Matthew Earnest Is Closing The Gap Between Tribeca and Texas
In a city where pink Uggs are worn without a tinge of irony, designer Matthew Earnest is a veritable Nor’easter of fresh air. The Parsons grad and former young New York up-and-comer blew into Dallas late last year to spread the gospel of understated chic through his hometown. With longtime friend/muse Lily Atherton Hanbury (that’s Hope’s little sis, for those who follow the downtown art scene), Earnest opened Sartel, a gem of a shop in Highland Park. The 500-square-foot boutique carries goodies ranging from Maison de Cire Trudon candles to Alexander Olch neckties and Kathryn Allsopp jewelry, but it’s main focus is the womenswear collection named Sartel that Earnest and Hanbury launched this season. Designed for the twentysomething girl on the go, the line mixes the functional with fabulous, say stretched canvas with ostrich feathers, in tidy silhouettes. We managed to pry Earnest away from laboring over his Fall 2009 collection to chat about Lone Star style, the rigors of being a young designer in New York, and gay cowboy karaoke.
Let’s cut to the chase. Why Dallas?
Well, we were planning on opening in New York, but then we had people who were interested in joining us, business-wise, who were from Texas and they asked us to come down. We didn’t end up doing business with them, but while we were going around looking at potential locations, I realized Dallas would be a good opportunity for us. We could start and be able to build it slow and steady instead of, you know, doing it under the hot lights of New York.
What strikes you about the way that women dress below the Mason Dixon line?
Color. There’s a lot more color. I feel like Dallas is sort of cut from the same cloth as L.A. Women here are very much into putting together a whole look. In the north, people are a little more into pieces and layering. There’s a lack of layering here. It’s the weather difference, I think.
Is there anything the fashion world could learn from our diamonds ‘n’ denim aesthetic?
Umm. Well, it’s definitely go big or go home here, and I actually think that’s interesting. Everyone in this city seems in their own way to be—whether it’s [through] personality or clothes&38212;fairly outrageous. And that’s kind of cool.
Sartel is kind of the opposite of outrageous, though. Adjectives like impeccable and elegant spring to mind instead. Do you think you’ll be able to establish a solid customer base here?
I do. I think that Dallas women…
Desperately need your help?
Ha. Well, I think that they’re very into current trends and what’s going on. One thing that really impressed me is that they’re very interested in learning about how pieces work together and they tend to keep a very open mind. Also, with the collection itself we have a lot of muted colors like midnight gravy and dove gray and ivory, but then we also have like a mustard yellow, an acid green, and some strong prints that help make it all pop.
How did you and Lily decide to pair up professionally?
She’s always been sort of a muse for me. I often look to her for advice on whether a piece works or fits right. When I first started doing this, I was talking to her a lot about who I wanted to market it to and it just kind of snowballed into a professional partnership.
She lives in London now with her husband and baby. The time difference must be a bit challenging. How have you two divvied up the job responsibilities?
Well, we’re both co-creative directors. It usually starts out with one of us having an idea and then discussing it and developing it together. Lily has a very strong hand in picking out the fabrics, whereas I’m really interested in the construction of the clothes and looking at things from a geometric standpoint. It’s sort of as if she gives me a drawing and then I color it in.
You appeared on the New York fashion scene at the tender age of 22. I mean, your Parsons senior thesis doubled as your debut womenswear collection at New York fashion week. Tell me about some of the trials and tribulations you faced as a young designer. Would you ever go back?
I would definitely go back. It’s a great place to be a young designer. People are very interested in what you are doing. And as far as having access to industry resources, it’s fantastic. On the other hand, it’s tough because at the same time that you’re trying to develop your aesthetic and identity, you’re being made to understand that it is a business as well. Also, it’s difficult having to compete with bigger designers, say like a Marc Jacobs, who have so much more volume than you do. Although, in the end, that makes you more creative because you’re forced to work with less.
What appealed to you about opening up your own shop?
For one thing, I like the idea of going into the front and interacting with customers. For the first time in my career I’m there when people are trying on my designs. I get to see how they respond, what they like or don’t. I like that we have complete control. We build the display. We’re here on a day-to-day basis. We’re helping to sell the clothes. It’s more intense and I find that it actually helps make the line evolve. I’m enjoying it quite a bit.
You had an impressive launch party for the collection. Lots of out-of-town guests. How did you manage to keep everyone entertained?
Well, vodka and Champagne cocktails for a start. Then after the party we took everyone to a place called the Round-Up Saloon for gay country-and-western karaoke. The place is crazy. It’s like something out of Brokeback Mountain. There was this two-stepping deaf cowboy on the dance floor who did these insane high kicks. He was using the vibrations of the music on the floor to stay with the rhythm.
Yeah, it’s the perfect place for someone with ADD. There’s a lot going on and a lot to look at.
Sartel’s spring collection is also available for purchase at www.sartel.biz .