The ambitiously talented founder of bicoastal multi brand boutique and in-house fashion line Creatures of Comfort is a dedicated woman. While shaping the language for her almost-decade-old brand, Jade Lai has been steadily achieving her dreams by turning exciting ideas into real projects through her uncompromising creativity, and unraveling the dichotomies behind them. She is both constantly working and having fun, turning her holistic work process into satisfying good times, and honing her business skills by transforming her time off into new endeavors. Her adventure started with an emerging designers fashion shop in Los Angeles, followed by a former police station turned art gallery-store in Manhattan, and now is focused on her elegantly casual fashion and accessories line. Jade's interests extend far beyond fashion and she's not shy about her plans: art, design, food, flowers, and ever increasing airline miles… She wants it all.
Hi Mar, it's so early! I am suffering a really bad head cold today…
Oh no! This will be interesting then, because I just got back from Thailand and jet lag is killing me.
I love Thailand, my mom is from there. It's pretty amazing; the food is good and people are nice. I want to get a house there one day.
You have just been to Peru, right?
Yes, I got back a couple of weeks ago - so much fun. Peru has always been a place I wanted to go. To be honest, it's a lot different than what I expected. Lima is great; good food, very cosmopolitan and very much like Mexico City, but Cuzco and the rest is still very backwards, with a huge focus on tourism. We were there for 8 days and saw so much. I felt so exhausted afterwards. I think we are going to start producing some things in Peru, so hopefully I will be back a lot more.
I know you travel a lot. Is work always the reason for your trips?
I love to travel, so I take any excuse I can. Whenever I have free time, I take a trip. I leave town at least once a month, other than during Fashion Week months. My goal is to go to at least 2 places each year I have not been before.
That's very ambitious! What else is on the list for your next trips?
Well, I really want to go to India. I have never been, and I've been talking to another designer friend about maybe going there for a month next year. And I also really want to go to Turkey and Senegal.
Sounds great! Do you always travel with the same partner?
It's usually my boyfriend [Seth Zucker]. He works a lot and gets really sad when I don't take him with me. He did not come to Peru (I took my Production Manager and my friend Sabina, who styles my fashion shows, instead). But we are planning on going to Greece and Newfoundland this summer. And we're going to Spain to see his family and Hong Kong to see mine. Lots of airline miles there!
What a treat! Does Seth help you with the Creatures of Comfort graphic image?
Yes, I am making him help me whenever he has time. He just helped us update our logo, and he does most of our show invites. But mostly he is really good with big ideas, he has been in the fashion business a lot longer than me as a creative director/graphic designer.
What about your brand identity? Is the Creatures of Comfort fashion line a separate project from the Creatures of Comfort stores in NY and LA?
Well, yes and no. I think most people still know us as a multi brand store only, and they are just getting used to the idea of us having our own line. And I still do everything, from buying to designing, so to me it's very much the same thing. But we are definitely trying to reposition ourselves so that we are recognized more as a brand than just a boutique. The focus for us is definitely trying to expand the collection these days.
I really like your Fall 2014 collection; all those silhouettes in solid colors and the surprise plaids… so clean and modern. I have been noticing more energy and a great response from press in the past few seasons.
Thanks! We work hard. I am still learning how all this works, and figuring out what's best for the company and how to grow it.
I guess you can never rest when it's your own project. Do you have any specific references for this past collection?
Yes, I always try to think of a theme, a mood as a springboard for each collection. It's so cold in New York in the winter that I think of it as more of an indoors collection, the mood board is kind of around a murder mystery dinner.
Ah, I can totally see this! So you're obviously very present in the day to day of Creatures of Comfort. How's your process?
Yes, I do work on every part of the line. I come up with concept, colors, texture, and mood at first, and then I go out looking for fabrics for the season. And then I design everything. The only thing I don't do is make the patterns, but I draw all the prints, etcetera. And I also design all the shoes and bags, and I work with the factories directly. It's really fun doing it all and I really enjoy the process.
How hard it is for you to delegate?
I guess I am just not ready to let go of the designing of the collection yet, as it is still fairly new and finding its language, but I delegate everything else. We have a great production person who helps me organize things. I am hoping to, one day, just come up with a concept and let the team run with it, but first I need a great design team. And I delegate a lot of the retail part of my job too, I have a buying assistant that I am training so she can go on buys with me and eventually for me.
Do you design for the same person that you buy for?
Yes, at least I try to. For this imaginary woman.
Are you this imaginary woman too?
I have to say I get a lot pickier each year about buying for the store. I don't want to be like any other stores or get things that are trendy and that everyone likes. We have our own voice and that is what makes us different. And I have to ask myself, would I want to wear this? If I cannot imagine myself wanting something really badly, I don't get it for the store. So buying for the store and for myself gets really blurry sometimes, if you know what I mean.
Who is this imaginary woman or how is Jade Lai like?
She is a woman/girl that is a little ageless. She's optimistic about the future but realistic about the world. She's also very wise in her own way but likes to have fun. She commands attention but has a very simple and classic style. She knows what she likes but is curious about most things and never stops learning. I think of her as a very spirited woman, a little bright eyed and bushy tailed, but also quiet and learned. A little complex and very simple.
Fascinating. How does the future look for Creatures?
I really want to do so much!
Maybe a magazine? Or something involving food?
I have been dreaming of Creatures of Comfort food since day one and every night when I cook, I tell my boyfriend: "I want to just retire and cook"…easy to say! And I want to have a bed and breakfast / small hotel type operation, with a flower shop.
What do you like to cook for dinner?
I like to cook comfort food. Something simple that makes you feel good after... My food project would be a breakfast and lunch spot only, you know, very basic cuisine stuff.
Natural and hearty?
Like baked eggs, congee (rice porridges), and bento boxes. Grilled cheese, good soup and a veggie bowl. Just easy comfort good. Something simple. There is nothing like Cafe Gratitude in New York, if there was one I would be there every day - is that really dorky? It's so good... And that place Inaka on La Brea - have you been? So good.
Let's just open a Cafe Gratitude in New York… is it a franchise?
I think it's a cult! [laughs]
Only in the best way possible. What about the near future; any new emerging designers you're going to carry this Fall?
We didn't pick up too many for next season, just Jacquemus... we have no more space!
True! So how much of you is a businesswoman versus an artist?
I think since I started in 2005, over the years, I have become more and more of a businesswoman, in the sense that I know how things will go down. But I am by no means a very good one, like I cannot come up with some strategy where I can take over the world and make billions of dollars (I wish though). I am a businesswoman in the sense that I know how to realize my dreams and work with my creativity. I still dream of throwing all of this away though, get a house in the countryside, and just make art. But then I might get bored...
Would you say that work is your lifestyle then?
I am always working. I think my line of work allows me to make everything into my job. Like when I am cooking, I think of opening a restaurant. When I am shopping, I think about if I can sell this at the store or make something similar for the line. When I travel, I try to see if I could make something in that country. So in a way, I am always working because it is so fun to me; but then again, i don't know it any other way.