You may not be familiar with fashion designer, Aja Singer, but it’s only a matter of time until you are. She has been recognized by WWD and the New York Times, and is the head designer for contemporary label, Of Mercer. And her styles have been worn by the likes of Emmy Rossum. Singer’s Of Mercer design aesthetic is modern, with both feminine and masculine elements, while maintaining functionality, making her looks ideal for the workplace. And I caught up with her for a chat about her style journey, who she would like to dress in Hollywood, what’s next for her, and more.
RCR: How did you get your start in the fashion business?
AS: Well I have always been very passionate about design, art, and fashion. When I was young, I would make patterns and dresses from scratch and was obsessively playing over my mom’s fashion magazines – that’s pre-Instagram. I actually, sort of veered off course for a little while and studied anatomy, health, and biology. So I applied to only to Parsons…If I get in, it’s fate…I took my chances. Luckily I got in. I moved right after finishing my degree in science, I moved here to New York to go to Parsons and I have been here ever since loving it. It was really intense. I was working all the time, but it was so exciting to be working and making clothing as opposed to memorizing body parts.
RCR: What inspires you to design?
AS: New art and new music really inspire me – I’m always listening to music when I’m designing. What really inspires me the most are the women that I see in New York when I’m on the train, subway, when I’m walking around or going to work. These are really powerful, dynamic women and seeing them experiencing their clothes, living in their clothes – that’s really what inspires me to make the clothes that I do now.
RCR: How do you make your styles accessible to women of all shapes and sizes?
AS: So, when we first started the line, that was really a priority of mine, to make sure that the measurements that we were basing the styles off of were accommodating to a number of body types. A lot of fashion brands will fit on a woman that’s 5’10” and a size 0 or 2, so this doesn’t really reflect most of the population. I mean our whole team here is pretty petite, curvy girls, so we wanted to make sure we could wear the clothes too. I saw many, many fit models and settled on one, she’s a size six and 5’8” – a little curvier figure.
Especially because of our customers that we’re catering to, these are clothes that really need to function and [she] gets up in the morning and puts them on and then she’s at work, she’s dropping her kids at their soccer practice, meeting friends for drinks, out to business dinners, she’s doing so many things during the day so the clothes really have to wear well. It’s not just about looking good.
RCR: Just to go a little deeper on whom this woman is that you are designing for.
AS: She is in her 20s or 30s, and she definitely has a really full life. There is a very full social life or a family, very active within her community. She has clothes that can function in all types of environments. She definitely values both her career and her social life and she’s just very dynamic and interesting.
RCR: Is she a fashion girl? Does she keep up with the trends?
AS: Not necessarily. She probably interested in trends but it doesn’t fixate her shopping on trends. Most women these days, with Instagram and social media, I think, most women are somewhat aware of what trends are and what celebrities are wearing – you know, what is going on in fashion but I think on a deeper level, she is about shopping for something that looks good on her and what works for her body type and her lifestyle as opposed to chasing the latest trends.
RCR: Is there anybody in Hollywood that you would really love to dress?
AS: I’d love to dress Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. They’re such wonderful, interesting women who are funny and they obviously enjoy their lives very much but work really hard and who are really successful – they’re super inspiring.
RCR: What trends are you obsessed with right now? What do you really love?
AS: I think what’s interesting right now, especially in the last collection that we saw in New York, is women’s empowerment and social activism has been a really strong trend in the industry and that has translated to these really beautifully tailored pieces and strong colors. That really resonates with me in terms of designing for Of Mercer.
RCR: For the young men and women who are looking to break into the fashion world, what advice would you give to them about starting out or how to get their foot in the door?
AS: I think exploring and learning as much as you possibly can is what I myself did. Each time I was at Parsons I did two internships and was working all the time, but I learned so much. I think getting all the information you can about different companies and figuring out what your place is within the industry is so important.
RCR: You are the head designer for Of Mercer. Where would you like to see the company go in the next five years?
AS: Well in the shorter term, we’re opening a pop-up shop in D.C. this month, so that’s really exciting. We have a lot of customers there and just to be able to interact with them. So I think really building out the product offering. I’m sure you saw we started introducing plus size items, our extended sizing collection, so our best sellers we now sell up to size 20. So expanding that offering is really a priority. And then as well, we don’t have much knit-wear in the collection yet so that’s going to be a big push and this building out the categories that we offer to make sure that they are something for every woman.
RCR: Social media is so big right now, and I feel like brands really utilize influencers to get the word out there – is that something that’s on your radar? How does that play into your business?
AS: Yeah, definitely. We just re-launched the website so you can see it’s much more directional – vision speaking to our customer. Definitely doing a lot more photo shoots and creating interesting content to engage with our customers and represent them.
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