When you want to make your dream a reality, you don’t need to be born into money or have your parents teach you the ropes. Being provided with all the tools, whether it’s through luck or fortune, doesn’t mean anything unless you actually do something, right? But while some people may have the upper hand to help make their career blossom, today’s Boss Babe has proven that it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from or how you were brought up — as long as you have heart and determination, you can create the life you knew you were always meant to live. Because at the end of the day, life is what you make of it.
Christine Alcalay is a designer you may already familiar with. From A-list celebrities like Drew Barrymore to fashion bloggers like Atlantic-Pacific’s Blair Eadie, this Vietnam-born Boss Babe has dressed everyone and anyone with her to-die-for designs. While her drive and perseverance have given her the strength to create a world that only some of us can dream of thanks to her namesake line and two Brooklyn shops, fig. and KIWI, she’s proved that you can establish a beautiful life later in life even when you were born into nothing. Meet the most hard-working fashion designer we know, Christine Alcalay.
Cape St. Jacques, Vung Tau, Vietnam, Born.
Raised in Jamaica, Queens
All over Brooklyn, NY
Clothing item you believe every NYC working woman should own:
Anything that makes you feel powerful. It’s different for everyone but for me, it’s a great pair of colored shoes to brighten up the day. I love looking down at my feet to see color.
Must-have beauty product for winter:
Ultimate guilty pleasure:
Buffalo wings, extra spicy.
Favorite item from your most recent collection:
Loving the one shoulder hibiscus print maxi from ss17 that is feminine, flirty, fun and can pretty much take me anywhere this summer.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you became a fashion designer?
I can literally write a book about who I am, where I came from and what has made me who I am. It’s my history and my roots that have made me a cultivated and open-minded woman. I’d like to describe myself as a go-getter and extremely ambitious.
I’m a modern day woman, dream chaser, mom, and entrepreneur.
My strengths come from being raised by a hardworking mother who brought me to the United States and literally sewed our future together. It is out of hardship and poverty that I’ve learned to propel myself into what I have always wanted and imagined. Nothing has ever been given to me and I can proudly say that I’ve worked my fingers to the bone to become a designer and entrepreneur. I’ve earned the right to brag. Being a designer was a decision I made very early on in my childhood. I’ve always loved the physical aspect of making beautiful things. Design is the ultimate marriage of vision and reality. It’s the execution of my dreams and vision that make me truly satisfied. I surround myself every day with beautiful people, make people feel beautiful and create beauty. My belief is that you can imagine it, if you can see yourself in a space, in a feeling, in a moment, with hard work and dedication, it will and can be real. Chasing your vision, however, is hard and it takes full investment in yourself and stamina.
What do you feel is your biggest inspiration when it comes to designing?
So many aspects of life become the main source of my inspiration. Travel, art, music, current events, iconic women, nature, life events, and boundless other things have inspired my work. Inspiration can not be contained, it comes from places, things, and events and cannot be controlled. I love the inspiration process and the openness required to be inspired. The driving force of my inspiration comes from the insatiable appetite for what’s next and the constant evolution of myself and the women I design for.
Not only do you have your own clothing line but you also own two Brooklyn shops called fig. and KIWI. How do you manage your time between all three and do you treat your brick and mortar differently from your namesake company?
It’s no joke and not for the faint of heart. It’s quite a lot to balance. The key to balance is something I’m still working on. A couple of weeks ago, I went to see Carmen at the metropolitan opera and asked a fortune teller when balance was coming and if it was in my future. She looked at my cards and told me that it was coming this summer so I’ve been working extra hard to make sure that becomes truth. The three businesses are very different and are all at tipping points of growth and require focus, talent, planning, time and money. Loving all of what I do is what makes it all possible.
My collection [gives] me complete creative freedom, Kiwi keeps me current and communicating with the people who matter most: my customers. And fig., my men’s shop, allows me to venture into menswear where design can be very technical, cerebral and a refreshing change.
I trust my talented team, have a strong sense of self, point of view, vision and stay razor-sharp focused in all of my roles in the business. You have to see the final destination and make sure you’re traveling with the right support.
I am very disciplined when working. That is key. I treat all of my companies as equals because they each feed the creative and entrepreneur in connecting but very different ways.
You’ve immigrated from Vietnam when you were three years old. Do you feel like that experience and your upbringing has influenced your created perspective on design and fashion?
Yes. There is no doubt that our experiences shape who we are. For me, design and clothing have always been a way of life. I am very grateful to have the relationship I do with design and clothing. My perspective on clothing relies very heavily on the realistic side of the fashion industry in NYC and the work of strengthening, keeping my design and production in NYC is very important to me. I am trying to give back to the NYC garment district that continues to inspire me.
From a young age, I spent time on 7th Avenue in factories, talking to the designers my mom worked with. I spent the money I had on buying fabrics and notions from the fabric shops. I dreamed of having my own collection and dressing women. It’s really all I’ve ever known. In a way, I didn’t choose fashion — it’s who I am.
Being of Vietnamese origin, I have a love for color and patterns. The freshness of the foods and colors of my hometown is always reflected in my collections whether subtle or literal. Not to mention that growing up in Queens meant wearing Cross Colors and colored Reeboks. You can take the girl out of Queens but you can’t take Queens out of the girl.
Describe your style in three words:
I can’t do that.
Balance mixture of seemingly conflicting patterns, colors, and fabrics — which somehow all blend together in an unassumingly delightful assemblage of classically inspired, yet cutting edge fashion.
What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from opening two stores, managing your namesake clothing line and learning to grow all three brands?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned [is] that I can’t do everything myself. In order to grow, I’ve had to find help because behind every great company is a great team.
How would you describe the Christine Alcalay woman?
She’s adventurous, an original, modern, romantic, strong and feminine.
Where do you hope to see yourself in the next five years?
I would like to continue to evolve as a designer and entrepreneur. It’s such an exciting time for women, technology, and design.
Any advice for future Boss Babes, especially those looking to be fashion designers?
Find your own path and stay on it. Work hard, cry often, be gentle with yourself, celebrate small victories and realize when there are big ones. Always believe in your vision and persevere.
If you can’t get enough of Christine’s story, you have to follow her on Instagram for more BTS magic into her life.
Written by Raven Ishak
Photography via Vanessa Granda