Fashion designer Roberta Freymann travels the world to infuse a taste of the exotic into her clothing and accessories. Born and raised in England to a mother who was a milliner and a muse to a famous French fashion designer, Roberta’s lineage predestined her love of style. She began her business in an unmarked boutique, relying solely on a word-of-mouth hunger for her globally-minded goods. Now with two lines, Roberta Freymann and Roberta Roller Rabbit, she holds court in successful shops in New York and Los Angeles that offer her avid customers an exuberant and colorful escape.
Roberta Roller Rabbit collection by Roberta Freymann
Editor’s note: The product images shown here of the Roberta Freymann line are from the Spring/Summer ’09 and Fall/Winter ’08 collections. Watch for images from the new Fall/Winter ’09 collection to be posted soon. Readers who follow Seeds and Fruit on Twitter or Facebook will automatically receive notice of the added images from this new collection.
I understand you were born and raised in England and spent summers in the Hamptons as a child. How did your love of worldly and exotic fashion and accessories develop, and what inspired you to start your Roberta Freymann line?
My love of fashion was inspired by my mother, who was a muse of Jacques Fath and had her own millinery shop at Claridges Hotel in London. The inspiration to start the shops was that once I designed something, I needed somewhere to show it.
Athena dress, Spring/Summer ’09 Roberta Freymann collection
Classic kurta in Elsa red, Roberta Roller Rabbit line
Bondi Beach bag Elsa purple, Roberta Roller Rabbit line
I’m intrigued by how you started selling your goods, in an almost secretive way with no store sign in an Upper East Side townhouse in Manhattan and relying on word-of-mouth promotion. Tell me about these early years getting started.
The early years were very creative. The word that I was selling pashminas spread very fast, since I was one of the first people to bring pashmina shawls to the U.S. To promote the craze, I started in 1997 and sold 200 of them during the holiday season. The next year I sold more than 10,000.
In the beginning, everything happened on the 5th floor of a townhouse with an elevator that only worked sometimes. The clients came, if only to see the boxes arrive from the airport and what was in them! Some clients who lived across the street would see the delivery men arrive and make a beeline up the stairs!
Cashmere blanket from the Fall/Winter ’08 Roberta Freymann line
Current Roberta Freymann boutique at 153 East 70th in New York City
What distinguishes your Roberta Roller Rabbit line from your Roberta Freymann line, and where did this name come from?
The name was part of a fabric I found in a “go down” in the jobber’s market in Delhi. The rest I invented!
The difference between Roberta Roller Rabbit and Roberta Freymann is that Roberta Roller Rabbit is not trend-driven. It is based on traditional fabrics and techniques reinvented and recoloured.
Roberta Freymann is of-the-moment and still uses lots of handiwork.
Astrid Diamond dress, Spring/Summer ’09 Roberta Freymann line
Samara dress, Spring/Summer ’09 Roberta Freymann line
Classic kurta in Elsa brown, Roberta Roller Rabbit line
Floppy beach hat in Dorothea red, Roberta Roller Rabbit line
Tell me about your travels and your work with artisans in various countries. How do you develop these relationships, how much are you able to immerse yourself in these cultures, and what kind of exchange of ideas happens long the way?
I am a wanderer, always curious about different cultures, languages, religions and dress. I can fit in anywhere and will talk to anyone! I usually make myself understood, even if in many occasions I do not speak the language! A smile, lots of hand movements and laughter go a long way!
I love art, artists, and artisans. I consider the only difference between these an economic one! The artist feels when someone appreciates them and connects with what they are doing…hence the relationship works! I love antique textiles and love to see tradition continue and translate into modern day fashion.
Textiles in the Roberta Roller Rabbit collection
Ombrey drop necklace, Fall/Winter ’08 Roberta Freymann line
Take us on a little journey with you: what are some of your favorite markets and places? To scout new products and textiles, do you just follow your nose?
Some of the best markets are Oaxaca in Mexico, Chichicastenango in Guatemala, Old Delhi, Chatuchak in Bangkok, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Anytime I go to a new city, markets are the first place I go to look!
Kurtas from the Roberta Roller Rabbit line
Raya dress, Spring/Summer ’09 Roberta Freymann line
Your retail store designs seem to take the shopper on a little journey too, with bright colors, stenciled walls, and, of course, a veritable bazaar of goods to explore. What kind of thought do you put into these store interiors?
Whenever I travel, I try to put aside a few hours to visit and sightsee. Even if it is walking around and looking at buildings or walls, churches, palaces, courtyards…
I then try to translate some of these touches in the stores, so that they do not look commercial. There is nothing I dislike more than minimalist, all white, gray and beige stores with chrome fixtures! I find them unappealing and unfriendly! Maybe because I am extremely untidy, thrive on chaos (India) and, of course, my love of colour!
Roberta Freymann store in Upper East Side Manhattan
As a former retail executive, do your pop-up stores mimic for you a bit of the essence of the stalls you might find in a bazaar or are they more simply a way to test demand in a new market or neighborhood?
They are more a way to test the market and hopefully make them permanent. A lot of work and energy go into opening any store, so I do it with a look to the future.
Roberta Roller Rabbit pop-up store in Santa Monica, California
There’s a component of escapism — maybe even therapy — to your goods and to your store interiors. Has your business, your perspective, or your mission changed at all since the economic downturn?
I feel that our customers need more escapism, fantasy and fun to cope with the stressful new economy. Since my product is not overly expensive, they feel less guilty coming to buy an item from us to liven up their wardrobes.
Sasha top and orange beach hat, Spring/Summer ’09 Roberta Freymann collection
Dip dyed silk scarves, Fall/Winter ’08 Roberta Freymann collection
Aurora dress, Spring/Summer ’09 Roberta Freymann line
Where do you see your work going forward from here?
Now that I opened my first store away from home (Los Angeles), I am less worried about scouting out new locations around the country. I have an amazing team working with me, and we are all open to suggestions.
Jada dress, Spring/Summer ’09 Roberta Freymann line
Horn bangles, Fall/Winter ’08 Roberta Freymann line
Cab bag, Fall/Winter ’08 Roberta Freymann line
What are some of your favorite things, whether they directly impact your work or just make you happy?
Travel, music, the opera, food, cooking, art, museums, the sun, laughter, children and dogs!
The 2009 Roberta Freymann trunk show season is about to start. For more information about trunk shows and their extension wholesale clientele, please visit the Roberta Freymann website.
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