Three talented American designers have been chosen for a unique opportunity to work with some of Italy’s finest production mills. Orley, Ryan Roche and accessories designer Gigi Burris were selected earlier this year to participate in “The Fabric Program,” an initiative created by Milano Unica in partnership with the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).

The luxury Italian textile trade show created the program to give designers first-hand experience in working with Italian mills and to help raise awareness for “Made In Italy” fabrics and techniques. The designers will work with up to five storied production houses to learn their artisan techniques and create a signature textile, which will be utilized in their Spring/Summer ’17 collections. Recently, the designers traveled to Italy for a weeklong “field trip” to work with production houses such as Colombo, Remmart and Loro Piana.

Orley, which is known for its irreverent, yet sophisticated approach to design, is a perfect fit for the program. The family run fashion label created by Matthew, Alex and Samantha Orley focuses on luxury knitwear and the use of high quality fabrics and techniques. The label has made a name for itself in a few short years since launching in 2012. The designers were selected as finalists for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award in 2014 and have since been nominated for several prestigious awards. We caught up with Alex Orley to learn about their recent trip to Italy and experience with “The Fabric Program.”

Matthew, Samantha and Alex Orley, the trio behind the Orley brand (Photo: Geordie Wood)
Matthew, Samantha and Alex Orley, the trio behind the Orley brand (Photo: Geordie Wood)

What is the most exciting aspect of participating in Milano Unica and CFDA’s “The Fabric Program?”
The most exciting part was criss-crossing Italy, meeting with multiple mills every day, and working with them to develop exceptionally unique fabrications for our upcoming collections.

How was your recent visit to Italy? What mills/techniques do you find inspiring in creating your upcoming collection?
There wasn’t a single mill that we met with that didn’t have something unique to offer in terms of the look and development of the collection.  Each mill is so unique, and their output so specific to themselves that it really created a multitude of opportunities for us to develop our collection in a really meaningful way.  Almost all the mills are third and fourth generation family run mills, that have spent decades perfecting their specialty - whether it is jacquards or suiting or jerseys, they are incredibly specialized. The narrowness in their approach gives them an upper hand though because they have truly perfected what they do.

How would you describe the signature textile you will be creating for Fall '17?
We are actually creating multiple textiles with multiple mills, and each one will be really specific to the mill we are developing it with, so an incredible summer weight wool with Crevacuore, technical outerwear with Olmatex and some really beautiful poplins with Larusmiani.

How does working with Italian mills in an artisanal fashion relate to Orley as a brand?
We already produce close to the entirety of the collection in Italy, and work almost exclusively with Italian mills, so this really allows us to expand on the vocabulary of the brand as it already exists.  From the time we launched, the quality of the product was really integral to what we wanted to stand for.

Orley fall/winter'16 collection
Orley fall/winter'16 collection
How has being nominated for the VOGUE/CFDA Fashion Fund Award affected the growth of your label?
The growth of the brand can really be traced back to the Fashion Fund, since then we were nominated for the LVMH Prize, and nominated twice for a CFDA Swarovski award. I don’t think any of those things would have happened without the support of the CFDA or Vogue.

Since Orley is a family affair, how do the three of you work together to create the collection?
It is pretty collaborative, we are a small company and we all have a hand in everything. We are also family so we all give our opinions whether or not the other people want to hear them.

What is the secret to creating a modern, yet irreverent design aesthetic while maintaining a high level of design?  In essence, why has Orley been so successful as a brand?
I think we have become successful by telling a really personal story.  We didn’t set out to become a big brand, and I still would not consider us big by any standards, but I think what has resonated with customers is that we aren’t trying to appeal to a huge swath of people, it is actually the opposite of that, but people who don’t necessarily buy into what we are doing respect that we are not trying to be everything to everyone, we are just trying to say something that has meaning and is meaningful to ourselves.  As for the high level of design, for us it is important to create something that has a reason to exist.  We try to imbue everything we do with meaning.

What do you feel it takes to be an innovator in fashion today?
I think it takes commitment above everything else, because it is incredibly difficult.  But it also takes partners. I think going it alone is a really hard road, and having family besides you definitely eases some of those pressures.