Correll Correll, Fashion Designers

You can learn a lot about Daphne and Vera Correll’s clothing line, Correll Correll, just by looking at who they employ: No unpaid interns, for one. When their sunny Chinatown studio is at full production capacity — as it has been in the weeks leading up to their Ecco Domani Award–sponsored Fall/Winter 2012 presentation this Friday — it’s staffed almost entirely by proper assistants. It’s not really fair, Vera reasons, to get by on free labor when the labor itself is what sells the clothes. “They look precious because you can tell we spend a lot of time on them,” she says, pointing to a recent jacket made using one of their signature techniques, where more than 40 different kinds of yarns and vintage fabric strips are woven together into a textile befitting what Vera refers to as a “shepherd from the future.” Each of the jackets takes a day’s work to create, and the sisters can make 30 or 40 such garments in a season. “Our clothes go through so many levels of work, all this sewing and knitting, and people can see that,” she says.

There’s also something to be said for the type of assistants the Corrells hire, and why they do so much in-house production in the first place. Neither of them studied fashion — Vera has a photography degree from the Art Institute of Chicago, while her identical twin sister Daphne graduated from the Rietveld Academy’s graphic design department — and most of the people they employ went to art school. “Maybe because of that, they’re more open-minded in terms of what you can do with fabric,” says Vera. “They’re not trained to do things a certain way.” Which proves especially helpful while the sisters are slicing through delicate sweaters and then sewing over them as they unravel, or producing wildly textured and decidedly imperfect knits meant to mimic the appearance of fur — “things you’re not traditionally supposed to do,” she says. “That’s one of the difficulties in our production process: It’s about chaos and imperfection, and that’s difficult for a professional knitter. We do everything ourselves because it’s very hard to train skilled people to de-skill themselves in order to achieve the right look.”

Vera is quick to point out, though, that just because their more experimental pieces can look chaotic doesn’t mean they’re any less considered. Every variation in thickness, every asymmetry, and every seeming flaw in their designs is thought out and purposeful. “We always know exactly how we want things to go,” she says. “We get really obsessive compulsive about it.” Even the pair’s comparatively simple color-wheel shift dresses — which evolved from the unisex color-wheel t-shirts they launched their line with at Opening Ceremony back in 2006 — are meticulously choreographed by Daphne, who’s so serious about her hues she’ll often dye a swatch of fabric dozens of times before she finds the exact blue or black that she’s looking for. Her fanatacism about color forms part of the focus of the sisters’ new Fall/Winter collection, whose theme is opposites: gradients of contrasting shades, plus heavier fabrics paired with more delicate ones. They’re all ideas the sisters have played around with for the past five years, just pushed a bit further as part of their ongoing evolution into ever-more complex and experimental territories. It’s that inventiveness which won them the Domani award, and which makes their studio such an interesting place to visit. Sight Unseen documented their workspace this past summer.