Style

Our Obsession with Nili Lotan Is Now Officially Next-Level

Our Obsession with Nili Lotan Is Now Officially Next-Level

FEMALE FOUNDERS

Our Obsession with Nili Lotan Is Now Officially Next-Level

Perhaps the only upside to workplace inequality is it has driven a lot of amazing women out of corporate America—and straight to the helm of their own companies. We decided we didn’t want to just cheer them on anymore. We wanted to meet them and interview them and write about them. With that, we give you: Female Founders, a column featuring women who create, design, and inspire.

GP has been buying Nili Lotan’s easy, beautifully made, utilitarian pieces for years, and the brand has been a part of the goop family since 2014. This month we’re celebrating with an only-on-goop six-piece travel-friendly collection inspired by GP’s favorite NL silhouettes. The tomboy-chic assortment hits all of Lotan’s signature design elements: There’s the Hayden Cardigan, a chunky, zip-up fisherman-style sweater; the Humphrey Jacket, a menswear-inspired blazer; and a pair of drop-crotch lounge pants in paper-thin cashmere, among others. They’re the kind of pieces that you’ll reach for again and again—a quality that remains at the core of Lotan’s style philosophy.

“I’m drawn to the functionality and utility of a uniform, and that translates to my clothes and collections,” explains New York–based Lotan, who started her business back in 2004. She remains the sole designer and CEO. She’s also the first to admit that building a brand that bears your name can be challenging. “I’m grateful I found people at the beginning who helped me execute my creative process,” she says. We caught up with the designer, who started her career in the Israeli army, to chat about the importance of community, designing what you love, and what it means to build a business based on intuition.

A Q&A with Nili Lotan

Q
You started the brand in Tribeca, with a storefront on Duane and a studio on Walker. Why all in one neighborhood?
A

Having my home, my daughter’s school, my studio, and my store all in the same neighborhood was helpful in balancing my responsibilities, both as a single mom and in running my business. Living and working in Tribeca allowed me and my daughter to share a sense of community—we felt it at home, at the store, and at school. By now, my atelier has moved spaces a couple times, but I’ve always remained in Tribeca. Opening the store in a neighborhood setting also guided me when opening my next store locations (in East Hampton and uptown, on Madison Avenue): I wanted to stay in neighborhoods and not in large commercial areas, so the store is always part of a community.
 


Q
You spent two years in the Israeli Air Force and your ID number appears on the Nili Lotan label—can you talk a little bit about that experience?
A

During my mandatory military service in Israel, I lived on an air force base, and I was married to a pilot at the time. His military flight suit was an inspiration for my first collection, so the military aesthetic has been part of the brand’s DNA from day one. I’m drawn to the functionality and utility of a uniform, and that translates to my clothes and collections. Every collection will have a military reference in it, whether in color or style, and of course my ID number on the label. It’s part of my visual language and also the visual terrain where I grew up.  

“During my mandatory military service in Israel, I lived on an air force base, and I was married to a pilot at the time. His military flight suit was an inspiration for my first collection, so the military aesthetic has been part of the brand’s DNA from day one.”


Q
You began your career at Liz Claiborne before moving on to Ralph Lauren and, later, Nautica. Why did you decide to launch your own label?
A

After channeling other people’s visions for so long, I felt ready for a change. I was in my forties and felt ready to express my own creative voice and vision. I started the business intuitively, and it’s been growing ever since.


Q
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen across the fashion industry over the last three decades?
A

The retail landscape and the growth of e-commerce. When I was starting out, most of my revenue came from wholesale partnerships. Now it’s all about creating a direct relationship with the consumer. We launched e-commerce in 2009, and together with our brick-and-mortar stores, it’s become an important part of growing the business in terms of facilitating a conversation between me and my customers. The rise of Instagram and social media also helped. Through Instagram, I get a new sense of who my customers are and what inspires them.

“Through Instagram, I get a new sense of who my customers are and what inspires them.”


Q
Are there certain pieces from the brand’s early days that were bestsellers?
A

When I started the business, the first collection was a focused capsule of six pieces: three pairs of pants, two jackets, and a skirt. One of them was the French Military Pants, which remain a bestseller to this day. The skirt and the military jacket have also stayed with me through the years. The skirt was part of our prefall ’18 collection and was an instant sellout. It’s quite incredible to see that they still resonate with our clients.

“The French Military Pants were in the first collection, and they remain a bestseller to this day.”

 


Q
What is your design process like?
A

I typically start with a few reference images from my archive, books, or even Instagram. These give me a sense of where I want to be with my next collection. I always tend to my own intuition and impulses when thinking about what my customers need or want. My design process really begins by researching vintage clothes that speak to those desires, and I work my way out from there.


Q
Was there a tipping point when you felt the company was really taking off?
A

From the very beginning, I felt a consistent sense of growth and movement. There was a moment a few years ago when everything seemed to align. An important milestone was Barneys placing me on its designer floor alongside brands like Givenchy and YSL.    


Q
What surprised you most about starting your own business?
A

Everything. My background was in fashion and art, with no business background. And yet even today, I remain the CEO, head of the business, and sole designer. It’s been a challenging journey in figuring out how to run a business my own way—the way that works for me. I’m not sure what I wish I’d have known. I like to think everything happened for a reason.
 

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