One thing that gets me really excited about fashion these days is when a designer manages to marry luxury and sustainability in a real measurable way. Danielle Fichera started her line of summery dresses and separates as a personal quest, but others immediately took note and now into her fourth season, Fichera’s collection is gaining momentum. She only offers resort and spring/summer, the idea of doing one thing and doing it well (that I love), produces her beautiful cotton fabrics in Italy from a certified sustainable mill, and believes in no fuss–you can (seriously) throw one of her dresses in the washing machine. Being a minimalist, I am drawn to everything she does in white, but her prints are some of the prettiest I’ve seen and they literally jump on the fabric (it’s called fil couple, explained further on). Nothing sounds better to me than getting away somewhere warm soon, and I can see myself packing a couple of DF dresses wherever that may be.
Talk about your career path and how you ended up designing your collection. Before I began my collection, I was in graduate school and wanted to be a professor. At the time I was an idealist and believed I was going to change the world, but after three years in the program and then a couple research assistant jobs and internships, I realized it wasn’t for me.
I took the summer off and traveled a bit, and while on holiday, I came across a handmade tunic. The design of it was beautiful, but it was poorly constructed. I brought it back to New York to a seamstress whom I’ve known for many years, bought some fabric, and together we reworked the tunic for me to wear. I kept designing and by the end of the summer, I had about nine tunics.
A friend said, “Why don’t you meet someone I know, they buy for the Four Seasons Hotel and these small specialty stores throughout the U.S..” The buyer loved the collection and they put them in three stores in Hawaii.
This was all new to me and I didn’t really know how it worked. I just knew that my goal was to get 300 blouses in these shops. Then I kind of had to go backwards. I started taking classes at night at Parson’s so I could understand how clothes are made. I started asking tons of questions to people. I reached out to every friend I knew that either worked in business, for start ups, or fashion and I asked, “Do you know anybody that I could talk to?” Even if they had nothing to do with women’s luxury wear.
You only design for two seasons each year, correct? I chose to do spring/summer and resort, because I thought if I could focus on making the best luxury resort wear and have it be sustainable and made of cotton with the best possible finishes and technique, I could learn a lot quicker and I could it do a lot better.
What inspires your design? I’m a collector of vintage and I find a lot whether it’s traveling or online. Often, it’s pieces that I want to wear. I think my designs are very wearable. It’s a lot of shirt dresses. It’s easy dressing. The clothes work on many body types.
Who do you have in mind when you’re designing? I think that the woman who loves my clothing, she’s a lady. She loves feminine dressing and a classic silhouette. She appreciates good craftsmanship and can understand the work that goes into creating the fabrications. Based on my own experience meeting customers, she steers away from trends.
Some of your fabrics are extraordinary like the Fil Coupe, which is somewhat like an embroidery except the design lifts off the fabric, almost like a 3D effect. The butterflies look like they are flittering around the dress! Fil coupe is one of the signature elements to our whole collection. When I first started, I was surprised I couldn’t find cotton fabric that was intricate in design and had a good hand feel. I was also looking for fabric that was sustainable and could be thrown in the washing machine. I now work Albini, one of the largest fabric mills in Europe that is certified sustainable; what they’ve been able to do as far as reducing the amount of water being used in the fabrics, how they dye the fabrics, how they implement as many women as men in the workplace. They’ve been super helpful in my growth as a designer and in this industry.
You also have a bespoke element to your collection, why did you decide to do that? There were a couple of reasons. First, I was interested in sustainability for a while. Now after four seasons, we’re able to say we’re completely sustainable in mostly every measure we take. While I was on this journey, I thought, “Well, what do I do with the extra fabrics?” This whole idea of upcycling fabric from one season to the next was interesting to me, but when I told people this, they said, “You can’t do that. You have to have new fabric every season. If not, it’s not fashion. It’s not design.”
I thought there’s no way I can use these great, sustainable materials that have these embroideries, and then in good conscience, toss it at the end of the season. So I created a fabric library—whether it’s a buyer or a customer, they can go on our site and, even if it’s a fabric that we haven’t used in three seasons, they can order their favorite style, say the Amari dress, which is our bestselling shirt dress, in another fabric. I wanted to be able to give the customer something special, unique and something that they feel is luxury. I feel like luxury is creating something with thought and intent.
One of your attributes that helps you succeed: It’s a combination between curiosity and determination. I think my curiosity motivated me to get into this, but my determination propelled me forward.
Three words that describe you: Curious, kind and brave.
Three words that describe your company: Responsible, sustainable and thoughtful. We’re responsible because we try to think hard about what we’re doing to this planet and I want to be able to do this in a way that will not hurt the planet. We’re sustainable as I mentioned, and then there’s a lot of thought that goes into everything, whether it be design or how to even upcycle the fabrics or how all of our care labels have a positive luxury seal, which is a company that we partnered with in the U.K.. We make sure that everyone’s aware of our commitment to sustainability. We even have a page on our website dedicated to sustainability. We try to think about how we could get our message across in all different avenues.
Role models: My father. He showed me that the American dream was possible. He was and is a visionary and he taught me to believe in myself and how to take the necessary steps towards achieving a goal. I think seeing him every day while I was growing up fighting for his dream and what he believed in, I didn’t realize it at the time, but now I’m able to see what that was. I think because I saw that I thought that the opportunities would be limitless if I just applied myself.
Best career advice that you either received or would share with somebody starting out: You are only as good as your team and the people that surround you. I think Tory Burch had said that in an interview. I remember I had thought to myself, “I really should get myself a new team.” This was very early on. My stomach sank and that’s when I knew that I had to do something about it. The people around you really determine your success just as much as you do. I think they’re essential as far as their work ethic, what they bring to the table and their attitude. Then if something or someone is not working out, be okay with letting it go and find someone else. When someone does work good with you, do everything you can to hold on to them.
Also, as someone new starting out, don’t be afraid to ask for help and ask questions. Of course there are people who don’t want to help, but for the most part I found that if you come to a conversation open, willing and ready to hear, whether it’s good or bad, people for the most part, they’ll take a meeting, they’ll take a call with you. Ask as many questions as you can and don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know, because you’ll learn a lot more by sort of putting your cards on the table and saying, “Listen, I really don’t know, but I’m open to learning.” When you don’t want to admit what you don’t know, you end up shooting yourself in the foot and the only person that will suffer in the end is you. Put your pride aside, meet with as many people as you can, and talk about your ideas, because people could sometimes say one thing that could trigger you and that could make the biggest difference.
Life goals: To build a body of work that I’m proud of and to have a healthy and happy family of my own that love and care for one another deeply and, if my life allows, one day I would like to relocate to London or Paris or another European city for the remaining part of my life.
You only live once, so why not really try? Where there is a will, there’s a way.
Daily goals: To complete everything on my to-do list. I make a list every night before going to sleep and I review it. I like the idea of using paper versus everything electronic. It’s something from another time that I like to hold on to.
Daily rituals: Morning is my favorite time of day. I wake up, light a candle, and put on a record— either Billy Holiday or Carla Bruni while I cook breakfast. I have the same thing every day: zaatar bread, labneh, and a cappuccino. I read my emails, check the news and take a bath before heading out. I think it’s really important to take time every morning to start your day off right. I think if you set your morning up right, you put yourself in a good head space to get through the day.
How do you unplug? During the week, I like to relax at home with a pile of movies. I also love Law and Order: SVU. I think I’ve watched it every single day probably for the past 15 years. On a Saturday night, my favorite thing to do is go to Raoul’s in SoHo.
It’s so good.
So good. My favorite meal there is steak frites with a margarita. Then while I’m waiting for a table, I always get a psychic reading upstairs. They’re often correct!
Favorite book that inspires/motivates you: There’s a few: On the Shortness of Life, it’s a philosophy book by Seneca. I feel like it motivates you to make the most out of every day. As far as advice goes, Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. My all time favorite is The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, which has great lessons on how to live life, whether it’s on how to love or forgive or work or have a family. Whatever it is that you’re dealing with or suffering from or need help with, it offers me peace in moments of anxiety.
Favorite charity: My business and I have partnered with GLAM4GOOD, which was founded by Mary Alice Stephenson. We did two things with them, we hosted an event with them and donated a percentage of our sales, but then we also donated our excess inventory to GLAM4GOOD. Also, Amanda Hearst’s charity, Friends of Finn, which is for animal rights rescue.
A perfect evening is…Being at home and cooking for someone I really care about with a line up of movies, preferably something old. Something maybe from Woody Allen, a bit of wine, popcorn and my records.
A table is never set without…flowers.
And your favorite flowers are….Peonies.
Handwritten notes or emails? Handwritten notes and I have a friend who designs all of my stationary, Cleme from Clementina’s Sketchbook. She also does all the watercolor for our marketing materials. She’s based out of London.
Favorite artist(s): Hilma af Klint, Francoise Gilot and Picasso.
Five things that make a perfect room: Scent is the easiest way to transform any space, when you first walk into a room, you notice how it smells and the right candle can make the biggest difference; good lighting; personal objects such as photographs, artwork, and personal keepsakes; and fresh flowers. And remove clutter and carefully curate piles of books and objects the way you want them to look.
Always on your bedside table: A candle—some of my favorites are Paeva from Laduree and Ambre Soir from Bastide. A stack of books from my favorite writer, which would be Rainer Maria Rilke, Rumi, Kahlil Gibran and Seneca. Notebooks from Papier Plus in Paris for jotting down notes. And a glass of water.
Always in your handbag: I have my Smythson day-planner. I don’t use digital calendar like I said, my favorite Tom Ford lipstick which is called Pink Tease, face powder from Chantecaille, my favorite pair of Chanel sunglasses, a handkerchief by D. Porthault, my keys, a hairbrush, a toothbrush, my iPhone, a bottle of water (which is now glass, no plastic).
You can tell a lot about a woman by…How she treats people when no one is looking.
Do you collect anything? I collect lots of things. I like to surround myself with beautiful objects that have meaning. I collect ceramics and glassware that I’ve collected from Ebay. Vintage and new records. Books, whether it be art books or poetry books or really all sorts. Whether I go to a gallery opening or museum exhibition, I always pick up the book. I also have Buddhas all around my apartment. I’m not Buddhist, but I have them in every corner in all different materials.
Travel wish list destination: India, one day. I’m not quite sure when. In the hopefully near future, Paris and London. I would love to visit Copenhagen and Vienna, which are two cities I’ve never been to.
Biggest splurge you don’t regret: There was a painting I found when I was in Ramatuelle, France, which is a tiny mountain town that I’ve gone to for many summers. There is a gallery there that I often go to called Studio Alm, and they were featuring work by an Australian artist James King. When I went into the shop I asked the woman the price of this painting and if it was available, she said, “No, it’s sold.” I went back the next day and she said, “We have this painting available.” She gave me a price and it was more than I could afford, I thought, “Is this worth really spending a decent amount of my savings on this painting?” After I thought about it for a couple of hours, I went back to my hotel and I called her up and said, “Okay, I’ll take it.” Then an hour later she called me up and she said, “I gave you the wrong price. It’s more.” I said, “No. You told me it was this price.” She said, “No, we’re not going to sell you the painting unless you agree to pay this price.” I had already committed to it in my mind, so I thought, “Okay. I guess I could do it.” I was determined. I thought of all the things that I was going to have to give up so I could buy this painting.
Then after all was said and done, I miscalculated the conversion from Euros to dollars, so it was more than I thought. I didn’t include the shipping, which was more than they had said it was going to be. Then there was tax on the painting. Ultimately it was nearly double of what I expected, but now if there’s one thing in this apartment that I’d leave with, it’s this painting. I’m so happy I bought it.
Favorite small indulgence: Cire Trudon cameo candles, Papier Plus notebooks from Paris, Tom Ford lipstick, and salted caramel ice cream from Morgenstern’s Ice Cream.
Album currently on repeat: I Wish I Knew How it Would Be to Be Free by Nina Simone.
Scent that brings back memories: Jasmine reminds me of the scent of my mother.
Lucky charm: My first boyfriend when I was 19 bought me a leather heart key chain and it’s always with me. It had my car keys when I had a car, and now it’s my apartment key and my office key and it’s the one thing I’m never without.
Favorite hour of the day: Hard to say, but probably the hour that I wake up. I love my neighborhood in the morning when it’s quiet and there’s not a creature on the street. You don’t even know you’re in the middle of the city.
Follow Danielle: Instagram.