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Designer Alyssa Lesser on the Art of Embellished Denim

Specialty denim label Alyssa Less’ collections are small, yet mighty.

The Parsons School of Design alum and jewelry designer, Alyssa Lesser, launched Alyssa Less in September 2015 with a Spring ’16 collection spanning denim minis and cropped flare jeans to moto vests and classic jean jackets. Each piece was punctuated with jewelry-like surface details, including “deco bloom” designs made of bronze leather patches and her signature embossed patches.

Lesser carried embossed detailing into her Holiday/Resort 16-17 collection, which landed her on the radar of WGSN, Refinery 29, Nylon and in retailers on both the East and West Coast.

For Spring ’17, Lesser said she drew inspiration from photos of David Bowie during his travels to Japan. The inspiration continued when she then began looking at origami prints and paper prints—motifs that appear in her denim through the floral and leaf-y patterns embossed and embroidered into the pieces. She describes the line as feeling whimsical and bold, but in a subdued way. She is also adding more color to her repertoire, including some acid-washed lilac.

Lesser also revealed the addition of T-shirts as well as adding men’s sizing to denim jackets, after pressure from her male friends wanting to wear her designs.

With the collection retailing for $300-$700, Lesser concedes that the level of detail renders her designs to be a little on the pricier side. However, the details are something she refuses to sacrifice.

“We’ll have buyers telling us they’ve never seen anything like [our products]. That was my goal in creating the line—to make things that weren’t really out there, with a special niche in the market that people couldn’t find elsewhere. That’s heartwarming for me,” Lesser said.

Rivet: Who is the Alyssa Less customer?
Lesser: I think that our customers are really interested in finding products that feel personal and interesting and detail oriented. But, they still like to wear things that are wearable and comfortable. They really appreciate workmanship and ingenuity and innovation. Typically, I think we relate to a lot of people in creative fields. I think that denim is a little broader reach than some of the work I’ve done in the past, because everyone wears denim. So, I don’t narrow down our customer as much. I think she wants products that feel a little bit more personal than what’s out there. That convey her personality.

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Rivet: What aspect of the denim do you find the most creative?
Lesser: What I’m focused on creatively are the fabric and wash. I do a lot of drawing both by hand in a sketchbook and on my computer. All of the treatments on our pieces are created from drawings I did.

Rivet: What inspired the Spring ’17 collection?
Lesser: I’m always kind of looking for inspiration, taking photos of things. I like to trace over photographs sometimes [and] make collages, which kind of informs the textiles of the season.

Rivet: What are some of the key themes in the collection?
Lesser: I don’t really pay attention to any trends—I’m just in my own little bubble. We’re exploring a little more. We’re introducing a new lilac denim which I’m really excited about. It’s really pale—it’s almost white. The motifs are in the same vein of what we were doing in the past. Whimsical and geometric.

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Rivet: What about materials?
Lesser: We’re actually sticking with the same fabrics we used with holiday/resort. We started working with Cone Denim in North Carolina, and we are working with some really beautiful denim that I’m obsessed with. I want to keep them in the line. They’re amazing and everyone’s responding really well to them.

The nice thing about doing [jeans] is they have a timeless quality to them. When we find something that works we want to offer it to people all of the time. It’s not something that changes rapidly, and it’s a lot slower. That, I really relate to. I think the whole industry needs to slow down. I’m happy to keep working with the same fabrics, but applying different surface techniques to them.

Rivet: What are some styles that are getting the most attention from retailers?
Lesser: The line is actually very small. So, it’s pretty even across the board. We have only seven different silhouettes in the line, and we’re adding three more for spring, with T-shirts. I think people are really taken to the embossed pieces. People really like the classic trucker jackets. The applique pants have been doing really well too—they’re definitely a statement jean.