For the past six years, sisters Alexandra and Kristen O'Neil have been whipping up perfectly fuss-free dresses and separates for their shared label, Porter Grey. Now, as they prepare to debut their Fall '12 season, we caught up with the ladies to hear what it's like working with a sibling and how the line has matured since its launch (after all, they were both still in college when they went into business together).
Where does the name Porter Grey come from?
Kristen: Naming a company or a brand is probably the hardest part of starting something. We knew that we definitely did not want to name the line after ourselves, but we wanted to give it a name that was both meaningful to us and encompassed the concept of the brand that we were creating. We decided to name the line after our great grandmother, Catharine Porter Grey.
Did you ever think you'd be working with your sister?
Alexandra: I never necessarily thought that we would be working together, however I'm not surprised. We have always been incredibly close, and we happen to get along in this truly unique and special way. Now that we have been working together for over 5 years, I can’t imagine having another partner in crime.
How do your tastes differ?
Kristen: I think the fact that we have different styles is what helps make us successful in what we do. I think it is important to have multiple perspectives and for people to challenge you -- that's how you grow. We both have a love for all things vintage, so that is something that definitely finds its way into our designs. While my style tends to be more minimalistic and Ali’s tends to be more fashion-forward, our styles seem to complement each other and create a single, coherent voice for the line.
Describe your collaborative process a little bit: Who is responsible for doing what?
Alexandra: What we do is definitely a collaborative process; it has to be, because we do everything ourselves. Kristen handles all of the back end work, while I mostly deal with the factories and production. In terms of design, we do everything together, from fabric selection to styling.
Your collections always have an easy, cool-girl appeal -- chic without trying too hard. Is it difficult to hit that note season after season?
Kristen: I think it's very easy to stick embellishments on something to make it stand out or try to make it unique, but we have always tried to steer clear of that route. We look to design and fabrics to try to achieve a unique perspective and style that is both forward-thinking and easy to wear. When we launched Porter Grey, our main focus was to make clothing that was uncomplicated and yet special in its own right.
How might you define "American" style, and where does Porter Grey fit into that aesthetic?
Alexandra: What we love about “American” style is its clean-cut, casual aesthetic. When I think about American style I think of a crisp white button-down. It never goes out of style and always looks great, but it has this easiness to it that you can incorporate into any look. It is that idea that we keep in mind when we design. We want a girl to be able to throw on Porter Grey and not need to over think it, but know that she looks great.
How has the brand changed or matured since launch?
Kristen: We started out with very simple silhouettes and high-end fabrics. Neither of us had a background in fashion, so the first few years acted as a tutorial to the fashion industry and the elements of design. Ali had been designing and making her own clothes since she was about ten, so she always had this innate ability. My ability, however, still had to be developed.
We have definitely kept that same easy-to-wear aesthetic that we started with, but our design capabilities have evolved over the last five years. I think another reason why the line has matured is simply because we have always designed with ourselves in mind. As we have gotten older and our lifestyles have changed -- we launched when we were both in college -- the line has also followed that same trajectory.