In Her Shoes: Michele, for In Her Shoes readers who do not know you, would you tell us a little bit about your background?
Michele Varian: Sure, Renae. I have developed my own collection of home accessories, primarily decorative pillows. I design all of the styles and have them manufactured in my own studio, here in NYC. This allows me to have 100% quality control and quick response in the design process. I sell the collection to other retailers around the country, Canada, and the UK. Sales, promotion and shipping all happen from my studio as well. Just after 9/11, when the world seemed to stop and no one was placing orders, I decided to open my own store just around the corner from where I live.
While the store has been a great addition to my business, its biggest challenge is keeping it well staffed. In the beginning, the design studio was behind the store, which meant I was always around, but now we have expanded and the studio is in a separate location. It is still in the neighborhood, which allows me to sort of be in two places at once.
In Her Shoes: How would you describe your design style?
Michele Varian: I would say that for home accessories, they are very much designed with a fashion designer’s eye. I use stronger and more fashion forward colors than most home accessories collections incorporate. I also pay a lot of attention to the construction details. All of our pillows have a special tie closure with an insert flap instead of using zippers or buttons. This closure is now being copied by other manufacturers, but it started with us.
In Her Shoes: What inspires your creativity and designs?
Michele Varian: Everything visual. Art exhibits, movies, different cultures and textiles from around the world.
In Her Shoes: I know that you have access to some of most unique pieces in the world but what would you say is your most prized possession?
Michele Varian: I’ve been shopping at flea markets most of my life. Long before it was commonly hip. The things I prize most are very personal, not based upon recognized provenance or commercial value. I own a few chairs that are constructed in unusual ways that I love, some textiles that are particularly unusual for where they are from and artwork – mostly paintings and drawings by friends, which have a strong sense of the hand that created them. I love lines.
In Her Shoes: Who are your style icons?
Michele Varian: Fashion Designer - Vionet, because she reveled in the seemingly invisible construction of her fluid gowns. Interior Designer - Tony Duquette for his fearless style. He created surreal landscapes of excessive beauty – way over the top. No wonder he did so much in Hollywood. But, if you dissect his work, the individual pieces are even more beautiful on their own. Person - Blondie. She’s beautiful, totally rock and roll and still sexy and has had a crazy life and devoted relationship!
In Her Shoes: Can you give us an idea of what a typical day in Michele Varian’s shoes is like?
Michele Varian: I start with espresso and reading the New York Times online and email. Then, I kickbox or do yoga. I need the Yin and Yang of the two. One day a week, I do yoga together with my employees at the studio. I’ve made it thru the excesses of my 20’s & 30’s and now at 41 am realizing that if I don’t take care of myself, I won’t be able to accomplish what I want. Most days, I stop by the store to see what new product has arrived and to make sure that everything is merchandised and displayed the way that I like. At the studio, it’s usually about shipping out orders, updating the website and line lists and talking to clients. I wish I could say design took up most of my days, but I think about design all of the time, but only execute new designs twice a year, seasonally.
In the beginning, I used to work long hours, but now I try to keep it to an eight hour day. I don’t believe in working ridiculous hours. The same goes for my employees.
In the evenings, if it’s nice out, my friends and I have drinks on the bench outside of my store and are usually joined by neighbors.
In Her Shoes: What are some of the common decorating mistakes made by some of your clients? What’s your advice on how to avoid or correct those mistakes?
Michele Varian: A lot of my customers walk around with swatches to match and purchase a particular pillow for a particular piece of furniture or room. I prefer the customers who buy a pillow or piece just because they LOVE it. I think if you fill your home with things that you really enjoy, it will all come together. The great thing about accessories is that you can move them around. It doesn’t have to be so different from clothing. You don’t always wear the same earrings with the same belt, but most people have a hard time extending this to their homes.
In Her Shoes: What’s next for Michele Varian? You’ve successfully evolved from fashion designer to entrepreneur and interior/home accessories designer. Are there any other areas of design you’d like to explore?
Michele Varian: On September 1st, I am opening a Michele Varian Shop on the ground floor at ABC Carpet and Home. I can’t wait, we’ve been selling to them for years, but to have our own section and to have most of the collection available to their customers all of the time will be great!
For additional information on Michele Varian please visit www.michelevarian.com.