CFDA Scholar Erin Robertson Talks MassArt and Custom Textiles

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BY HEATHER C. WHITE  FEB 27, 2014, 11:48AM EST

A staple of street-style snaps—thanks to her ability to turn up every day wear into ensembles fit for the sidewalks of NYFW—and industry events, Erin Robertson tends to stand out in a crowd. As a design student at MassArt, she won the CFDA x Target's Fashion Scholarship Award last year, likely making her the next big thing to come out of Boston. Here, we chat with Erin about her studies at MassArt, Proenza Schouler, and her favorite creation.

You're originally from Provo, UT. What brought you to Boston?

My dad used to live out here. He was working at Simmons and I was going to take prerequisites for dental hygiene there, then go back to Utah. But then I met this doctor, Dr. Porsche, when I started working at Harvard Dental Center and she sort of changed my whole life. Pretty much made me feel like I could do anything I wanted if I worked really hard. She and my dad were big parts in getting here and making me stay. (I should add, I worked at Harvard as a dental assistant for five years and went to Bunker Hill for a year before I started doing anything artistic.)

How would you describe Boston's style?

Toned down, sporty. I think Boston's style isn't necessarily inspiring, but there are so many people doing amazing things and are busy being busy. So dressing rad isn't important to them. But there are definitely some people here with amazing style.

Do you have any favorite local shops?

Oh yeah, I love Boomerangs. I live around the corner from the Central Square location, so I stop by weekly. I like Oona's in Harvard Square too. And if I could afford The Tannery, I would shop there.

Did you always want to be a fashion designer?

I went through phases, started with Dr. Catwoman, Neurosurgeon, Fashion Designer, Dental Hygienist, Dentist, then back to Fashion Designer.

Which designers do you look up to now?

Kenzo, Proenza Schouler, Philip Lim, Ostwald Helgason, Carven, Mary Katrantzou, Fendi, The Row and then Prada.

What's the biggest message you want your clothes to communicate?

Fun. The more I design the more I realize that I want this to be about having a good time. I like this combination of funny but made really well. That's what I'm about right now.

And the most fascinating aspects of design you're learning at MassArt?

Whoaaaaa. Sew much! I think learning how to create one of a kind textiles for my designs has changed everything. So my double major in Fibers has me taking classes like, weaving, dyeing, knitting and silk screening. Also, digitally printing on fabric has changed designing too. It's allowed me to collaborate with one of my favorite painters, Jordan Piantedosi, to print her paintings on fabric. As far as design goes, designing and making a tailored collar is pretty fascinating.

Speaking of creating your own fabrics, you were at the Proenza Schouler talk at the ICA—they're also very interested in personalizing garments and creating their own fabrics. What drew you into this world of hyper-customization?

I loved that night so much! So inspirational! Speaking of Boston fashion, it was the most fashionable night I'd ever seen in Boston; I didn't even feel like I was in Boston. What got me into [fabric customization] was my first semester at MassArt, I took a fibers elective (wasn't planning on being a dual major) called "Surface Design Resist with Kiranada." I learned how to "tie dye" and wax resist dye. We were given the freedom to do what we wanted for three different finals, and I made four garments total in that class. And that made me realize how important customized fabric is. Since then my interest in textile design has blown up. I'm a bit obsessed with it.

You won a CFDA scholarship (Congrats!). What was the application process like?

Thanks! It was pretty intense but really fun. The requirement was to design a minimum of ten looks, make a mood board, and write an essay about why you want to be a designer. So this wasn't part of my school's curriculum; it was in addition to all other assignments. Crazy. The faculty had three rounds: first open to my whole class, then seven, then three were submitted.

And when you won, what's the first thing that you did?

Drank old New England egg nog with friends and bought some sequin Proenza Schouler pants online. I found out on the day of my reviews. It was perfect timing.

How has life changed since winning the scholarship?

I feel like it pushed me to realize what kind of designer and artist I am. It also gives me this energy boost that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. So it pushes me to work even harder.

Who have been your biggest mentors throughout the process?

My friend Meghan O'Connor is a big inspiration and mentor. She worked really hard to get where she is and seeing what she does, inspires me work hard. She also gives me that good real talk.

Once you graduate, where do you see yourself?

That is the question that has been going through my head this semester...I thought I knew, and now I don't. That's in 2016, I have time to decide.

What's your favorite creation to date?

Meep. Favorites are so hard! I'm pretty obsessed with this piece that Jordan and I just finished. It's a little naughty, but is amazing! Jordan painted on leather that I cut, then I constructed it. It's part of this new collection her and I are doing about the internet and William Morris (the founder of the arts and crafts movement).

The other thing, that isn't so dirty, is my shoe box shoes. For my final in "Projects with Wood," we had to make a box that was made to a specific item. So I decided do make this about becoming a woman. Three things that are being a lady are lipstick, tampons, and high heels. So I made a pair of shoes with a box for the heel and a sliding door so you can put lipstick and a tampon in it. It's funny. And serious.

Who's the one person (dead or alive) you'd love to see in your clothes?

The first person that comes to mind is Susie Bubble. She is so cute.

· CFDA/Teen Vogue Scholarship, in partnership with Target [CFDA]

· Erin Robertson [Tumblr]