Two designer friends, one Brooklyn apartment, throw in some minimalism and you’ve got a whole lot of attitude. Meet Tara and Phuong, the cofounders of Allergic. The Brooklyn-based brand marries their technical knowledge with a strong appreciation for art and design. Coming from the multimedia and art worlds, their first collection, Horizons, introduces fun details (circular pockets) and architectural pleats. In this designer spotlight, we discuss how the brand came to be, who brought what, and inspiration that’s nothing to sneeze at.
How and why did you start designing?
Phuong: I’m originally from Vietnam. I graduated from Parsons and focused in multimedia design and fine art. I’ve always been interested in the relationship between the garment, the body and performative identity and incorporated these ideas as wearable sculptures in my personal art practice.
Tara: I grew up in Chicago, and attended RISD for my undergraduate degree. I’ve always been interested in making clothing, and recently completed an associates degree in fashion design from Parsons.
Phuong and I met through a mutual friend and immediately bonded over our mutual love for fashion and making. We eventually became roommates :). After I completed my associates degree, Phuong and I started experimenting making our own patterns and designs.
Phuong: Tara’s background in sewing and my background in art and design melded through living and shopping together. We soon started collaborating on garments that we couldn’t find anywhere. Because of our different sensibilities we arrive at an outcome that is unique to our combined aesthetics.
What is your brand aesthetic and what makes your brand unique?
We use mixed textiles and forms to explore the synchronicity of geometry and modern youth. Our clothing is strategic and experimental. The design process is developed through the relationship between textiles, forms and comfort. Each collection combines classic techniques and ingenuity to express a modern attitude and futuristic objectivity, while challenging stereotypical notions of femininity and sexuality. We seek to empower the individuals that wear our clothes by creating poetic and functional aesthetics.
What is your fashion philosophy?
The Allergic woman is complex, elegant, and poetic. For her, beauty has less to do with the specifics of physical appearance and more to do with the way she carries herself through the world. Her confidence comes from a strong sense of self, and is continually renewing from within her. Fashion is a way for her to articulate her identity, through which she conveys her quiet confidence and unique femininity.
Our woman is a lover of minimalism, but she also appreciates the eccentric and the unconventional. She bridges the gap between these two opposites through the way she dresses, conveying at once class and whimsy, composure and excitement.
How has your design changed over time?
We have learned a lot through designing this first collection. The initial designs changed over many rounds of sketching, pattern making and sewing samples. We allow ourselves the flexibility to change our designs to better work with the fabrics we source, and vice versa. Our designs reflect an overlap in our senses of style and self, and will continue to change and grow along with us.
What inspired your latest collection?
This collection is very much a consolidation of elements from Modern Art, experimental Japanese fashion and 80s aesthetics. It focuses on distinct shapes and color-blocking. Each piece complements the body while maintaining its own silhouette. The minimal color palette accentuates strong lines and subtle curves, while levels of transparency draw the eye to unexpected places, exploring new notions of femininity and sexuality. The mixture of angular shapes with delicate pleating creates moments of controlled movement within the garments.
What is your biggest hurdle building a brand today?
The competition is fierce. It’s tough to set yourself apart in a sea of talent and build a following. There are ups and downs, and the most valuable lesson is just to pick yourself back up after a disappointment and keep going. Having a brand requires lots of resilience and focus, and it’s very easy to become obsessive with work when you are running your own business. It’s important to take a break every once in a while and regain perspective.
What do you think about fashion today?
We are maybe living in a golden age of sorts. Designers are experimenting with forms, materials and technologies now more than ever. No matter how obscure you think your style is, there is a brand or a designer out there who shares the same aesthetic. The industry is so full of diversity and independent talents compared to how exclusive it once was, and we are constantly learning from each other.
So many designers are making efforts to engage in conversations of social and political matters, whether by subverting common stereotypes through design or being conscious of the impact of fashion on the environment. Fashion is a powerful agent of change and it’s an exciting time to be part of it.
Where do you go and what do you do for inspiration?
Our ideas often manifest through our conversations about art, film and music. We go on a lot of adventures together. We eat at new places, we go to museums, but mainly we like to walk around NYC, exploring old and new neighborhoods and brainstorming on the spot when inspiration finds us.
Social media also plays a big part in our process. Tumblr is where my [Phuong’s] love for fashion grew, Pinterest is an ever-evolving mood board and we are constantly DM-ing each other cool fashion pieces we find on Instagram.
Any tips and tricks of the trade?
It is important to us that we jump back and forth between sketching and construction early on in the design phase in order to make sure that the sketch can be realized in the desired fabric. We think about the number of seams, ease of finishing techniques and the weights of fabrics interacting together because structure is very important to this collection. Overall it is helpful to consider all sides of the process before finalizing any designs. It is also important to find out what colors the desired fabric is available in, and we have learned that there is a give and take between design, color palette and construction.
What does the future of Allergic look like?
Our goal for Allergic is to expand our following and continue to represent the spirit of ever-transforming and courageous modern youth. We plant to develop menswear, accessories and even a little bit of beauty. We always joke about making soaps so maybe that will happen eventually. We are open to all possibilities as we see Allergic not just as a fashion label but also as an identity. We want our customers to feel as if they are part of a collective.
Get ready for spring and get Allergic. Shop the first collection of color-block dresses: