Lola & Sophie: Gene Kagan's Early Start In Design

We interviewed Gene Kagan—founder and designer of Lola & Sophie—and learned everything from how he broke into the industry to why Lola & Sophie’s fit is so spot-on.


1. When did you start Lola & Sophie? 
I started the company in 2006 with a different label, which started out as a tops line and quickly became a collection with all categories–tops, bottoms, suiting, etc. Then in 2008, we felt the collection shopping was slowing down, but the tops category was hot—the more tops, the better. So we started an offshoot collection called Lola & Sophie that was just tops. The first season was four basic silhouettes in ten different colors and it just took off. Within two years, I shut down my original label and decided to focus on Lola & Sophie…it’s still primarily a tops line today.
2. How did you break into the industry? 
I started dabbling in fashion at the age of twelve when I cut up my mother’s curtain stash into princess dresses. I found her old sewing machine—a manual one, so you had to crank it by hand, and somehow I figured it out. I hid it from my mother for about six months and one Sunday morning she pulled out these curtains that were now dresses and she was shocked…not mad, but intrigued, and she encouraged me to pursue fashion. She helped me find a class so I could learn how to make a pattern, and then I started making clothes for her and her friends–this was Soviet Russia back in the mid 80s, so not much on the market in terms of fashionable clothing. We later moved here, I went to business school, and kind of put this interest aside. Then when I graduated, I was in LA and heard this fashion school commercial on the radio, and it all kind of came together at that moment. I didn’t want to be in marketing, banking (which I had tried), real estate…so when I heard the commercial, I remembered I was very much interested in fashion. I enrolled in the program and it gave me an in to the industry. I took my first job in NYCnothing too exciting, but it gave me a reason to move here. After three or four months of basically running legal compliance for sports team logos on tee shirts, I was able to get a job for a private label that was like bootcamp for the design world–I learned how to illustrate, sketch, create yarn dye patterns, embroidery, tech packs…it was endless. After a year there, I was ready to go.
3. What makes your brand stand out?
It’s the presence of a knit fabric in almost every top. It makes the fit so much better for a wider range of bodies. We introduce a knit fabric somewhere in the garment so there’s a stretch element, and I think that makes my line so successful.
4. What are your favorite things to do in NYC?
I’ve only done it about three times in my life, but I love catching an afternoon movie at the Paris Theatre. Browsing Bergdorf, having lunch upstairs, and then going there for a movie.

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