SILVAE's Deborah Roberts on Community, Finding Your Passion and Coming Home
Deborah Roberts has kind of done it all. The Seattle native began her line, SILVAE, after taking corporate fashion for a spin. After moving across the country and back again, she opened a shop in her hometown geared towards supporting emerging designers that continues to play an integral role in building the fashion community there. Roberts has dabbled in just about every aspect of the industry but one thing remains consistent: her love for the Pacific Northwest and the region's influence in her work.
We've loved having SILVAE in our Lord & Taylor shop-in-shop season after season and have witnessed firsthand the evolution of her business as well as her artistic direction. Roberts' designs find that fine line between art and wearability, pairing luxe fabrics with dramatic details to create covetable pieces you can actually live in. Beyond the beautiful garments is a tight knit community of artists and designers transforming Seattle into a small hub of design activity.
What were you doing before you started SILVAE?
Deborah Roberts: I was actually working as an assistant designer at Eddie Bauer. I started working there right out of design school (I went through a small design school in Seattle that’s very technically focused). Right after that I was working on men’s and women’s knits and sweaters and then I worked for a while doing fabric sourcing. It was a great experience just to learn more about how the industry works on a larger scale and the processes and timelines. I always wanted to do my own thing – I didn’t imagine it would be so quickly. After getting a taste of corporate life I just wanted to do something smaller. There’s not a lot of small designers in Seattle and so I found there was room to maybe explore that and that’s how I got started.
Did you always want to be a designer?
DR: No! When I was younger I actually didn’t think about design as something I could do as a career. I was thinking about coming into maybe law or public policy and I was actually studying international studies and political science at the University of Washington in undergrad. As part of the program I got to study abroad for a summer in Italy and while over there I kind of had this moment. I was window shopping in a store and I was looking at this skirt and just appreciating the design (I’d always done this I just didn’t realize that it was maybe not a normal thing). I was like, “Oh, this is what I really love.” I also think traveling and being in another place, I was thinking more about what I wanted to do and what I liked and I always wanted my work to be kind of a big part of my life and have connection to it. So, I came back to Seattle and I finished the degree and I started taking some sewing classes and immediately I was like, “Yes, this is what I want to do.”
SILVAE means “of the woods,” how does the natural landscape of the Pacific Northwest influence your designs?
DR: I’m from Seattle and I moved to New York briefly when I was in my 20s and I kind of realized how much I actually liked Seattle. I love the open space and even if you’re not in the mountains you almost feel like you are because everywhere you look there’s water, there’s mountains, there’s trees. It’s a really visually stimulating place, so that definitely has an influence in my work. So, when I started the line I wanted the name to tie into that in some way and I came across “silvae” and it just felt like a good fit.
BEING ONE OF THE FEW SEATTLE BASED CONTEMPORARY DESIGNERS, HAVE YOU SEEN THE FASHION COMMUNITY GROWING THERE? DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU'RE AT A DISADVANTAGE NOT BEING BASED IN NY OR LA?
DR: Yeah, definitely! I’d say more so in the past couple of years especially I’ve seen it growing. I think with the change in how businesses work in general – having the Internet really allows you to live and work in different places where before you really had to move to New York or LA if you wanted to go into fashion. I think now just with advances in technology - it gives you the space to live where you want and create more of a community there. Having started SILVAE I’ve really connected to more people in the art and design scene in Seattle. I actually met Faris, who does Faris Jewelry, locally in Seattle doing a pop-up event and we became friends and recently opened a store together, RIZOM, this past fall. So, it’s just been really cool to grow that community.
Do you feel like there’s a give and take of ideas and inspiration in these smaller fashion cities like Seattle?
DR: Absolutely. I’ve been growing my community there and get a lot of inspiration from Faris and from my interns I work with. I have a great stylist I work with Michelle Andrews and photographer Jessa Carter and I definitely follow their work and get a lot of inspiration from them too.
You have a way of taking these dramatic details and making them incredibly wearable, how do you manage to maintain the drama in your super comfortable collection?
DR: Gosh, that’s a good question. I guess a lot of it comes down to if I would wear it. The more I’ve done this each collection becomes more wearable. I think I’m getting better at finding that balance of having something have an interesting line and interesting details but still be something that you can wear every day and be comfortable. Maybe some of that also comes from being in Seattle where we get a lot of crazy weather and so comfort I think is intrinsically important to people that live there. So, I kinda just have that in my mind without even really thinking about it. That is something I think I aspire to do and to have nice comfortable fabrics and the hand feel of the fabric is really important to me as well.
And there’s a raincoat in this latest collection?
DR: Yeah! Very Seattle. This whole collection in a way was for me all about coming home. I’ve recently moved my production to Seattle and I’m growing my studio which is now above the store. I’ve also been honing in on the silhouettes that have been really working well and I see customers respond to. I think that also goes back to the wearability, just being conscientious of what people like and what they don’t and learning from that.