In the Studio with ØBLANC
Three months after graduating Parsons, Olivia Oblanc found herself with her own namesake brand, ØBLANC, and an upcoming collaboration with Adidas. The young designer, hailing from New Orleans, now calls New York her home and attributes it to one of her biggest inspirations for the work-wear influenced label. For those unfamiliar with Oblanc’s work, one scroll through Kendall Jenner’s Instagram should familiarize you with this rising designer’s vision. Despite being less than three years old, ØBLANC has made waves in the NYC and global fashion scene.
At the top of 2020, we visited Oblanc’s studio to chat with her about getting her foot in the door of the fashion world, her internships with Hood by Air, and her knack for sewing.
Recently, Oblanc started designing facemasks to combat COVID-19 and keep our community safe and stylish:
Introduce yourself and tell us a little about what you do!
My name is Olivia Oblanc and I am unisex clothing and accessories designer based in NYC. So the clothing and the brand focuses on reinterpreting workwear and functionality and mixing that with a sustainability aspect of repurposing denim and certain fabrics like plastics. It’s a creative way to mix graphic branding with sustainability.
Cool, so how did ØBLANC get its start?
I was born in New Orleans and I started sewing sophomore year of high school and got really into it so I was like, “Oh, I should go to Parsons.” So I got into Parsons and won a bunch of awards for fashion, and then the Dean of fashion for Parsons, his name is Brock, he basically took me into his office and told me, “Okay, so now that you’ve graduated, what are you going to do?” And I said, “Oh, you know, I got a job opportunity somewhere. I might take that or intern,” and he was like, “No, you’re starting your brand, and I’m gonna help you.” I mean, that’s what I wanted to do anyway, but I just didn’t really know how to do that–how to start a business. I didn’t even know what an LLC was. So basically, he set me up with these three people that work in fashion who are professionals, and they advised me on how to start the brand and everything. It started in August 2017, that was three months after I graduated, and it’s been kicking ever since.
Is there a moment or a turning point when you realize that this is actually going to be something big.
I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve even hit that yet. I guess when I started the fact that I just immediately started getting so many sales. I was kind of like, “okay, actually, I guess I could do this.” It was crazy. It’s always a struggle–up and down financially and emotionally and physically. But you have to stick with it.
What aspect of your brand, do you think, really taps into the demographic that you market towards like?
Well, I guess in New York City, I would say the clothes are pretty urban because you’d have to wear them in a metropolitan kind of setting–they are kind of loud. But I get orders from all over the world. People just gravitate towards interesting ways that things are redesigned. That’s why the denim sells so well–because it can be made into a more basic outfit, but then it can also be elevated.
Who were your biggest inspirations from your adolescence to now that kind of curated how ØBLANC looks right now?
Well, so the inspiration for the workwear aspect of the brand came from this book that I read. It was called Workwear: Work, Fashion, Seduction [by: Oliviero Toscani], and that really inspired me. I think my biggest inspiration for starting into the stylistic way I designed now was when I was interning for Hood by Air. I interned for them for two years and got to work on two shows.
They really just showed me the way that they design–it was just so weird. The way they got inspiration–they’d just print pornographic images all over the walls, from Google Images and tape it all over. And it was just so sick. That’s kind of how I started designing and getting inspiration. Working with them really helped me elevate how I design now. But yeah, RIP to Hood by Air. They were amazing.
How much are you influenced by your surroundings in New York City? And when you’re in the process of designing, what kickstarts that process for each collection?
Being in New York is a huge advantage, of course. There’s constant construction–I’m inspired by so many different things. Each collection that I do is kind of inspired by a work field–like police security or trashman, construction workers. Recently, I’ve been starting to pay more attention to delivery men and all the shit that they have on them. That really plays into how I think.
When I’m starting to design something, I’ll just go on Google Images and search “beware of dog sign” and then from there go into a spiral of images. I think a huge inspiration, too, is just the people that surround us in New York and then also the influencers and young people.
Who is ØBLANC designed for? Who is your dream muse?
I love people who elevate their style in so many different ways — they can wear something super girly one day, and then something super masculine the next day. I really love working with kids who don’t even have a modeling career. I love working with people like that and showing that anyone can wear the clothes — you don’t have to be an Instagram kid or model. They’re very inspiring to me.
Tell us about your collaboration with Adidas! I know Kendall Jenner was the face of the collab two years ago–what’s the scoop with this most recent collab?
Yes, so I’ve done three collabs with them in total. And that also is the main reason I could continue doing what I’m doing, running this brand. Adidas hit me up in January of 2018. That was only a couple of months after I started the brand.
At first, I thought it was a joke when they emailed me because they were the main brand I’d always wanted to work with. Getting to work with them was just such an amazing experience in itself. It helps my brand out with exposure and financially, and then also getting to meet that team and then getting to travel all over the world– I got to go to China to check out the factory production, Berlin, and London is where we had the presentation. I got to go to Calabasas and go to Kris Jenner’s house and meet her and Kendall for the first time. That was crazy.
The house in “Keeping up with the Kardashians”?
No, it’s her like her house. It was an Architectural Digest. Kendall was really awesome and she’s helped me so much. She wore those double front jeans that I sent her, and she posted it on IG and wore it a couple of times and I made like 200 sales within a month. It was insane — so she’s a solid person to work with.
The new collection launch with Adidas Superstar and Ji Won Choi is for the superstar 50th anniversary and it’s for Women in Design. We created an interchangeable two colorway tracksuit and a sneaker that is also interchangeable. It launched in March and the tracksuit has sold out in a few countries
Tell us about your collab partner Ji?
Ji Won Choi! That’s my girl. It was me, her and this girl named Emma at Parsons. We were the three designers in our senior year that won everything design competition-wise.
Ji and I got really close, and she also did a collab with Adidas. We sent a photo of us to the Adidas team one night and they hit us up like, “Would you guys want to do a triple collab with us?” They flew us out to Germany and we designed the collections together. She’s the best — she comes and helps me sew sometimes. She’s really good at it.
Adidas aside, who is your dream collaborator?
I would love to collaborate with Levi’s. Also Supreme, that would be so sick because I feel like if I did a collab with them, we could just do anything. I think they’re a cool team and they’re just the most amazing at marketing…it’s insane. That line out the door is goals.
What is one of your favorite pieces that you made?
I love the really constructed stuff. My favorite thing to make is pants and jackets. But recently, I’ve been trying to get more into women’s wear. Before I was more focusing on masculine unisex, but recently I’ve been doing more feminine things like halter tops and long gloves and cropped pants. But I still want to focus more on the masculine side of designing. It always changes, what I like, but my favorite thing to make is pants and jackets, outerwear.
Before Quarantine, what was a typical day like at your studios? Do you still hand make all the pieces? Or do you send them out to be made?
So for the SHOP ØBLANC collection items (the hoodies, T-shirts, and accessories) that’s all made by someone else.
But I make all the denim myself as it’s made to order. And I’m really the only one who can figure out how to make it. We also do free adjustments. So if the jeans don’t fit right they can send them back, and I’ll fix it for them for free.
[Before Quarantine] a typical day [was] usually me going to the post office to drop off orders, because, luckily I live right by the post office, and then [I’d] walk over to the studio and either work on some stuff for the collection or fulfill orders. Or someone’s coming by to do pulls.
It’s kind of different day-to-day. But usually, I’m at that sewing machine for most of the time. I make all my samples myself — I’m a beast at sewing.
What is your day to day like now?
Quarantine has not been too bad for me and for the brand. I’ve been able to stay busy with orders and making ØBLANC face masks for customers.
Let’s manifest the next five years. What do you hope for ØBLANC in the near future?
I really hope that it’ll grow into a bigger brand. I would love to have people on the team who are consistent and really good. What I would ideally love is to have someone who can sew as well as I can so we could work together and just put stuff out. I’ve been talking to CFDA recently about production and expanding my local production because I like to produce in New York only.
It’d be sick if I could be a creative director for a large company like Calvin Klein or something.
DIRECTOR + CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jordan Shelwood
MUSIC: Skyler Hawkins
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