Creative Entrepreneurship: Nova Lorraine on the science of design & the business of fashion
Nova Lorraine is the very definition of a creative entrepreneur. As the founder, editor, and creative director of Raine Magazine, she is a growing force in the publishing industry, currently laying the groundwork for a new endeavor. As a sought after, award-winning designer, she is the visionary behind a new fashion collection scheduled for debut by the end of the year. And, as a holder of an MA in Clinical Psychology, she is a whip-smart, innovative, and driven businesswoman who shares her love of strategy by moonlighting as a consultant.
Born in Jamaica, Lorraine immigrated to the states with her family when she was just seven years old. Growing up in Connecticut, she had a loving and joyful childhood that was both carefree and full of formative experiences. “It was fun! I mean I grew up with four brothers and my sister came when I was about eight,” she recalled. “We loved being around each other – playing games, riding bikes, doing puzzles.” Around the same time, Lorraine’s two older brothers introduced her to the business world by hiring her for their paper route. “Just think about it,” they said, “by the end of the week you will be able to earn four quarters!”
Aside from her brothers’ mentorship, Lorraine’s parents were committed to teaching their young children the importance of hard work: “They were very hands on when it came to making sure we understood the importance of an education.” Throughout her school years, she was a star athlete. And, as a cheerleader at the University of Connecticut, she got her first taste of the limelight. “Cheerleaders represented the school, but also the state. We did commercials, events, and helped out charities,” she explained. “It was a time when U-Conn was making a name for itself on the national stage, so being part of that era was extremely exciting.”
But as the time to choose her career steadily approached, her love of fashion didn’t yet take center stage. “In life, I wanted to follow my brother, the one who was three years older than me. When he decided he wanted to be a doctor, I was like: ‘Yeah, that sounds good, I want to be a doctor, too!’” So, she put herself on the pre-med track. “By my senior year in college I had decided that I was going on to grad school for a PHD in clinical psychology instead of going to med school.” Though it seemed like she was set to follow her plan, Nova Lorraine switched directions and followed her dreams instead.
ARTpublika Magazine reached out to Nova Lorraine to learn more about her life, love of fashion, and the principles and science of design.
When did you first realize you have a passion for fashion?
In the Jamaican culture, there are a lot of parties. As a woman, your goal is to be the best dressed in the room.
My mom was extremely stylish. She always made sure she found the most unique and well-made items, and she was very particular about the quality and craftsmanship of the clothes. The items she selected were timeless and she was the best dressed in the room, so her daughter had to represent. It was fun and I just loved her strong sense of style.
But in terms of fashion as we know it, I would always sketch design when I was in school. I was just playing around with ideas; it was never deemed something that could be a career choice, and so I didn’t know it was something you could actually do or study.
Did any particular item or fashion piece of hers stand out to you when you were young?
Her shoes and handbags were very coveted. They were always Italian-made and leather. Coordinating her shoes and handbags with her outfits was something that was very, very important to her. And, she always loved gold and gemstones; typically they were sapphires or diamonds. So, not one particular item. But I do remember her gold jewelry, leather shoes, and leather handbags.
So you were in college, set to go to grad school to earn a degree in clinical psychology. When and how did you decide to pursue design?
I don’t know where it came from. I ended up finding a school in California and reached out. I didn’t tell anyone I did this [because] I didn’t want anyone to know I was interested in fashion. I mean, everyone [who] knew me for so long knew I was going into psychology! This was just so out of the blue. But, I secretly sent out this application, and I got in. They were like: “You need to do these sketches and designs. You need this portfolio.” And I haven’t taken an art class since elementary school! So, I folded the letter, put it in my drawer, and forgot about it. After I graduated, I took a year off to plan my wedding. Then, I applied to grad school. But during that year off, I realized that I had a real strong love for fashion.
After college, I had a job as an IT recruiter. I quit and took a job at the mall as the manager of a really cool contemporary clothing store to get close to fashion. And, decided I was going to apply to design school. So, I ended up taking an art class and [ended up] using that as my portfolio. I came up with a list of the top five design schools to apply to and sent off my applications, but I also sent out my application to grad school. I heard back from the grad school first. I was offered a full scholarship and a job. Within weeks, I got accepted into all of the design programs I applied to. But, I decided to do the practical thing and go to grad school. About two months in, I had this gnawing, overwhelming feeling that I had leave the program and go to New York to study fashion
First, I approached my husband; we were just married and he was doing his residency in general surgery and then he was heading to Washington DC. New York was not part of any upcoming plans, but he could see that this was what I wanted to do, so he supported me. From there, I approached my department heads and they were gracious enough to do something they’ve never done before, which was allow me to complete a Master’s degree and leave the program in a year’s time. So, at the end of the year, I earned my master’s in clinical psychology, moved to New York, and enrolled at FIT.
Was it a difficult adjustment?
Design school is a whole other animal than academia. The [main] difference between traditional academia and design school is that your grade isn’t based on how many questions you correctly answer on the test, but whether or not your professor likes what you do. So, it was very subjective. And learning the math of design was also extremely technical – the science behind it. It was just such a different world than what I was used to.
What do you mean by the math and science of design?
[Making a] garment is a science.
First, we had to learn how to create 3-dimensional objects from 2-dimensional sketches. So, we had to visualize the garments as if we were laying them out on a table, and take them apart. If we had a blouse, we’d take the sleeve off and open it up; we’d take the bodice off the blouse, open up all the seams, and lay it out. Because every single design has its own set of measurements, we had to find the measurements that worked best for each design in this flat perspective; if the measurements were off by a centimeter, then the fit of the garment and how it hung on the body was affected. So, it was very, very precise, but there are formulas we used to do this.
Then, we had to translate the drawing to an actual physical piece of paper that got laid onto the fabric, cut out, and sewn together. On top of that, there was the construction component. We were graded on how well we could sew a straight line, a zigzag, and parallel stitches. Stitch length and how it related to the fit of the garment was taken into account. So, we would actually have to [assess] every little stitch [in regard to] the design we were creating and the fabric we were using.
We would also use a microscope to study the patterns of the yarn in textile class to see how open the weave was and learn how it affected the movement and comfort of the fabric: how quickly it dried, absorbed heat, or kept the body cool. It was extremely fascinating. We also had to learn about the human body, so we attended nude-drawing classes. Now, I have seen cadavers before, but when I first saw people coming into the room and dropping their robes, it took a little getting used to. The class was about understanding every aspect of the human body, and it ended up being one of my favorites.
Was there anything specific about your experience in design school that really stood out to you?
I really had a love for draping. I did not like pattern making at all.
Designing from a piece of paper was not my thing. I preferred starting with the fabric and molding it on to the body, bringing the design to life in real-time. If I was looking at a model and I had to design for that model, it came very easily to me. And, if something was off, I’d still have to go back and figure out what went wrong with my measurements. I loved my textile class – learning the science and the properties behind these fabrics.
Speaking of fabrics, do you have a preference?
I’ve always loved the silks and the sheers. I also really love knit laces. They’re just so luxurious and sexy; they embody femininity and sensuality. My specialization is intimate apparel. So, I wanted to have a better understanding of that category of clothing.
What do you have to watch out for when you work with these fabrics?
Well, they are more delicate, and more restrictive in terms of what you could turn them into. Dealing with knits, you have to be more body conscious – sometimes you have to build structure into the garment to make it work. They also damage more easily, are more expensive, and are harder to work with [because] they move a lot more. There are special machines that are made to work with these fabrics – you can’t just use any needle to sew fine silk or a sheer, or even a knit lace.
Did you decided to work with these fabrics because you wanted to design for women, or did working with fabrics make you realize you wanted to design for women?
Thinking back, I wasn’t [yet] exposed to those fabrics when I had the natural desire to sketch, so I guess I always knew I wanted to design for women.
Was there anyone you were particularly inspired by?
I love Chanel. Not so much for her specific taste in design, but more for her love of innovation and breaking the rules. What she did changed the history of fashion. Who she was as a woman, a person, and an entrepreneur is intriguing to me. Also, Gianni Versace in terms of my specific category, and Armani in regard to evening wear.
I was always drawn to film. I always wanted to dress women who wanted to be on stage, walk the red carpet, and be in the public eye. Going back to my mom, I wanted to dress women who wanted to be the best dressed in the room.
What do you think makes for luxurious, and not necessarily expensive, style?
Whatever evokes a sense of confidence and warmth and beauty within you, that – to me – is luxurious.
What would you say was the most important and valuable piece of advice that you ever got going into this field?
Someone I met before enrolling into design school gave it to me. She told me: “From this day on, Nova, you’re going to tell everyone what you are going to be, and you’ll be surprised by how many people will want to help you.” And I did. If people understand and know about your passion, they want to be a part of that. It’s something that I remember; it’s something that I’ve used; and it’s something that I share with other people who are at the start of their careers.
Can you talk about your first experience designing a collection?
I spent about two or three years working on what I called the world’s best business plan. I was in DC at the time. When my husband and I got the opportunity to move to New York, I decided that I was going to take my business plan and put it into action. I reached out to family and friends and raised startup capital to produce my first collection.
Looking back, I was extremely blessed because I raised way more capital than I ever thought I could. I had no idea what I was doing; another piece of advice, make sure you have a mentor! I had done all this research, but it did not tell me how to launch a collection, it told me how to create the perfect fashion business. But, I was a kid in a candy store when it came to picking my fabrics, working with my sample makers, pattern makers, and design assistant. And I could not get enough. Being older and wiser, I probably would have done the collection a lot differently, but it served its purpose. This one collection turned into all these amazing opportunities: I was asked to have my clothing in movies and TV shows; I was named the Haute Couture Designer of the Year; I did an interview with Italian Vogue; I dressed women from The View.
How many collections have you done?
I showcased my initial collection, but the line was developed based on what was inspiring me at the time and the fabrics I came across. Because I wasn’t doing the wholesale business model, my designs were never grouped as collections. I designed for about eight years before I took a break; I was sort of burnt out and needed to be re-inspired. So I decided to turn my attention full time to Raine Magazine. But, last year, I got that itch and decided that in 2018 I was going to get back into the design world.
Why did you decided to launch Raine Magazine?
I met the most incredible people. They were talented, passionate, humble, and gifted, but they didn’t really have a platform that would help them grow. I saw their frustration, which I shared. So, instead of waiting for that platform, I decided to create it. I saw the creative entrepreneur, which was a novel term at the time, as an anomaly. So, at Raine Magazine, we sought out information and people we felt others should know about.
Can you talk a little about your upcoming collection?
I feel that people are looking for less materialistic items and more experiences. Travel, exploration, and discovery are big parts of that. So, the new collection that I will be debuting is a travel and resort collection. The evening wear will be lingerie inspired, but there will also be lingerie pieces within the collection that will be undergarments for outer garments. I am really focusing on the needs of women who travel.
Is there anything you’d like to share that was not addressed?
We touched on this a little bit – my love for film and television and how it relates to design. What I will be doing more of now is working in film and television. Not just by providing clothing, but actually creating and producing projects. So, fashion film is something I am very excited about – bringing the magazine to the screen.