that I’ll need to develop a new pattern for I’ll do it here in the studio but if it’s something really complicated I’ll have my factory do it for me.
How do you market yourself?
I feel like a bit of a baby boomer saying this but I’m always in awe of the power of the Internet. When somebody from the other side of the world emails you about your clothes it’s amazing.
Totally. Bird wouldn’t be around without the Internet.
And you have the capacity to interact with anybody in the world! That blows my mind.
What would be your ultimate goal for Dolores Haze?
I would love to expand the global reach and penetrate other markets, like Asia and Europe. I would like to have select wholesale accounts.
I would love to continue doing little pop-up shops. That’s always a lot of fun to do.
How long have you had this studio in Bushwick?
I’ve had it for about two years. Before this I used to live in a giant loft on Canal Street and I had a studio in my apartment and I’ll forever mourn the loss. I like working from home just because it’s not a 9-5 job, it’s a continuous thing.
When I’m watching movies or reading I’m always thinking about what I’m making and what I do. I feel fortunate that this is what I get to do.
So right now you’re living in the Lower East Side, how do you like it?
It blows my mind to see how it’s changed. I’m always like “where did these bars come from?”
I used to love it because it was this hidden little neighborhood but now I can’t walk around in my tracksuit pants because I might see someone I know.
There’s a place outside my window called Meow Parlour.
Yeah, you can go in there and play with cats.
It’s amazing and bizarre. What I really like about the neighborhood is living in an ethnic enclave. There are Buddhist temples on my street. I got into hool-a-hooping from all the Chinese ladies that hool-a-hoop in my neighborhood.
Around here there’s a bar called Montana’s that I really like. They have really good food there as well.
One thing I really love about being in this neighborhood is that you’re part of this creative community. For the most part I don’t think those kind of neighborhoods don’t really exist anymore in the city.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give?
Always trust your gut. I feel like, as a creative person, you’re always going to have people telling you how to be commercially viable. Every time I have not gone with my instinct I have regretted the decision.
You should always listen to other’s people’s opinions but in the end it’s all down to you.
Also, know your faults and pick whom you spend your time with wisely. I think that when you’re doing something creative or entrepreneurship in general you need to have people who make you feel positive around you. Positive vibes only.
What’s your favorite place to take out-of-towners to in New York?
Kenka! It’s my favorite place. It’s not even out-of-towners, I take everyone there. It’s on Saint Mark’s, right off of 4th. It’s this Japanese restaurant that has small appetizers that are like Japanese street food, it’s not sushi. They play fascist music and there are weird S&M illustrations on the walls and they give you free cotton candy at the end.
I’ve been going to this place since I was like fifteen. It’s my favorite place in all of New York. And right on top is this Japanese vintage store.
Saint Mark’s has been this revolving door of yoghurt shops ,which makes me really sad. Why do you need so many yoghurt stores on one block?
Kenka is my favorite place, then Christopher Street Pier. It’s beautiful and you just don’t feel like you’re in New York City.
Do you have a favorite New York moment?
Maybe my favorite New York moment was when I moved to Philly for a hot second and realized that I completely took for granted this city and the fact that when I go home I get to go to New York.
What does New York mean to you?
It’s home. One thing that’s so special is that I could be walking around with my headphones on at night and never feel alone. It’s like you’re with the city in your own world.
Visit Sam's fashion line at www.doloreshaze.com