German-born Robert Geller studied fashion design at the Rhode Island School of Design and started his career as an intern at Marc Jacobs. He moved on to work at Cloak as a co-designer, then left to launch his own women’s collection Harald, which lasted for two-seasons, leading Geller to launch his eponymous men’s line in fall 2007. In all, his work has been seriously well-received: Geller received the GQ/CFDA Best New Menswear Designer Award in 2009, and 2011 marks his second CFDA nomination in the Swarovski category, honoring emerging talent.
We talked with Geller about what the nomination means to him, what it’s like being a young designer today and how he hopes to see the Robert Geller brand grow (hint: don't expect him to be making throw blankets anytime soon).
You were nominated for a CFDA Award in 2009 and now again this year. What does it mean to you?
It's one of the greatest honors, especially because it's voted on my by members who are in the industry, who are recognizing your work. The first time that I was nominated, I had just won the GQ/CFDA Best New Menswear Designer Award so I was just in the middle of this whirlwind of people acknowledging what I have been doing for some time. To be nominated again is really special. It’s really nice to see that people are sticking around to see what I do.
Are you going into the awards hoping to win?
Of course I hope that I am going to win! Anyone who says they aren’t is lying. Of course I am up against pretty hefty competition with Phillip Lim and Alexander Wang in my category.
What does researching a collection look like for you each season?
I always pick a time, a place or a movement that I am interested in to begin. I spend about a month researching. This season (ed note: Fall 2011), I looked at Visconti’s films. For Spring 2011 I looked at the student revolutions in Berlin at the time. I thought about youths trying to create their own generation, which I find really interesting.
What’s your favorite part of the whole design process?
When I finally find that thing that I am interested in, that gives me vision, it’s a great moment. It’s so exciting and then I just start sketching like crazy. Also when I get to see the finished samples come out and they have turned into something beautiful -- that is also a great moment.
Where do you think men are in terms of style these days?
In the States, especially, there are a lot of changes going on. There is more of an interest in fashion than ever before, especially when it comes to Americana style. The normal guy is now going into J.Crew everyday, and it wasn’t like that a few years ago. There is also more of an interest in new labels.
What did you learn from your experiences at Cloak and Harald that you have incorporated into your namesake line?
In building my career, I am constantly learning and making mistakes. From Harald I really learned how to run a business and how to focus on quality, my price point and deliveries, which are really difficult things to learn how to do right.
You have done capsule collections with Levi’s and Common Projects—what were those experiences like?
I really loved working with Levi’s, which was an opportunity I got when I won the GQ/CFDA Award. It was really a dream come true to work with a company that I had grown up wearing in Germany -- it was really surreal. I have known the Common Projects guys for some time, so I got the chance to throw around ideas with them, and we really click when it comes to our aesthetic, so that was also a lot of fun.
What does a day-to-day look like for you? You must wear a lot of hats.
I am very lucky to have a partner in a Japanese production company, but when you are a young designer you have to make sure that the production is running well, worry about the PR, there is a lot I have to do. My partnership with the production company though has allowed me to produce clothes of a really good quality for a good price. Coupled with my aesthetic, I have been able to build a really loyal customer base, the Robert Geller gang.
Who is your customer?
Most of the guys are young creative types, starting in their mid-twenties on up. Architects, fashion designers, creative people -- people that are interested in fashion, but at the same time don’t want to look too dressed up.
Do you have any dreams as to where the Robert Geller brand is going to go?
I am just taking it step by step. I am not going to start doing pillows and throws. I am just growing naturally -- we have sunglasses, scarves and hats now for instance. In the future I think there will be a store. And further down the line I can see adding womenswear.