Caravan Designer Highlight: Denise Gertmenian for Rae

“Fashion is very fulfilling because I love it and that is really the reason, sometimes it’s the only reason. My story is really about my background, how and where I grew up, and women in my life that inspire me and how they are as people, how they are confident when they put on what they wear, it’s a very personal thing for me. It’s all about making people feel good in a way that is authentic.” – Denise Gertmenian for clothing brand Rae.

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Wow, what a relatable designer. Never have I spoken with a designer whose words felt as if they were my very own thoughts; from her inspiration, to her own personal style, Denise Gertmenian shares with us where her collection, Rae, which is the designer’s middle name, and where it all began.

When she was growing up as a young girl in Pasadena, California, art had always been a big part of her life. And for fun she would often spend the whole day playing dress-up outside under her favorite pine tree, which has a lot to do with where her custom nature inspired prints came from. Denise then went on to study Anthropology at Wakeforest University. To this day, the designer still derives design inspiration from this subject.

The decision to pursue fashion began in college when Denise was home during break and stopped into Lotta Stenson in Los Angeles.  She struck up a conversation with the designer, which really sparked her curiosity for the fashion business. After graduating from college she went on to intern for Lotta and then spent a year working as a design assistant in LA.  This was when Denise realized that fashion was the perfect combination of business and creativity because “clothing is tangible and you can also tell a story with it.”

In 2003 Denise came to NYC and attended the one-year program at FIT where she nabbed the coveted Critic Award. Soon after Denise began working for major brands in New York and decided that freelancing was the way to go.  This is how she gained exposure to all parts of the business (lots of sketching, helping launch new collections, garment construction, technical fit, communicating with factories, and observing how companies did things differently)

Denise’s biggest inspiration is her parents. Her mother would tell her “You can do anything” and always encouraged her to express herself through the arts. Her father was a very innovative business man and very tough.  Denise feels that this combination formed the perfect background to prepare her for the fashion world.  Another inspiration is her best friend from high school, a painter whom the designer often collaborates with, who encouraged Denise every step of the way to hone her talents. Who are her biggest designer inspirations you might ask? Well of course Karl Lagerfeld bc he is a genius and also Olivier Theyskens whose work at Rochas is something that has made a lasting impression on her to date.

Claudine Colorblocked Shirtdress in Creme

Denise’s believes in doing things her way.  “It’’s good she says, but it just takes a little more time to get to where you want to go.” When the economy was suffering, she says that’s when she made her best decision, to focus on e-commerce and selling direct to customers vs. following the traditional methods of wholesaling to small boutiques and spending a ton of money on trade shows and sales reps. She figured out what would be the best use of her time and the most efficient way to grow the business slowly- PR through friends, pop-up stores, and a great website. Denise’s goal is to sell to department stores; to sell at higher volume. “You really have to love it, if you don’t love it, forget it,” she says about fashion. “It takes time to know what your brand is, to figure out who likes it and what women feel is unique about the brand so I can do more of it.”

Denise’s customers are women who know what they like, want to make a positive impact on others, are educated, are working women or driven by a passion, stay-at-home moms, women who care about their appearances. They don’t just jump on a trend, they want to look polished and appreciate wearing prints that they know were made by the designer. They also like versatility because they are busy.

When designing a new collection, Denise always thinks “How will this print or dress make someone feel when they see it on a hanger? And then she thinks about how to flatter the female form.

Denise Gertmenian says that “Living here in NYC is a good parallel to fashion because both New York and fashion are fast paced, that extra push to keep going; with its parties, dinners, friends, museums and shows” Having a full plate is the driving force to do more.

Her favorite trends as of right now are print mixing and engineered prints. “I like neutrals juxtaposed to brights, ethnic inspirations, paintings turned prints, photographs of nature turned into a print, taking color inspiration from a beautiful painting or rock structure. Right now I enjoy colors that look as though they have a layer of haze over them.

About her own personal style, Denise claims, “I like clothes that don’t show everything, just because you look good doesn’t mean you have to show every inch- how boring! If you’re showing leg you don’t have to show breast and visa versa. Versatility drives the design process. Above everything else- “it has to be comfortable, if not I can’t do it,” which are my exact thoughts completely; couldn’t have said it better myself! Her personal style is very easy; she enjoys lots of color, tunics and shirtdresses, eclectic and basic with a twist and subtle details. She always says to herself, “If you have to go to dinner or meet people for drinks at night and you can’t go home to change, what would I want to wear?”

What’s next for Rae: “Bigger collections, more prints, and more sales!!” Coming up this Fall will be a lot of shirtdresses, classic Rae prints, irises, callalilies, geometric prints, and a lot of red purple and green. Denise wants to be known for authentic prints that were designed from scratch and easy flattering clothes that make women feel good and confident about themselves.

Denise Gertmenian