Elizabeth Kennedy’s Contemporary Classics

For 31-year-old Elizabeth Kennedy, dresses seem to be her destiny. Elegant, couture-quality dresses, that is. Bitten by the design bug at an early age, Kennedy has been crafting exquisite garments for as long as she can remember, combining the allure of Old Hollywood icons with the savoir-faire of an ’80s supermodel. With 10 collections to date for her namesake brand and a recent exclusive bridal capsule collection for Moda Operandi, Kennedy’s star is on the rise, if not firmly cemented in the fashion horizon. Her collections have caught the eye of a high-caliber clientele that includes Audrey Gruss, Ariana Rockefeller, Georgina Bloomberg, and Amy Fine Collins as well as celebrities like Malin Akerman, Regina King, Giovanna Battaglia, and Molly Sims.
“For red-carpet events, a gown needs to be both a work of art and a workhorse,” notes client Ariana Rockefeller, “and Elizabeth strikes this balance perfectly. Every aspect of the construction, from the corsetry to the embellishment, has an impressive level of detail.” For Rockefeller, Kennedy’s style is timeless yet fresh and modern. “I love wearing Elizabeth Kennedy gowns to my events,” she tells me. “Elizabeth is supremely talented in her design concepts and diligent in the quality of her pieces.”
Indeed, Kennedy’s current Spring-Summer 2017 collection is marked by an impressive combination of high concepts and diligent quality. Here, she sits down to talk with me about what inspired this spring’s collection, how she came into fashion, and who she might have been if not a designer.

Q: What was your very first fashion design?
A: My mother and grandmother were amazing seamstresses and taught me how to sew and make doll clothes when I was very young. I was so fascinated with textiles, and my mother always had remnants lying around that she was using to make costumes and clothes for us as little kids. I remember going into our basement when I was about six or seven years old and draping dresses for myself. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but the passion to create was there!

Q: Can you describe the path that led you to your own label?
A: I grew up in Yardley, Pennsylvania, and moved to New York when I was 18 to attend Parsons The New School for Design. I held a number of internships, my favorite being at Zac Posen. After graduating, I landed my first job as an Assistant Designer in the couture division at Isaac Mizrahi, and was eventually Head Designer for the collection. After Isaac, I worked for Donna Karan, J. Mendel, and Max Mara before launching my own collection.
I always knew I wanted my own brand—even before college. In 2012 I thought, “Why don’t I just do this for myself?” I had been building a portfolio of work that was all pointing in a similar direction, so I just followed my instincts. I also felt disappointed in the couture/eveningwear options in the market. I wanted to change how eveningwear was perceived.

Q: Is your design sense marked by one signature style, or does it change from season to season, collection to collection?
A: The collections evolve each season, but there is always an element of drama mixed in with my handcrafted evening silhouettes to set them apart from traditional black-tie dressing. The combination of both graphic and sculptural lines with an added theatrical twist—such as a cascading train, a unique color combination, or over-the-top volume—has become a signature.

Q: Was style innate for you, or learned?
A: Both. I was born with a desire to create, but my style has evolved throughout my education and career.

Q: Can you describe the ideal woman you design for?
A: I grew up idolizing supermodels of the ’80s and ’90s—Christy Turlington, Naomi Campbell, and Kate Moss are still “it” for me. There are also always Old Hollywood beauties like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly who are mainstays, too. I generally find 20th-century fashion to be full of inspiration—it is so diverse and there are always new things that pique my interest.

Q: What is your own personal style like?
A: Classic, modern, and elegant without being uncomfortable.
Q: Are there certain colors, fabrics, or designs that you find yourself drawn to over and over again?
A: I always love black and white: I think it is the chicest, most timeless combination—it will never grow tired. In terms of actual color, emerald green is becoming signature to the brand.

Q: Can you tell us about this Spring-Summer 2017 collection? Inspirations, how it holds together, what story it tells?
A: The collection features 20 exquisitely detailed dresses referencing the vibrant backdrop of the French Riviera during the eighties. Many of the details were inspired by vintage swimwear, including brightly colored trims, cutouts, and lace-up backs reimagined for evening.
I was inspired by one of my all-time favorite movies, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which takes place in a fictional town in the South of France. I found the marriage of a classically beautiful setting with the playfulness of eighties fashion to be such an amazing place in time; I loved the bold colors, glamour, and drama set against the backdrop of palm trees and the Cote d’Azur. I imagined an American woman vacationing in the South of France—at the beach by day, and at a black-tie ball or casino by night.

Q: If you weren’t a designer, what do you think you would be?
A: Hard to say, because I pretty much always wanted to be a designer. But when I was young, like six or seven, I had a phase when I was into archeology. I used to collect rocks and fossils. I was also good at math and science (chemistry was my best subject, I was on math team, etc.). So sometimes I think if life had turned out differently for me, I might have pursued a career in archeological research.