Carrie Asby is a San Francisco fashion designer well on her way to success. A native of Portland, Oregon Ms. Asby studied creative writing and photography at Linfield College in McMinnville, OR. Although she always wanted to be a fashion designer those desires were left unattended as Ms. Asby moved forward with a career in advertising. But today, finally, she’s living her dream designing a line of women’s fashions called Sutter and Larkin, which can be found online and at Lili Merveille in Hayes Valley.
Ms. Asby was kind enough to take time for a Q&A with Over Dressed for Life.
What’s the story behind your business name Sutter and Larkin?
When I was 18 I moved to downtown San Francisco to pursue my dream of becoming a fashion designer. I was living on the corner of Sutter and Larkin, not the nicest of neighborhoods. Not knowing a soul, my support group was limited. This left me feeling alone, scared and miserable. In less than 2 months, I was heading back home to Portland, OR with my tail between my legs. I told myself that the world didn’t need another fashion designer. I buried that dream so deep, I was sure I would not find it ever again.
I returned to SF just over two years ago. This time I wasn’t pursuing fashion as a career. I was designing clothes for pure personal pleasure – and I was having a lot of fun. I would create a new ensemble for any occasion and it was getting known amongst my friends that I was designing clothes. A dear friend asked for an individual piece that he could wear at his massive birthday bash.
At the party, a stylish young woman got word that I designed the birthday boy’s outfit. Convinced that I was a fashion designer. she inquired to what boutiques carried my line. At that very moment, I pulled my dream back up and put it smack in the driver’s seat. Here’s the best part – the party was taking place where I lived when I was 18, on the corner of Sutter and Larkin. So voila’….Sutter Larkin became the name.
What inspires you to design?
I have always gotten along very well with colors and textures. I love combining them; taking the unexpected and making it work. I also love simplicity. To come up with a simple design that works isn’t always easy. But when I do, then add great color and materials…..ah! I love it. The complexity of simplicity inspires me, as well as the unexpected.
How does your background in advertising inform your work in fashion?
Being a design thinker is not a trade that one learns: it is the way one sees the world. If a person is a design thinker, they are constantly curious and inspired by design; it’s not limited to one medium. Design is just how I look at things – all things. In advertising, I used a lot of colors and mixed textures to create a feeling with my work. This approach rolls over into my design with clothes.
Having a background in advertising has also sped up the process of creating a following with my line, as well as saved a lot of money. I have experience in brand positioning and the implementation of it. This has been beneficial for the business side of things. After all, my business is my fashion.
What’s a typical working day for you?
I’m usually up around 6:00 when I drink my coffee and read the paper. Then I return emails till about 8:00. At that time my dog finally awakes up so we head off to Alamo Square for an hour to let him run. When we return, it’s a few more hours of office work: bookkeeping, marketing, refining my production schedule, client correspondence, etc. I reserve the afternoons for production. This includes shopping for supplies or actual sewing.
What do you like the most about designing and what do you like the least?
I love it when I have a design in mind and am out shopping for the materials and wham! I find the perfect combination: the right fabric for the right dress with the perfect details. It just all comes together. I get so excited that if I had a tail, it would wag.
As far as sitting down and actually putting it together…ick. I’m not a fan of sewing. At all. Hiring someone to help with this is next on my To Do List.
Who’s your favorite designer and why?
I’m going to have to say Ralph Lauren. He gets it that a woman can look stylish, sexy and amazing when wearing jeans, cowboy boots and a t-shirt. And he can dress her up in an evening gown that says elegance, tradition, pure beauty and modern. I think Mr. Lauren understands that a woman’s beauty is who she is on the inside. Also, I only wear his perfume. All through high school and college I wore Lauren. Switched to Romance right after college and haven’t looked back.
How would you describe the Sutter Larkin woman?
My tagline is Be sexy on the inside. It’s who you are. As a fashion designer, I feel I have a responsibility to be a positive influence on the people who wear my fashions. I don’t want my clothes to overbear a person’s character. I want my clothes to enhance a person’s individuality so that when you look at them, you see an individual confident and happy. All my designs have an element of sexiness about them. But they are also all very comfortable to wear. People feel good and get compliments when wearing my clothes, and you see it in their smiles.
What kind of handbag do you carry and … what’s in it?
I’m a bit of a handbag whore. One of my favs is a black and white, fully beaded find that I got at Goodwill for $8. I get compliments on it every time I take it out. It’s so unique and cool – can’t believe anyone gave it up. Another favorite is a big, brown leather shoulder bag by Coach that my father gave me one Christmas a few years back. It has purpose and looks amazing with my favorite cowboy boots. All my handbags are extremely neat and tidy: I hate wasting time looking for things. I just carry the basics: wallet, iPhone, Aviators, set of keys, a pen, lip balm and a roll of boom-boom bags in case my dog has to go. (I take him with me everywhere possible).
Well done! To develop a line in just two years is a big accomplishment and I say, a sign it was meant to be!
Meet Carrie Asby at Lili Merveille boutique in Hayes Valley for a Sutter Larkin trunk show on November 15, 2012, 5-8. 552 Hayes Street, San Francisco.