Catherine Deane has an expansive world view. Born in Ireland and raised in South Africa, where she studied fashion design, she worked in London before moving to Hong Kong five years ago, where she designs and manufactures namesake collections that are increasingly gaining attention.
Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian, Taylor Swift and Pippa Middleton are among celebrities who have recently worn her body-conscious evening gowns and cocktail dresses, which are available at Neiman Marcus stores in Houston, Dallas and Austin.
"Women are always going to need a beautiful dress for an occasion. There are weddings to go to, luncheons to attend and I think that almost any woman you speak to enjoys dressing up."
To top everything off, she's launching a more exclusive designer collection, called Etoile, aimed at a more affluent customer this spring.
"There's quite a bit of magic around the brand now," Deane said.
During her first trip to Houston last fall, she talked to CultureMap about how she manages a worldwide fashion business, why women love color and why her modern body-hugging dresses with fashionable retro touches are gaining in popularity.
CultureMap: Welcome to Houston. What are your thoughts about the Texas woman and how she dresses?
Catherine Deane: The Texas woman really loves color. She's elegant but she likes to look sexy. That's why our body-conscious dresses and our beautiful evening wear does really well in these markets.
CM: Why do Texans like color more than the rest of the world?
CD: I think there's a certain optimism. And I feel that in myself. Color has an energy, definitely. It suggests confidence.
CM: We hear that people want to dress more casually, but your collection is more for people who want to dress up and look good. Are you going against the grain?
CD: (laughs) This is more about dressing up. This is about being a woman and enjoying being a woman and celebrating being a woman. No matter how deconstructed or casual, women are always going to need a beautiful dress for an occasion, no matter what. There are weddings to go to, luncheons to attend and I think that almost any woman you speak to enjoys dressing up. This is about looking and feeling beautiful.
CM: How long have you been featuring more color?
CD: The last three or four seasons. It's taken a while to bring me around. I really appreciate the commercial aspects of it, along with design and craftsmanship. I love selling too. I love making a product that simply by tweaking a color you can make a product sell in the UK and you can make a product sell in America.
"If you pick up one of these dresses, they are very lightweight, very easy to pack. You can wear them at a beach in Bali or wherever your wedding may be."
CM: How did you wedding gown collaboration with BHLDN come about?
CD: I sort of fell into it because we were making all these beautiful long gowns anyway (that women were buying for their wedding day). So we started to make them in oyster and white colors.
A lot of brides want an extension of what they normally wear; they don't want a traditional gown. If you pick up one of these dresses, they are very lightweight, very easy (to pack). You can wear them at a beach in Bali or wherever your wedding may be.
About a year and a half ago I received an order from BHLDN, just before they opened online. Within six weeks they reordered because it was selling out. It just kept building from there.
CM: When you went into the fashion design business, bridal wasn't an area you were expecting to specialize in, were you?
CD: I really love doing wedding dresses because it's such a great business. People are so nice. They're so in love and there's such optimism.
CM: Are there any difficulties being based in Hong Kong when a lot of your designs are sold in Europe and North America?
CD: We have Skype and communication as much as possible. We have amazing satellite teams around the word. Hong Kong has been invaluable in developing a manufacturing base. I've been able to set up a team that produced this quality at the level of price points we deliver.
CM: You seem fearless about moving.
CD: There's a part of my personality that maybe canvases change on some level. But then anything I'm scare of, in my life I just want to do it. That's my way of overcoming fear. There's a little bit of an internal wrestle. It brings so much newness and freshness, and different dynamics to the company. I think we've found the magic formula with this business, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
CM: You were recently named ambassador for the South African charity, The Unlimited Child. Tell us about it.
CD: With every dress we sell, we donate a year's worth of educational toys to a child in need in South Africa. The charity works with children under the age of 6 to develop their fine motor skills. If they don't get that stimulation, they never will be able to catch up later on in life.
Since I started the brand, it was my intention to be able to do this. I feel really passionate about working with children.