Designer interview

Ananda Design

Ananda Design’s founder Erika Falconeri established her brand after years traveling the world as a model. While working with the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Giorgio Armani, Erika was immersed in the world of cuts, textiles and colors. “The language of fashion becomes second nature,” Erika says of her modeling work. A trip to India led to a major career change and with irrepressible confidence and a relentless work ethic, Erika set up her own line. The brand name is the Sanskrit word for “absolute bliss” – Erika hopes you’ll experience “ananda” every time to wear one of her wraps.

Hello Erika – can you please tell us a little more about yourself?

I grew up mostly in Oregon from a bi-cultural family. We traveled a lot during my childhood and would spend a year every five years in Japan for my father’s sabbaticals. As a result, when I started modeling at 16, it was on one of these trips to Japan. I ended up both modeling and attending the International University Sophia Daigaku in Tokyo and later the University of Oregon. Eventually through the modeling I lived and worked in many cities around the world, mainly Milan, Paris, London, Tokyo and New York.

When did you know you wanted to design scarves?

Initially, I started out by designing soft furnishings for the home. This came about from a trip I made in 1996 to India. I visited Goa and walked into the most beautiful store I had ever seen. I had been living in Italy for a long time and was used to the more subtle colors and muted tones that the Italians were famous for. This store was filled with brilliantly vivid colors and lightweight fabrics, embellished linens and silks, mostly of soft furnishings. I asked to meet the owner, and that was the start of my business.

Scarves came about as a natural evolution from working with so many beautiful fabrics, and in designing them I realized that my background had prepared me exactly for this. It felt right. I was a fashion girl, I had grown up working in fashion, influenced by some of the biggest names in the world, and scarves were a simple and great way to express that.

Can you please tell us about your design process?

It starts with a feeling. I look at what I am attracted to at the moment, the colors and prints that I am drawn to. There is a certain collective consciousness in the design/fashion world. A natural evolution to what has been going on. I tune into this. I then think about what I love, for instance this spring/summer’s collection was inspired by the ocean, and sea creatures in graphic shapes.

My favorite thing is to push the envelope with scarves and use techniques that incorporate artistic expression not only from the designer, but from the artisans who are creating the finished product.

I use many different fabrics and find natural fabrics the easiest to work with as they take print easily. I love textured linens, silks, cottons, cashmere and wool and blends of all of these. The different techniques utilized are block, screen or digital printing, hand-painting, embroidery and appliqué to achieve a multi-dimensional effect.

When approaching the design of a scarf, I am very aware that it has to drape and feel good on the body. This is the most important aspect of scarves, and as a result, my favorite thing to use is cashmere as it is so versatile and always soft.

What sort of creative challenges do you face?

I rarely have trouble from a design perspective in creating a collection. In fact, I could design scarves forever, as I am always inspired to do so. However, from a technical side, it is not always easy to work within the limitations of making sure that the end result has all the desired characteristics.

There are so many things to think about when creating a design: Color fastness, penetration and vividness are all major factors when doing any type of printing. If doing embellishments, one has to think about sequins and beads falling off when wearing, folding or washing. You really have to know your product and fabrics and design with those limitations in mind.

You used to work as a model. How does your modeling experience inform your design career?

As a model, I was around many different designers and points of view. I worked closely with them. For instance, when doing a runway show, a fitting is required with the designer. Everyone around you is speaking about the design, cut, fabric and styling. You are privy to the most interesting conversations and inside knowledge of everything fashion. It is a highly creative environment, and often when doing photo shoots or runway shows, you are wearing clothes that are created by masters. When you do enough of them or are open to learning, the language of fashion becomes second nature.

When you were establishing your brand, what challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

Setting up my brand was no easy task. I had studied international business at the University but I had no practical experience of business. As they say, “If I had known then what I know now,” I might have had second thoughts. I just went full force ahead and there were many times when I just closed my eyes and hoped for the best.

I have learned along the way, made some mistakes, had some great triumphs and always been dedicated and passionate about what I do. Personally my biggest challenge was learning the “business” of fashion. I realized I needed to understand the business, which is half of the equation when you own your own company.

Do you have any advice for other independent designers?

My best advice would be to really define your label and product. Create a brand identity. Don’t think that more is better. Definitely know your strengths and understand your weaknesses and plan accordingly. Make sure that you put yourself out there but be prepared. Many times in this industry, you only get one chance at something.

You are based in New York – where do you like to spend your free time and find inspiration?

During the week, I love to explore the city in the evenings after work. Lately I have been trying restaurants and take-outs in the East Village. I’m a huge “foodie.” I love kaiseki at Kyo Ya or sushi at Kanoyama, yum!

I love the Rubin Museum for inspiration. They often have exhibits from Asia, which is very inspiring to me. On the weekends I mostly go to my house in the Hamptons. It is very relaxing and calming after the buzz of hectic New York City.

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