Ohad Seroya, founder and executive director of luxury clothing brand Retrofête, visited the University for a talk with [email protected] on Wednesday evening.
The Israeli designer and businessman founded the multi-label design showroom Mint in New York City, as well as two of his own labels, Retrofête and a more contemporary clothing brand that shares his name. Seroya engaged the students as she discussed a variety of topics, including his childhood in Israel, opening his first boutique at age 22, and moving to New York to launch his career.
Held at the List Art Center, the event consisted of an interview with Seroya moderated by Seabass Immonen ’23, Brown-RISD Dual Degree student and director of the [email protected] Design Team. After the interview, the students had the opportunity to participate in a meeting with the designer.
After being introduced by [email protected] co-director Natalia Brown ’23, Seroya took the stage wearing a monochromatic beige suit from his namesake brand.
Seroya sprinkled his impassioned responses with the occasional quip. “He IS my fan,” she said, giggling as the wind rattled the side door of the room like someone was knocking on the door.
After explaining that her Retrofête brand is meant to serve as “a party scene in your closet” that celebrates confidence and sexiness, Seroya delved into her own childhood. She revealed that her mother worked as a cleaner and that she often accompanied her to her jobs. Through this experience, he and his mother were exposed to the wardrobes of the wealthiest people.
Even though they didn’t have much money, Seroya spoke about his mother’s style and said that she would “always look like a superstar, … looking richer than the richest people.”
He started creating his own designs at the age of 16 after working at a local Diesel, an Italian clothing brand. Because she had to wear the shop’s clothes as an employee, she finally had access to the quality fabrics he so admired. She said she would cut, roll and wash the clothes to make them unique.
When people started asking where he got his clothes, he said he had one definite thought: “Let’s make some money, honey.” She started selling her own bleached jeans and redesigned T-shirts.
Eventually Seroya opened his own boutique in Tel Aviv. Even though he didn’t make much money, he didn’t get discouraged. He later moved to New York to open the Mint showroom and subsequently Retrofête and Seroya.
“Today I am going to Israel like a king,” Seroya said.
He said he lets every job he does teach him something different. As a waiter, you learned to be nice to customers no matter what; working as a choreographer, he learned to lead groups of people; and from his work as a photographer he learned technical skills that he still uses today in photo shoots.
Seroya said that at first she was afraid to start her own brand, but then her husband encouraged him to overcome his fears and he launched Retrofête. She added that persistent effort has been key to the brand’s success: After a distributor initially rejected her collection, Seroya reworked the entire line and conducted a new photo shoot.
“It’s not a lookbook, it’s a brand,” he recalled telling the model in that shoot. Her photos convinced luxury retailers FWRD and Barneys to sell her designs.
When asked what advice he would give to those aspiring to have a career in fashion, Seroya stressed being patient — “something I’m not” — and listening. She has attributed much of his success to the people around him: from his interns to his mother to her husband. He stressed that while you don’t have to take everyone’s advice, you have to be open to what people are saying and accept some feedback.
Some audience members emerged inspired from the conversation with Seroya. “Hearing her story was truly eye-opening,” said Erika Luter ’24, director of operations for events at [email protected]
“One of the most insightful things is that being a designer isn’t just about designing,” Brown said. “He’s more of a businessman now.”
For some, the conclusions were less concrete. Rhode Island School of Design alumnus Kaitung Yeung noted, “I liked the vibe about her.”
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