In the Studio With Zizi Donohoe
She is beauty, she is grace, she is Zizi Donohoe. Making her way over the pond and across the country, Donohoe has landed in Los Angeles where she has established her brand. Starting in footwear, the British designer is now known for her luxurious silk robes, mink novelty items, and slides. She crafts a narrative around everything she does, from her fantastical campaigns with Nadia Lee Cohen to her overall demeanor. She knows how to indulge and invites us to join. Drawing inspiration from the “105-year-old ladies pottering along in their mules and sunglasses” on the perfectly-kept streets of Beverly Hills, she reminds us of the rich history of Old Hollywood through fashion. Milk.xyz visited her studio to get the inside look.
Who is Zizi and how does she differ from Daisy?
When I thought about having to name my brand, my real name, Daisy Donohoe, sounded too soft, floral, English Countryside to me. It isn’t who I feel I am as a branded persona or what my products say. My nickname is Zizi so I kind of just adopted that. I feel like having a name that isn’t my government name gives me a second wall of privacy with how I can function and operate. My mum called me Daisy Donohoe because she thought I was going to be a tennis player and it was going sound really cool when I walked out onto the court. It’s also my grandma’s name. My other options were, Holly, which I don’t think was right for me, and Violet which could have been cute. And well, I’m white and yellow so I think Daisy works.
How does your space/office impact your work?
It feels like I spend more time there than I do at home, we do all of our production in-house so it’s a fairly big space. A third of it is divided into my workspace where we have some of our products on display. The rest of the space is more work-focused, the middle section looks like a Disney montage of fabric and scissors flying everywhere; it’s a creative mess space where I make all of the primary samples of stuff. The last third is where the production team handmakes everything.
What does that process look like?
My favorite piece is a pair of weighted mink boxing gloves, they’re pretty fabulous. I made the pattern, tested them out, made it fit together, did all the intricate sewing and then handed off all the main sewing (closures, and less intricate work) to my team. They took about 40 hours each to make but that’s not a regular item.
My degree is actually in shoes, not womenswear. So, my ability to make patterns for clothes doesn’t actually exist. Much of the time it would be something that I will draw out or find a comparable piece that we could start from as a base and modify to my specifications. So I work with pattern makers for that. Then once we have the pattern, we test it, fit it, do a size range, then the team working in the atelier will make them.
What did you design in school and how have you seen your work evolve?
In 2014, my final major project was based on the fashions of 2002, so there were a lot of pastels and metallic snakeskin, and I made a sole completely out of glitter that had my name and a sneaker spike in it. It was really fun, silly and playful. I’m not curing cancer or saving people’s lives but I can make pieces that are fun and makes people feel good about themselves and is something that you want to look at, wear, or feel special in. I’m in a different strand of aesthetic now, I’m not in the 2000s anymore but I still want it to be fun and irreverent, and never boring.
There’s such a sense of narrative in your work, It really feels like you’re transported into a different time.
I always wish that I could travel in time rather than in destinations. I would die to be able to travel where I live now but in the 40s or in the 80s, that would be heaven to me.
How does being in LA impact your work?
It’s just so easy to live here. I can drive everywhere, the traffic is not that bad. I can rent a reasonably sized studio, which in New York was more difficult. Day to day tasks are so much easier. Things like dry cleaning or groceries are half an hour tasks, where in New York it was two hours. Another aspect is that there is so much more inspiration here because of the fact that I’m in Hollywood. I can drive to Beverly Hills whenever I’m feeling lost in my aesthetic and I can just sit on the corner and watch the 105-year-old ladies pottering along in their mules and sunglasses and just looking fabulous. And that’s a huge thing that I can go outside and find really inspirational people.
You like to work around your friends and value a trusted opinion — how do you balance the opinions of others with your own viewpoints?
It was easier in the beginning because I moved from London to New York before I started the brand, and when I moved there I didn’t have any friends, so it was just me and what I thought I wanted to do. I think that was difficult for me as well because I felt like a social hermit and sometimes I would talk to the cat that came over the fence and that would be it for the day. In the beginning, I wasn’t even intending to start a line so there weren’t any backseat drivers since it wasn’t something I was actively doing. But I’m quite good now whenever I ask the opinion of somebody I trust I take it in, but you have to realize what their life might be like in comparison to what a client’s life might be like and take a balance.
Indulgence is a word that you use to describe your work – what does the word mean to you?
Indulgence is spending time doing something I enjoy, without feeling guilty about it. Even if that might be staying late at the office because I’m really into something that I’m doing. I would also consider treating myself to something that I’ve been thinking about for a while or just going out for a gorgeous little lady lunch at 2 pm on a Thursday and not feeling guilty about it.
I loved the campaign you did with Nadia Lee Cohen – how much of a hand do you have in projects like that? Who is on your team and how do those projects play out?
My team with creative projects is just me and whoever else I bring in to photograph. I’m a terrible micro-manager and I wouldn’t want to work with me with these sorts of things. I know that I’m unbearable. When I work with Nadia Lee Cohen it’s really easy because we have a great relationship. Working together so often and being such close friends it’s a lot quicker than it was in the beginning. Usually, I think of an idea and run it past her and then we might sit down with some books or some inspiration and make a quick plan. From that, I’ll go away and do a sketch of what I think it should look like and she’ll add a few touches. I’ll make a full-color version with all the props drawn in too. And we have a great prop team which I found through Nadia. I’ll do graphics usually and they’ll make the labels if it’s for a custom toothpaste or a Zizi brand caviar for dogs. It’s really fun. It’s so easy now because we have such a great team. I’ve worked with a few other photographers too, there was this really great girl, Carlijn Jacobs, who we shot two campaigns with on location in Palm Springs. She was a dream to work with too, really easy, really great sense of humor. Things went wrong when the models got annoyed because of the sun but she was great. I think a great sense of humor and a good work ethic are the things I look to work with and she definitely had that.
When/why have you felt most accomplished as a designer?
I’ve had a few of those moments. One of them was when I was featured in something that I thought was way above my career grade. Tatler magazine put me in an issue of Young, British, Hollywood. And I thought it was going to be loads of people on the list, but it ended up being eight Brits in Hollywood who they declared as ‘the next big thing’. I was like, “little old me?”
Another time, I was driving down Melrose and I saw a girl wearing my robe. I’m not the best driver in the world but I nearly hit the guy in front of me! I didn’t, but almost. I was so overwhelmed by seeing something that I had made on a real woman out and about and she looked really happy, exactly how I would want my clients to feel.
What scene do you see your clothing being worn?
In my mind when I’m designing, I always design with a location or a feeling in mind. And I design for myself a lot too. So when I was coming up with the staple robe we have I wanted something that I could throw on and wear anywhere and it not look crazily overdressed if I put it on with a sneaker. But then if you wear an earring and a heel I still wanted it to be elevated enough to be able to wear to a really gorgeous dinner somewhere. So I think when I’m designing I try to see that piece in a lot of different scenarios. I’ve had a lot of friends tell me they love wearing their robes as swim cover-ups, which is something I hadn’t considered but will definitely be doing this summer.
Do you have anything new in-store?
We just stopped doing seasonal collections and started doing more direct to consumer, so we’re streamlining and having the core pieces in different colors like the robes and accessories. But we’re going to start doing seasonal capsules. I’m not completely sure when the first is due to launch, but they are going to be location-based. I think that’s going to be fun. What we’re working on mainly is organically growing the brand which isn’t that exciting but will hopefully stop me going bankrupt in seven years.
That’s the best way to do it, then you have people who care about what you’re doing.
I don’t want to have a streetwear peak and have three really successful years but then fall off the face of the earth. I want to build a strong relationship with the client base and organically grow, that way we can really listen to what people want. But not going bankrupt is a really big goal for me; I really love paying my rent. When you don’t have investors throwing a million euros at you every year it’s important to see where your strengths are and see what you can do with what you have and how you can keep authentic to your brand narrative but still give people something exciting every so often.
PHOTOGRAPHER + DIRECTOR: Dana Boulos
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Anderson Ko
ASSISTANT ON SET: Charlie Burke
Stay tuned to Milk for more studio visits.