The Notorious B.I.G. once said the catchy phrase, ‘Spread love, it’s the Brooklyn Way’… and what better way to spread love than by honoring creatives such as fashion designer Christine Alcalay, whose career in fashion began right next to her mother and her sewing machine when she was just three years old.
“I owe so much to my experience as a child and without it, I wouldn’t be who I am today,” she said. “I came to the United States with my mom at the age of three when we escaped Vietnam in the middle of the night on a boat promising freedom and opportunity.”
Alcalay and her mother were the lucky ones, as many people never made it to see land. Upon their arrival in Manhattan, she and her mother had nothing but a bag of dreams and the will to survive. She mentioned her mother worked in factories, in which she tagged along, cutting threads and assisting her with anything she needed wherever she was. With younger sisters to support, Alcalay’s mother worked day and night.
“Growing up and witnessing my mother’s strong work ethic and drive to survive most definitely influenced me,” she said. “When a seamstress sews and speaks the language to her child, it is only natural that the child speaks that language fluently. She planted a seed in me that included ingredients such as grit, hard work, tenacity and stamina.”
The passion for design and clothing that Alcalay has doesn’t arrive from fashion magazines, movie stars or the glamorous light that fashion tends to be portrayed in, but from experiencing that with hard work, one’s imagination can be designed and created with their own hands with some paper, pencil, fabric, needle and thread. For Alcalay, it wasn’t just sewing though: if her mother was cleaning, she taught her how to clean; if she was cooking, she taught her how to cook. All of these experiences taught her that she had a very important role to help as little or as young as she was. Alcalay indeed learned very early on that life is what it’s made of; it’s a personal hustle.
“I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I used to make and sell customizable scrunchies in Elementary school and I got such a kick out of it,” she said. “
Alcalay’s relationship with fashion has changed through the years as she became aware that garments that were made not only fed her and her family; however, clothed them and secured their futures. The clothes that society wears can change feelings and thus change the way of life. Alcalay set out to study and work in fashion so that she can give people the clothes they emotionally and physically required to be their best selves in any capacity they are in. Her namesake collection was inspired by iconic women of the past as well as present and was designed for the quintessential women of the present and future. She believes that fashion can be a tool and transformative for the individual who sports it, as she cultivates clothing for the woman who has a narrative to tell.
Alcalay also felt it was important for her to learn the retail side of the fashion world as well as to learn the social skills which were required when it came to working with customers and clients.
“I may seem outgoing but a large part of what I learned about talking to people comes from working retail,” she explained. “It’s work that requires knowledge of product and customer service….It scared me to death, but I knew I had to conquer my fear.”
Alcalay continued, “It turns out, I love retail and it balances out the designer in me. Now with my stores, I’ve fulfilled the different kinds of creativity needed to run successful retail stores while working on my collection.”
Aside from having experience on the sales floor and perfecting her craft as a fashion designer, she maintains a presence on social media. Alcalay believes connection to be everything and that one can be of great service if they are truly themselves. Instagram just happens to be what’s working now; however, the goal for her is to share happiness, as she shares what inspires her.
“When you have something to say, I like to share it because I love that experience,” said Alcalay. “There is a human connection in everything we do and it’s that human connection that pushes me to explore the story.”
While growing up in the fashion industry, Alcalay has seen all of the different sides to it. Her drive arrives from her own personal journey, as first and foremost a woman, with so much beauty to make and share. For a long time, she worked in a way that her own path was restrained due to the fashion calendar and cycle demands. Working for many years in this specific routine has helped her build the grit to still be around in a grueling industry,; however, what drives her is finding ways to reach her people with clothing and design as a catalyst.
“I love telling stories and clothing allows for that transformative quality,” she said. “What continues to motivate me is beyond clothing but what it can inspire – a way of living, a way of doing, a way of being.”
Alcalay continued, “I appreciate the ever changing qualities of Fashion and can relate to it because, I myself am always changing. We are so multifaceted and I try to express that in emotion, interests and heart.”
She also mentioned her design process changes as often as the tide. Currently, Alcalay is working with smaller batches and some one of a kind pieces that she makes available only to those who are on Instagram. When doing this, she is really able to focus on what brought her to clothing design and construction. The machine of producing squeezed much of that dry and with the way the world halted because of the pandemic, it made Alcalay want to look at what was already available and create garments that were not only special but timeless, as well as small capsules of what her world and expressive form is about.
“I hope that these are felt by the person who wears them,” she expressed.
Every piece designed by Alcalay goes through a process of loving, doubting, disliking, reviewing, hibernation and then reincarnation. She believes the majority of creatives feel this way.
“It usually takes me about a year to fully cycle through a design,”
“There is a human connection in everything we do, and it’s that human connection that pushes me to explore the story.” she said. “I don’t truly appreciate it until it comes into my life in the form of something I can use and wear…Because I design for myself and a future version of myself- every garment eventually becomes a favorite- it’s just a matter of time.”
With her shop in Brooklyn, Kiwi and Fig, Alcalay states one of her proudest moments was when she was able to work with her mother and daughter on a collection. Three generations of women were a part of the new capsules…all the way from Alcalay’s mind, to her mother’s hands, to clothing her daughter.
“The type of thing dreams are made of, quite literally,” said Alcalay. “I’ve spent my life dressing women of all ages and making sure that the fabrics and styles they put on their bodies exude the spirit and life they live or aspire to.”
Alcalay continued, “For this current collection, I connected the dots of all of the women who inspired me, whom I’ve dressed, wanted to dress and have aspired to get close to their greatness. I honed into their magic and strength that is the perfect blend of feminine power.”
The women in her life have always been her overall inspiration. While photographing the new capsule, Alcalay also looked into the future- her daughter, who stood beside her and inspired her to be a better mother, person, woman and artist. To Alcalay, those who love you, have that power on you.
In conclusion,life and its changes currently inspire Alcalay the most. The explorative qualities even in the most mundane things can be inspirational to her. She enjoys love sitting with things and experiences to see what story unravels. The journey for her as a woman is always about growth, whether it be through music, art, food or current events, the designs are always inspired by what surrounds her, she asks the question of what makes her feel good and what feels most meaningful.
“You’ll see that each collection made is directly correlated with my path as a woman,” expressed Alcalay.
Alcalay’s boutiques are both located in Brooklyn,where love will be spread throughout all aspects. Keep up with the designer via Instagram (@christinealcalay) and stop by for an outfit refresh if you are in Brooklyn. | christinealcalay.com