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Derek Lam Talks California Style and His San Francisco Loves

Derek Lam and his proud Bay Area fam, photo via <a href="http://dereklam.com/dl-media/pages/18/DEREK%20LAM.jpg">Drew Altizer</a>
Derek Lam and his proud Bay Area fam, photo via Drew Altizer

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"Everyone looks to California style as: 'That's what I want to be. No rules, fewer boundaries," San Francisco-native Derek Lam told a small audience at Neiman Marcus yesterday, while he was in town to present his Spring 2014 collection for 10 Crosby, the designer's smaller, less expensive line. Chloe Harris, editor-in-chief of 7x7 magazine (who recently up and bought the publication), hosted a small gathering of Bay Area editors and fashion enthusiasts, where the magazine's fashion director, Lauren Goodman, moderated a Q&A with Lam and his 10 Crosby design director, Liz Giardina.

Both revealed they would die to sing well, and Lam told us his motto is "keep on truckin'" (ours too!). There was champagne, there were bites, and the conversation was lively. Before the festivities got underway, we sat down for a one-on-one with Mr. Lam, check it out below!

How often do you come back to San Francisco?
"I try to at least twice a year."

And all of your family is still here?
"Yep all my family is still here."

How long are you in town?
"Just until Saturday. I have a one-year-old dog so I try not to leave him for too long."

The new collection looks amazing.
"Thanks! Yeah we're really happy with it because it was about bringing excitement to this level of clothing, this client, who's looking for fashion, but something very approachable, something that really works in their lives. And then I get to do all the little design things that I like to do—and with an amazing team."

What would you say most characterizes this particular collection?
"One of the key things is I've always loved the idea of spontaneous dressing, meaning I love cultures in Africa and Southeast Asia for how they just take a piece of fabric and fold it, and it becomes something very beautiful and elegant and it's about textiles. 10 Crosby is very much about an urban statement, so just doing some cool sarongs wouldn't work. It's about having that tailored element, to having constructed clothes, but still having that flavor of spontaneous draping."

I love the white top in the collection.
"Yeah that's a perfect example where we wanted the feeling of just wrapping, but doing it in a way that's streamlined and put together. That's always our balance."

How do you think this collection will appeal to a San Francisco woman?
"I think it's the versatility. It's a sportswear brand, meaning it's about individual pieces that can all stand on their own. We always judge individual pieces: does it have versatility, can she wear it from day to evening, in all the complicated busy lives that women have? That's really, I think, the appeal. I think that's what's unique about American fashion. It's not about one look, or special occasion clothing. It's more about style and how you put it together to work in your life."

Michelle Obama wore one of your dresses recently on a trip to China. How much involvement to you have in the process of her choosing one of your designs?
"She has an amazing stylist who works with her full time, and she has an amazing team, and it's really up to them if they want to reach out to us, or if they want to buy something from the stores. And we try to accommodate. But it comes from them, it's not like they're asking the designers to make a special wardrobe. So it's really about her style and her choices and the team that she has put together."

And how much impact does it have on your business when someone high profile wears one of your designs?
"It's hard to say as far as numbers, but in terms of overall awareness—she embraces (American fashion), because of her role, but she doesn't make that more important than what she's trying to be about. She has a very contemporary way of appreciating fashion but saying, hey, it's to get me to a place where I need to be, It's not about a red carpet moment."

And that seems to resonate with your way of looking at design—making it part of your life.
"Yeah exactly. That's what I love about design, that's what I choose for myself. It's how I think about the whole lifestyle."

You worked for Michael Kors, what lessons did you take from your experience with him?
"Besides the fact that he's amazing at explaining fashion, explaining point of view, I think the biggest thing is his integrity, and his generosity with the people he worked with. I don't think I would have learned how to have a company and let it be collaborative and appreciate that if I didn't have that experience with Michael. I never really explained it that way but that's really important to me, because now we're a company of 50+ people—small in the grand scheme, but everyone contributes and I appreciate it."

Your sister works with you, is she based here?
"Yes, she lives in Belmont. So she gets to be my eyes and ears on the West Coast to promote the brand, work with retailers—if they need something they know they can go to her. She comes to New York every market, and she's very much part of the team."

Do you have more siblings?
"Yes I also have an elder sister, she's here with my two nieces. One of them has spring break from college so it's nice to see her."

Do you have any favorite places to shop in San Francisco?
"For me Gumps is classic and I love it. I go every time I come to San Francisco. It's a little more old school but there are really very few of those amazing places. And I think the assortment at Neiman's is amazing, I love the men's assortment as well."

Is there a restaurant you're excited to go to while you're here?
"Tonight I'm going to Tosca, because I know it's changed so I'm excited about that. And I'm going to Zuni Cafe tomorrow."

All the designers go to Zuni Cafe!
"Yeah, the food is excellent and it's so indicative of San Francisco. They've maintained standards, which I think everybody can appreciate over time."
All One-on-One Posts [Racked SF]
10 Crosby [Official Site]
Meet the Woman Who Brough Phillip Lim to the Peninsula [Racked SF]