Creativity at Work: The ET Design Team

I can’t let the month slip away without a peak behind the curtain! I want to shine the spotlight on my amazing design team, so I sat down with my Associate Director of Design Caitlin Cortez for the scoop on how this team of creative individuals works. Enjoy another unique look into the creative process, its blocks, inspiration and more. If anything, you will practically be an industry insider now that you know what a “last” is. Read on, my friends. ♥Elaine

ET: Explain the ET creative process. Walk readers through it, like how far in advance the team works and how color and textile selections are made. 

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CC: Our design process is very organic and collaborative. We begin designing a year in advance and the process doesn’t really stop until that product hits the shelf. We spend several weeks diving into sales data and our trend forecasting service which helps us lay out a seasonal direction, color palette, and key silhouettes to touch on. We use our design table as think tank where all ideas go to live or die. Pompoms for color reference, inspiration images, and leathers/textiles get laid out on the table and over the coming weeks things will start shifting around.

The process is a lot like moving into a new home — sometimes you have to live in the space just a bit before you find the perfect place for everything. We have to “live” with the collection for a while and things will start moving around until they eventually fall into their perfect place. When we go through sketches we break them down into mini collections, or deliveries, and place them into the color palettes and leathers that suit them best. The items in each delivery have some sort of common thread, be it hardware, styling, or details that allow them sit harmoniously on the floor. This entire process is the foundation for our entire season. As we begin the proto and sampling process we will continue to reference our direction as we evaluate how to move forward with each product.

ET: Explain how the team works with trends and the role they play in the creative process.

CC: Trends are dictated by an industry service, however we are never a slave to what they report. We have spent a lot of time learning about our customer, “Christi,” and what she truly values. As a team we are very picky about what trends we chose to touch on and we always let our customer’s voice be louder than a trend. Often times we will take a trend and tweak it to speak to our customer in our own special Elaine Turner way and other times we are more literal with the trend.DSC_0070

ET: Comment on business versus creativity. How does the team balance creativity with client needs/wants, like updating a bestseller versus launching a brand new cutting edge style?

CC: This is the crystal ball we wish we had! As designers we constantly want newness, to stretch our imagination as far as it can go, and to tell a new story each season. As a team we have to stay abreast of trends and market direction, but we also have to listen to our customer by analyzing sales data and using instinct to determine how best to move forward. There is no magic formula and we are not always right, but every season we aim to bring a lot of newness, as well as a few tried and true pieces. We are constantly trying to come up with creative ways to keep the elements our customer loves about a style but tweak it enough to give her that “gotta have it” moment in the store. For example, with shoes we can take a best seller, reuse the “last” (a mechanical form that has a shape similar to that of a human foot) and change the upper. This allows the same comfort and wear of the best seller but in a totally new shoe.

ET: Where does the team find inspiration and how do you foster creativity among the team?

CC: Every designer on the team has a different source of inspiration and I think it is constantly evolving for each of us. It can be as specific as a piece of hardware or a vintage silhouette, or something as obscure as music or a photo. As designers, I think we each see and process the world in a unique way and we use that as a catalyst to come up with something new or re-invent something we know our customer loves.

The open environment we work in fosters a lot of creativity. Our office has very few walls, which leads to a lot of collaboration and a symbiosis among categories. We have a big round table where we meet each day — sometimes it’s all business and sometimes we are just girlfriends talking about reality tv which somehow leads to a great idea about seasonal direction, or silhouette. That’s the creative mind for you — there is no rhyme or reason, just magic! 

ET: What outlets of creativity do you engage in outside of ET?

CC: Everyone on the team has a different outlet. Jessica, our Senior Apparel and SLG (Small Luxury Goods) Designer, loves to DIY and always has some awesome home project she is working on. Estrella, our Associate Shoe Designer, loves to explore new cities and is a member of a local art group that makes masks for different festivals. I love to dabble in makeup, writing, and painting with my toddler.

ET: How do you escape a creative block?

CC: A creative block can be the biggest hurdle when you have to be creative on a schedule. For me, the easiest way to escape a creative block is to walk away or to work backwards. I had an English teacher who once told me you never write your introduction first — you have to write the rest of the paper to find the soul you want to speak to in the introduction. Design is the same.

It can be daunting to stare at a blank piece of paper or blinking curser on a computer screen thinking, “Satchel! I need a good satchel. No, I need a GREAT satchel, one that sold as well as Celeste.” So instead, I set out with no expectations. I start pulling elements (handles, hardware, etc) that I know the customer loves or elements from an inspiration image and then piece the bag together one element at a time. What I end up with might not be great but it always sparks an idea that I can use to flesh out the rest of the collection.

ET: Give readers a sneak peak as to what is in store for Fall.

CC: Fall 2016 is one of my favorite collections to date! This collection takes a deeper look at things we see every day, allowing us to re-engage with the natural world around us. Look for retro exotics, warm neutrals, texture and subtle details that will take your breath away. As a team our hope is that you will not only walk away with a big white Elaine Turner shopping bag, but also with an appreciation for the intricacies and textures crafted by nature.

ET: Any final thoughts on creativity?

CC: Quotes are sprinkled on the walls throughout the office and just above our meeting table is this quote:

“Luxury is in each detail.” -Hubert de Givenchy

That is the approach we take to each and every item we make. Our creativity can lead to big ideas, but we never let that override the small details because that is where the heart is. Nothing lands on an Elaine Turner shelf that wasn’t touched by a handful of people who have put their whole heart into it.


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For Me, Creativity Means Embracing Uncertainty

by Elaine Turner

As she approached, her steely eyes set the stage for what was about to unfold. We walked down a long corridor, a massive rolling suitcase behind us, into a cramped conference room. We unloaded our samples slowly and made uncomfortable small talk, knowing she was anxious to begin her conquest. I got a sense she was enjoying this.

Her body language revealed the mere anticipation of crushing a young designer’s soul was one of her weekly treats. Her prey was in reach and she could almost taste it. As she started to speak, I looked over at my husband, his face frozen with a disingenuous smile. She sat down. We stood. She looked my handbags over and coldly stated, “Are you comfortable with your name being on these bags?”

Wow, that stung, I thought sheepishly. I had never quite heard an insult of that nature spoken so directly. Passive-aggressive was not her modus operandi, aggressive-aggressive with a strong touch of bitch was her preferred method. I gathered my thoughts to reply but all I could imagine was Ursula, the evil sea witch from “The Little Mermaid” sitting in front of me trying to destroy my soul. She really did kind of resemble her.

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I was stumbling, face flush, heart racing. I muttered some gibberish with an awkward giggle. (Laughter is my default mode whenever I am uncomfortable.) And then, I calmly stated who I was and went on to explain my positioning in the market, my price points, and my distribution in all Neiman Marcus stores. She abrasively quipped, “Honey, we are NOT Neiman Marcus, we are Bergdorf Goodman.”

The story ends with no order, two bottles of wine, lots of tears and my husband telling me repeatedly that I am a talented designer and gorgeous. “Gorgeous” has to be included when your ego has been destroyed to this degree. (Smart man.)

I share this with you as an illustration of the harsh reality that can happen when you put yourself and your creations out there for others to see. Judgment inevitably ensues. Read More