Beth Bennett {fashion designer}

Beth Bennett is the creator and designer of B Trousseau Couture which caters to a client who wants custom bridal or special occasion luxury. Be Unique is her motto, and uniqueness is seen in garments drawn from vintage fashion inspiration, tiaras created from antique jewelry findings, and her signature technique: lace collage gowns and veils. Beth is motivated by beautiful fabrics, couture fit, and collaboration with the client. A select number of made to order styles can be found on the B Trousseau Couture etsy shop. Picnic is a line of women’s linen and luxury cotton day wear which is in development and offers Beth a departure from the land of bridal. The Picnic line integrates vintage fabrics, embroidery, and trims with modern fabrics for a unique neo-bohemian appeal that is easy to wear. Picnic will be found this spring at IndySWANK as sample and one of a kind pieces.

Catherine Fritsch & Beth Bennett got together in Fountain Square to talk about their days at the IRT, fashion design and what’s next for Beth.

CF: So Beth, can you want to talk a little about where you come from and where you have been? I know you were living outside of Indiana for awhile.

BB:  I have been back in Indiana for well… this has been my 10th year. I moved back to Indiana which I am originally from, in 2001 and before that I sort of was all over; I spend a couple of years in Atlanta, GA and before that I went to school and worked in New York City and then before that I got my undergraduate degree in Chicago.  So I guess I kind of did all the major cities on the eastern side of the US you might say.

CF: What did you think of Atlanta?

BB: It wasn’t what I expected it to be because I think when I moved there I was really looking to get out of the big city, NYC. I was ready for a change, I was in a relationship which landed me there and I kind of expected a slower pace and it certainly is not. It’s a huge booming city and I was thrown into a driving culture which I hadn’t been in for many years and it was just kind of a culture shock. It’s still got that kind of southern laid back quality to it, but it is a huge metropolis and again, not what I expected…. But I really enjoy Atlanta when I go back to visit. I don’t think it was for me as far as living there though.

CF: Were you doing fashion or costume in Atlanta?

BB: I was still in theater in Atlanta; well, that’s not entirely true. Mostly I was working in theater. I worked freelance as a costume designer and then I would also hire into shops there; the Alliance Theater and also the Atlanta Opera. As a side note, I also started working for a bridal designer in Atlanta and that’s really where I got my first taste of custom clothing. Well, theatrical designing is custom clothing too, but for a custom client outside of theater that was the first time I really dabbled in that.  As far as fashion design, I didn’t really start getting into that scene until I moved to Indianapolis.

CF: So when you were studying in NY you were studying costume design?

BB: Yes, I am trained as a costume designer.  And then my work experience in NY was theatrical freelance design and assistant designing.  I have a little bit of experience with T.V. and film, but the bulk of the work is for the stage.

CF: So did you think at all as an undergraduate about going into fashion?

BB: No way, never… and I still don’t call myself a fashion designer. I do depending on what event I am at, or what I am doing that day, but I think really I am a custom clothier. Sometimes I call myself a dressmaker.  I guess locally with the small group of people here doing what we do, I would be classified as a fashion designer. I usually just say designer; that encompasses all I do, including costume design.

CF: Yeah, that makes sense. I find myself saying apparel designer, I don’t know why or what the distinction is between fashion and apparel. I don’t know, but for some reason I shrink from fashion designer—it’s sort of hoity-toity.

BB: I know! Apparel designer doesn’t sound as sexy as fashion designer! (Laughs)

CF: So you’re in bridal; I mean… you were in bridal? I am not really sure if you’re more heavily into Picnic?

BB: I don’t know what I am doing really. I am 41 years old and I don’t know what I am doing. (Laughs)

CF: You’re making pretty stuff!

BB: um, I don’t know… this year was supposed to be about figuring out what I really want to do, and I find myself loving more and more my custom work, so I don’t know… I love doing Picnic and we can talk about what Picnic is in a little bit.  I really love my custom work which is a lot of my bread and butter, but you know, it gets down to a point where you just cannot do everything. You can’t split yourself off and clone yourself so that you can do everything you want to do.

I need to nail down what my design focus is.  I am sure I sound totally wishy-washy.  But, I have always been that way, kind of fickle.  Part of that has to be attributed to the training and time spent as a costume designer.  One month you are designing and making Elizabethan underwear for a Shakespeare piece, and the next month you are shopping modern dress for a new play.  So, we are trained to be chameleons, and that can be hard to harness for a designer segueing into fashion.

CF: Okay so you are kind of in the same place I am, where I am really trying to figure out how to make this work for me, I am really trying to figure out how to make money on it and Custom to this point has been bread and butter; and even that is so iffy! If you had some sort of “angel income” where do you think you would take it? You know, if somebody said, “here is twenty thousand dollars to pay for what you are doing or move in a different direction,” what would you do with that?

BB: Besides go on a trip? (Laughs) I guess at this point I would go into refining my bridal design.  I am not at a point where I can have a retail location, and the idea to me at this point isn’t appealing.  Maybe if I had a partner who enjoyed that portion of the business, then I could be lured into a “brick and mortar” idea. I am not there yet – the “by appointment only” studio arrangement works the best for me.

I would like to develop some styles that could go into independently owned boutiques or bridal salons.   I love the lace collage technique a lot and would like to start using it on more gowns that are kind of a hybrid between off-the-rack and one-of-a-kind.  This would cut out the custom aspect, but would provide gowns that have that unique, vintage inspired quality that I am becoming known for locally. And if a small line developed from that, I could be happy! You know, Anthropologie has already done that sort of thing with their BHLDN bridal line, but I don’t think they have cornered the market on it.  Again, with the lace collage I could really make the pieces truly unique. I am interested in doing more bias cut styles than they have produced….yet.

CF:  Your work, and I have seen quite a bit of it, is always so meticulous and beautiful.  I know that means you have put a lot of work into it.  Why is your work so detail oriented?  Is it because you want to keep working on something and don’t want to finish it? I’m remembering that doll you made for your niece; it was so perfect, but you had some trouble giving it up as I recall!

BB:  Oh no, I always want to finish.  If I don’t finish, then I don’t get paid.  I do get into the process though, I really like to sew.  And beyond sewing, I really get into the whole engineering of garments; figuring out the best way for pieces to go together, the building of the structure with flat linings, interfacings, boning, and other structural materials.  With clients, if it isn’t perfect, or near perfect then you will just have to do it over, so why not do it right the first time?

Not to brag or anything, but I just sew fast and well.  And I figure things out easily when it comes to construction aspects.  So, when someone assumes that I slaved away on something or suffered with the work, it usually just isn’t true.

It’s funny that you say my work is meticulous, because I really could say the same thing of your work.  Sometimes I see something you have made and I think, “Wow how did she figure that out….I would never have thought about that!”, so your nerdy meticulousness is probably just focused on other types of things.

CF:  I guess you’re right. It’s different looking at it from the outside, as opposed to knowing what all goes into the process.

CF: So okay, I should say that we have worked at Indiana Repertory Theate for I guess 6 years together…

BB: 6 or 7 years, yeah… well I was there only 6 years, so yeah…

CF: We had some fun and crazy times at IRT. What do you think you gained from it? Any regrets?

BB:  Right. I only got that job because the first hand who had been hired in that season got scared of being in Indy.  She thought the city was too big and intimidating and moved back home to where ever she came from.  So our shop manager, Kegan hired me over the phone! That was 2001.  And you and I worked there for 6 years together; lots of fun and crazy times, and a lot of hard work.  Like I said before, I sew really fast, but that comes from the theater training and experience. That is what I gained: sewing fast and sewing well. Not really any regrets; I DID meet my husband there, you know.

CF: Jean Bennett! (laughs)

BB: You probably saw me at my best and my worst, at the IRT. And I think I could say the same of you.  Nobody got killed, so I would say we came out of it o.k.

CF: It was close sometimes…

CF: You teach at The Art Institute. How do you like that? How are the students treating you? What classes are you teaching?

BB:  I am an adjunct instructor, and that works out really well with my schedule and everything else I am working on as far as my design work.  I enjoy teaching. I’ve been at it for two years now, and I think it has enhanced my own work in some ways.

The students treat me fine…I sort of believe in karma, so whatever I did as a student is probably coming back to me now.  Students have definitely changed though, from when we were in school.  First of all, the technology of everything is so much bigger.  And I don’t want to make a blanket statement, but a lot of students want so much instant gratification and less working out of problems. Design, especially fashion design is often about experimentation and exploration.  Sometimes it is more about the journey than the destination, you know.

I have taught a variety of classes:  Fundamentals of Construction, Draping, Intermediate Construction, Advanced Sewing Techniques, and Women’s Wear.  My classes are the sewing-heavy classes; I could never teach the computer patterning, or finer industry classes, since unfortunately that isn’t my background.

CF:  Let’s back up to Picnic.  What is it?

BB:  “Picnic” is a line of ladies day wear dresses and separates made of luxury cottons and linens.  I often utilize vintage trim and embroidery pieces in the garments as well.  Everything up to now has been made as samples, or one-of-a-kind.  I am nowhere near ready to start manufacturing, and I am not even sure if I want to go that route.  Manufacturing, and the responsibilities that come with it, sound like a big drag to me.

CF: It totally is a drag – so much work and headache, and you never know what you’ll end up with! Why did you decide to develop Picnic?

BB:  Well, I started it last spring, really as a diversion from the bridal stuff.  I have always liked retro styles, vintage embroideries, fabric, handkerchiefs; that sort of thing.  And I thought, why not give in and just make some pieces for fun and see how they are received.  It gives me a chance to work with color and prints since, as you know, bridal is all about non-color.  And cotton and linen is so easy to work with and is a different tactile experience than the usual bridal chiffons, charmeuses, satins…..

CF:  Who is buying Picnic? Who is your target?

BB:  So far, anyone who shops at IndySwank has had the opportunity to buy Picnic.  It did kind of o.k. last spring and summer.  I am hoping to have more pieces in Jennifer’s boutique this month.  The Picnic consumer is someone who is probably age 35 + and loves kind of a “boho” or vintage aesthetic.  That’s not to say that someone younger couldn’t find something that they like, but they would have to really like that retro or vintage-y look.

It’s hard for me to be o.k. with not pleasing everyone with the style, but I am starting to give in to the fact that Picnic isn’t for everyone.  Fashion isn’t that way – if it was, we would all be wearing uniforms.

CF: Tell me about Simon Fashion Now…what’s your involvement?

BB: Simon fashion now happens April, 30 2011 at Keystone at the Crossing, and this is the second year that they are pairing up with our Art Institute of Indianapolis fashion program. We are going to have another contest this year, but it is a little different from last year in that our students are designing spring/summer dresses based on 2011  trends; specifically color and print mixing. And as an added feature, we will be working with a local celebrity models. I don’t know if I am at liberty to say who they are right now, but it’s going to come out real soon. Probably by the time you are reading this it has happened or it has been announced.

CF: What do you need to work harder on, as a designer?

BB:  I need to work harder on the promotion of Me.  The social networking and marketing side of the business is something that I like, but don’t always have the time for. And sometimes I think I downplay the importance of it; it’s pretty important.

CF:  Amen. What else would you like us to know about you, as a designer?

BB:  I am always designing.  I am always having ideas for things I would like to make, and that can be frustrating because there is not enough time, funds, or energy to do everything.

CF:  Yep, I’m so over committed right now…How do you feel about the local fashion scene?

BB: I am excited for the fashion scene, as it is, here in Indianapolis.   It is a really affordable place to be a designer.  I could never have had an off-site studio in Chicago, Atlanta, or New York.  People pay as much for monthly parking spaces as I paid for my off site studio.  The affordability opens up opportunity for designers, even in these hard financial times.  I think we all have something to look forward to as designers, and consumers of fashion in Indianapolis.

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