Inside Worth New York’s Studio

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Jay Rosenberg starts most workweeks here at his fashion company, Worth New York, in the Garment District of Manhattan, and this morning, he explains to me, there is a review of a future W by Worth collection. “Big fall season coming up,” he declares as his vice president of design, Diane Manley, stands behind him and puts on one of the collection’s prototypes: a desert brown suede vest with a shawl collar. Rosenberg swivels in his chair to face Manley, who is playing with the garment—flipping up its collar, tugging at the hem—in the mirror. He watches her for a moment, and then chimes in.

“This doesn’t look terribly good, does it?” he wonders aloud.

Diane agrees. “I feel like I’ve got too much shape,” she asserts, “like it’s lost the cool vibe to it.”

Manley, Rosenberg informs, tries on every item that Worth produces for both its Worth New York and W by Worth collections, both described as “classic women’s wear with a modern edge.” The vest she has on isn’t her size, but Manley and Rosenberg are mainly concerned about the construction and the skin itself. “What happens with suede is that you have the potential of crocking,” says Rosenberg, “meaning suede might come off onto your pants or your sweater underneath. So we’ve done a spray-back finish that changes the color and look. Now the garment won’t crock, but I have a color differential that I hate.” And since the brand begins each season with a color story—“because when a woman is shopping, she responds to color and then she starts responding to fabric,” he notes—this may prove to be an issue when the vest goes into final production.

_DSC5167Besides these brainstorming methods, there are many unique aspects to Worth: for instance, the way it has challenged the conventional fashion canon by cutting out retail stores and selling its clothing and accessories directly to consumers, allowing it to lower its price points; the way it has aptly recruited a team of stylists and salespeople who share the lifestyle and values of Worth’s clients and who understand their wardrobe needs; the way it prides itself on making sustainable products season after season. But the most remarkable fact about Worth is that—right from the start, before Rosenberg and his co-founders Caroline Davis and Richard Kaplan sold their first piece of clothing—it intended to make fashion personal. Rosenberg has said that his customers “can buy whatever they want,” meaning that they have the resources to shop anywhere. He believes that the key to attracting—and keeping—customers requires two things. One is exceptional service, a special bond between the client and the salesperson. The other is the quality of the clothing and accessories. In his mind, making long-lasting products is just good common sense. “If they don’t like the clothes,” he tells me, “they may buy once—because they like the saleswoman—but they’re not buying the second time if they don’t like the clothes.” 

Around 45 years ago, when he was in his early 20s, Rosenberg worked as a textile artist in New York. Mostly, he would dye or print raw fabrics, then sell these fabrics to manufacturers on Seventh Avenue. “I actually did painting—hand-painting—of textiles,” he enthuses.

Rosenberg started Worth with Caroline Davis and Richard Kaplan in 1991. Then, there were only two other companies in the industry that were direct-to-consumer sellers. At first, Rosenberg didn’t think the sales method would work for Worth. Who would want to buy clothes from someone’s home? “But Richard talked me into it,” he admits. “Now I’m the biggest convert.”

Today, as Worth continues to produce several collections each year and its staff of stylists and salespeople grows, Rosenberg has much to manage. “I have to make sure that we can make the clothes—and that we can make them at a certain price point—and that we’re making them in the best possible way we can.”

After 45 years in fashion, Jay Rosenberg still takes great pride in this business, and he still thrives on finding ways to make Worth’s clothing and accessories unique. That’s what he likes to focus on when he’s at work, when figuring out new methods to service customers simply aren’t enough. Day or night, he’ll think of the different ways clothing can be worn, produced, accessorized. “So our customer can have our products in her closet for the rest of her life,” he’ll explain. “We’ve been doing this a long time, and we’re pretty proud of what we’ve done. It’s exciting.”

What else, I ask, keeps it exciting?

“The designers. The people. And listen, it’s challenging.”

After he says this, Manley comes in wearing a printed black dress with long sleeves. Based on the look on Rosenberg’s face, this dress may present a challenge.

Rosenberg [to Manley, deadpan]: Oh boy. Wow, you’ve got quite a print there. Oh boy…

Manley [sarcastically]: I feel like they’ll see me in this.

Rosenberg [to a designer]: Can you take off the sleeve there please? That will help you a lot.

The sleeves are cut off, and the dress is instantly transformed. With just this small edit, it is significantly easier on the eyes. I comment, unbidden, on the difference.

Rosenberg [to me]: When you have a busy pattern like this…it’s overwhelming. By making this a sleeveless dress, you make it a cute dress. But do you know the first thing my customer is going to tell me?

Before I can conjure a guess, he’s already answering his own question. And the response that follows reveals much—about Rosenberg himself, about how he confidently mines his 45 years of experience in fashion, and about the way he handles a challenge.

“Because if she’s over 40, she really wants to cover her arms,” he replies. “In this case, however, we’re going to say: ‘You’re not going to. You’re going to wear it this way…and you’re going to look really fantastic.’”