Designer Makes Clothing for 'Real' Women

Designer Yansi Fugel prides herself on creating "wearable" clothing for "real" women. Fugel about women's fashions, her vision and why she feels other designers could stand to take a page from her book.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

If you're having trouble finding clothes that fit your body type, personal style or pocketbook, we might have two of the next big things in fashion. Coming up, we speak with Eddie and Heather Gist about their clothing label called "Modest by Design." If you need or want to cover up, they are here for you.

But first, we're going to visit with Yansi Fugel. Fugel says she makes her clothing for real women. She specializes in wearable clothes that goes from home to office to cocktail hour in sizes from 0 to 18, and at a time when many in the fashion industry seemed to be struggling, that may be one reason her business is thriving. She stopped in Washington last week for a series of personal appearances and she was kind enough to drop by the studio.

Yansi Fugel, welcome.

Ms. YANSI FUGEL (Designer): Thank you.

MARTIN: So when you started your business in 1993 - I think it was - what did you think you had to offer that other people weren't?

Ms. FUGEL: I think it's about clothing that's fabulous yet functional, designing for real women with real bodies, and whether you're a size 0 or a size 16, everyone has that little part that is a nuisance that we want to cover in camouflage, but we still want to look great and feel great.

MARTIN: How did you start designing?

Ms. FUGEL: Well, actually, I started as a child. My mother taught me to sew, and I used to make clothes for my dolls and that continued and, you know, made clothes for myself; it kind of mushroomed from there.

MARTIN: Your clothing is considered a bridge line, and a bridge is, I guess, in between, what?

Ms. FUGEL: Yeah, when you say bridge, it's sort of in between better, which should be like a John's(ph) New York or Liz Claiborne, up to, you know, Versace, Gucci - that's the designer area.

MARTIN: So for a bridge, you're talking about pieces that, what, start - your line starts with - stars at -what's your cheapest piece and what's your most expensive piece?

Ms. FUGEL: In - like, a travel jersey t-shirt would be maybe like a hundred and forty, $150, and a metallic leather jacket could be $1400. Pants run about 200 to 300.

MARTIN: So they're not free?

Ms. FUGEL: No.

MARTIN: They're not free. You know what I wanted to talk to you about is that a lot of women are prominent in the fashion industry. And yet I think a lot of women feel that the fashion industry actually hates women, you know, real women. They feel that the industry isn't really designing for women who actually get up in the morning, go to work, have kids, go to the grocery store. You know, they all seem to be for a certain group of people; these kind of willowy, six-foot models who are all size of my, you know, pinky finger. They show their work on girls who are 15 years old, and they say, gee, how is that an industry that has so many women in it seems to be so hostile to women like me? Honestly, do you ever feel that way? Do you ever have those kinds of conversations with your peers?

Ms. FUGEL: Well, I think it's - a lot is changing. I mean, fashion was, for quite a long time, very male-dominated, and women, as they've gained power and prominence in all areas not just fashion, designers have had to pay attention to what their needs are. We're at a point now where nobody's dictating to women. Everyone has their own style, you know, skirt are not short or long depending on what the whim of a designer is, but more about what works for your figure and your personal style. And at the same time, we're seeing right now a huge shift in fashion where a lot of the huge design houses which were male designers are now being taken over by women.

Donatella Versace took over for her brother Gianni Versace. The Gucci is now headed by a woman designer, so there's a lot of women now in very powerful design positions, and I think all of that old school, male-dominated kind of dictated fashion is even more for a tailspin.

MARTIN: What about the bias? I don't know that there's any other way to call it but the bias against the larger figure. Now, the average American dress size, as I understand it, is a size 12, but some of these designers don't cut their clothing above a size 12. Now, you cut to up to size 18. Are you a rarity or -and why is it that so many of the designers don't cut for the larger figure?

Ms. FUGEL: Oh, I think a lot of fashion right now is very celebrity-driven, but I say that I design for real women and real women come in all shapes and sizes, from 0 to 18, from, you know, five-foot-three up to six-foot-two. I mean, for me, it's fun to have the challenge of all those different proportions. And one of the reasons I love coming out to do these trunk shows - I mean, it's selfish because I get to work with them and hear what they have to say, see things on real bodies in all different shapes and sizes, and I learned a lot from it.

MARTIN: Well, let's talk about what you have in the stores for fall. And I'll give the listeners a little bit of a hint. I'm wearing one of your - just happened to be wearing, I don't know. It just happened I'm wearing…

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: …one of your pieces. And one of the things I like is, is the stretch knit skirt, which I kind of like…

Ms. FUGEL: Exactly. The knit is really a great phenomena that's happening right now. And I think it's fabulous because it looks so polished, looks sophisticated. You look very pulled together, but you feel like you're wearing your pajamas.

It gives with you. You know, there's a comfort factor in how it moves with you, especially in the double-knit like the skirt that you're wearing now. You can really tailor it like you can tailor a woven fabric.

MARTIN: Some people think that if you are a largest size, you can't wear knits, but you sell your knits in all of the sizes. So what's the secret to being able to wear a knit if you are a largest size or if you're not as - spell to some others, you know, we're back in our prepubescent days.

Ms. FUGEL: I put a lot of time and effort into developing fabric. A lot of the fabrics on the collection are exclusive to the collection. I wear-test them, see how it works - does it launder, does it launder. And…

MARTIN: You can launder? A lot of your clothes are washable?

Ms. FUGEL: Yes, a lot of them are washable, because it's practical. It doesn't look like washable clothing. And I think that's, you know, really the key, but that comes from spending the time to develop these fabrications, working with the mills, getting the fabric right before it's introduced to the collection.

MARTIN: I got the impression, though, sometimes am I wrong about this that clothes that a lot of regular people like to wear are practical because they're washable, easy to wear. Is that something that the rest of the high-end of the industry looks down on?

Ms. FUGEL: That's true. Yes, that's true. Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Yes. Do you care?

Ms. FUGEL: No.

MARTIN: But you don't get invited to the swanky park cocktail parties and stuff like that.

Ms. FUGEL: I do. Sometimes I go, sometimes I don't. You know, it depends.

MARTIN: But if you do, what is it one of those things are people are like looking over your head to see if they can find, you know, donor whoever back there? Donna and are…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. FUGEL: Well, you know, there are a lot of people like that and a lot of different, you know, industries and there's a lot of people that you meet who are, you know, great people to make friends with and learn from and talk to. So…

MARTIN: And you'll take your $15 million in sales and go, thank you very much.

Ms. FUGEL: Yeah, and spend time with my daughter and have fun on the weekends and, you know, enjoy it.

MARTIN: So, Yansi, final question to you is, as consumers, if we feel that the industry is not serving us, if we feel that, you know, as you pointed out, there are more choices out there. But a lot of times I think women still feel that the industry isn't really listening to them, but it's kind of all about pushing them to a certain body type, a certain look. How should they respond?

Ms. FUGEL: What you have to do is you have to find something that works for you and works for your lifestyle, and kind of stick with that. But you always have to be reassessing and reevaluating where you are in the context of what is the modern world.

MARTIN: So don't be a slave to what's in the magazines. Do your own thing.

Ms. FUGEL: Right.

MARTIN: Okay. Yansi Fugel joined us here in our studios in Washington. You can find a link to more information about Yansi on our Web site. She's available on stores nationwide.

Yansi, thanks so much for coming in to see us today.

Ms. FUGEL: It was my pleasure. Thank you.

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