Interview with Liza Rietz

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog will recognize the tunic pictured above and/or the name of its designer, Liza Rietz. I fell in love with this designer’s work and this piece in particular (Liza’s half circle tunic from her F/W 08 collection) about a year ago, but I was unable to afford it. Then when I began this blog, it ended up in My Top 3 Want List. You may have noticed, however, that it is now missing from the list. The truth is, after purchasing two other impeccable pieces from Liza (one from her F/W 08 collection and one from her S/S 09 collection), I realized that I must bite the bullet and purchase my dream tunic before it disappeared forever (and luckily I did so before our car died!). Liza’s pieces are so versatile, seasonless, eye-catching, and perfectly constructed, that its quite surprising that she has been designing clothes for only 8 years. And so, with the long-awaited arrival of my very own half circle tunic AND the upcoming unveiling of Liza’s F/W 09 collection, I decided it was time for myself and you, my readers, to get to know one of Portland’s finest designers a little more. Enjoy…

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Do you have any formal fashion design training? Do you find that this is considered by your peers/the press/buyers to be a requirement to successfully start and run a label?

As for clothing design and construction, I am completely self taught. I have a B.A. in Anthropology and Sociology. Portland is unique in the amount of non ‘professionally’ trained apparel designers it has. We are a very D.I.Y. city. I have a lot of fellow designer friends who are self taught, designing, producing, and running storefronts. To run a label you have to love what you are doing and be very motivated. I think professional training works for some, and not for others.

What is the very first piece you remember designing?

A gray dress – very modern and sci-fi with a big bustle.

Do you wear your own designs?

Yes. I sometimes keep my old samples.

What is your most treasured piece of clothing, either self-designed or bought?

That’s a toughie. It has to be one of my jackets, which I tend to have a lot of. I have an asymmetrical gray wool blazer from the 1940’s that is simply divine. Or a very old black leather jacket with tons of holes and rips that my best friend gave me (she was going to throw it away!) and I cut the sleeves off above the elbow.

Does being a brick-and-mortar shop owner influence your designs?

It is definitely interesting being able to meet my customer base – which of course didn’t happen when I sold exclusively wholesale to other boutiques. I definitely have learned a lot about what women seem to want and what works with their bodies. Making custom garments allows me to see how one design looks on many different body types.

How has online shopping and Etsy in particular affected your label?

It has allowed me to reach far outside of Portland, expand my customer base, gotten me more press and recognition – which is great. I am thankful for Etsy.

There seems to be a huge creative community in Portland. Do you feel that this influences your own work?

Definitely. If I didn’t live in Portland, I am not sure I would be designing. I was at the right place at the right time, and was able to become a part of a local indie design collective called ‘Seaplane’ in 2001. This boutique sold all handmade, local garments, produced its own annual runway shows and gained a lot of attention locally and nationally. We (local designers) inspired and supported each other.

Do you listen to music while you’re working? What inspires you the most?

Yes! Either that or NPR. But the news can get so depressing. I play music (in a band called ‘tu fawning’), so music is a huge part of my life. It really depends on what I am working on that decides the musical backdrop. If I am patterning, mellow is good. If I am in production mode, I like music that is a bit driving.

I love how your collections are not season-specific. Do you experience any difference in sales in an economic downturn, or do you feel that having season-less collections balances this out?

I like to design non season-specific, because it is so much more realistic for my size business and practical for my customers. I really love timeless pieces that are still edgy – that can be worn again and again. I personally don’t shop a lot and am picky about what I buy, so when I do purchase a piece, I like it to be something that can translate through the seasons.

As for the economy – well, it seems people are shopping less, but being more selective when they do shop. I think buying higher end means buying less and getting more wear out of a garment.

You design two small collections each year – do you find you’ll continue on in this way, are do you sometimes want to just randomly create one-of-a-kind or extremely limited pieces?

I like making a collection, a body of work. It makes sense from a business perspective. I do adore the times I am able to do one-of-a-kinds. I usually do this for fashion shows. It keeps it interesting, and artistic for me.

What is your favorite material to work with?

Right now, I love tech fabrics. Traditionally, I love dupioni silk.

If you weren’t a designer, what do you think you’d be doing for a career?

A full-time musician.

And lastly, what is your favorite piece from your new F/W collection?

It changes every week 😉
 
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Check out Liza’s Etsy shop now for pieces from her past and current collections (including a good number of cloches, as pictured above), and very soon for her new F/W 09 collection. Her lovely website also has a portfolio of previous collections. If you’re lucky enough to be near Portland, Oregon, make sure you stop by her brick-and-mortar store and studio, located at 2305 NW Savier Street 2774 NW Thurman Street. AND, if you’re in Portland on October 12th, be the first to see her new F/W collection in person at her runway show – check her Etsy shop for details.
 
 
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