When I came across Sheila Frank, I immediately took notice of her retro bathing suits. These suits would look right at home on Betty Page (or if you're young and hip like that, let's say Katy Perry), but her other looks are thoroughly contemporary. They are simple, unique and elegant. We here at Chick tee dot com love the fact that her looks aren't just designed for barbie dolls, either: most of them will fit women of various body-types equally well, so you don't have to look like a model to, well, look like a model.
I visited with Sheila recently when she was in New York for a photoshoot. Crammed into a tiny bed-stuy appartment converted for use as a photo-studio, Sheila had assembled some amazing tallent. Interacting like seasoned pros, I was surprised that they had all met online and that they were all working for free in exchange for the right to use the photos in their portfolio. Sheila, on the other hand, hardly had to do anything, and when I asked her to stand next to the makeup artist and model for a picture she got uncomfotable and didn't know what to do -- it wasn't her place to be tinkering with makeup and so on. Eventually they just chatted and teased each other. Sheila said that on some occasions she would have the work sent away and not even gone to the shoot herself.
The kind of dedication the crew was showing is not new to Sheila. Sheila herself hand-makes almost every piece of clothing she sells, and everyone in her family works hard. In addition to working a job at the pentagon and raising a family, her triplet brother flips houses and their sister works alongside her dad at the navy depo while in school for massage therapy. Her family continues to provide both inspirational and instrumental support: she lives at home where she converted one room into an office and one room into a studio. "That's how it's all happening," she explains, "...[my parents] are really good to me. They believe in me." Her extended family helps as well: she recently took a loan from her aunt to manufacture a small run of clothes at a local plant. Despite the entrepreneurial strain that runs in her family, she insisted, "I've always been designing since I was really little, but I never really thought that I'd have a business. And also, I thought [that] if I was to have a business, I would just be the designer. I never ever thought that I would be dealing with the business aspects."
I asked Sheila about her goals for the next few years, and, without missing a beat, she answered, "well, in a nutshell, I hope to have some significant thing happen to be successful enough to pay off my school loans." It's clear that Sheila's focus and drive isn't coming from nowhere. She knows that if she wants to be successful in a very competitive business she has to work hard and job #1 is paying off those loans!
Beyond that, she said she wants to move to Brooklyn (see our attached poll: What Part of Brooklyn Should Sheila Frank Move to?). She also mentioned that PETA and the Humane society were her last sponsors, and she'd really like to help animal shelters in particular. She recently lost her last dog "who was like a family member," and used to, "sit by my feet and watch me sew." Her genuine closeness to her family friend was as clear as the simplicity of her story, but as much as the loss had affected her, Sheila remained upbeat and switched back to her goofy self. She quickly began talking about how even if her family couldn't bear to get another pet, she wanted, "like ten. Ten dogs."
I should take a moment to point out that Sheila didn't make me feel guilty for my leather jacket or even my, let's face it, completely superfluous leather pants that, admittedly, I only wear to feel cool. It was only later that I realized... "hm maybe I should've just worn jeans instead." After all, I had read her bio which clearly states that she's, "an avid animal lover [who] vowed not to use leather or fur in her clothing line." But hanging out with Sheila is not like when you go out with your yoga instructor friend and her friends who are uptight vegans and insist that you not eat meat in their presence, even though the restaurant they chose only serves two vegetarian options, both of which contain ingredients you've never heard of. (On these occations, I always wear my leather pants 'cause I'm passive-agressive like that.)
No. Sheila is goofy and laid back. A self-described "nerd," who is camera shy and doesn't want her face associated with her clothing line: "I want my clothing to speak for itself." Her enormous eyes, dark bangs and pony tail, enhance the overall sense of ernest enthusiasm she has. Whether it's for people who influence her such as Rodarte, Samantha Pleet, and Mandate of Heaven, or the people she's working with, Sheila's gaze is an approving one.
As for long term goals, Sheila knows where she wants to go, but I got the sense that she hasn't thought through the details as much. First she told me she wanted a store in every state. "Every state?" I asked. "I never want to be a mall store..." she corrected. "But I'd like to have boutiques in... metro areas."
While hanging out with her and crew, Sheila showed me one of her animal-print bathing suits. When I first picked it up, I have to be honest: I wasn't quite sure which end was up. The cut was just that unusual. Once I established that part, though, it was hard not to relish the sheer retro daring of it. Here are some pictures of her bathing suits along with some pictures of items from her other lines that we liked. As a bonus, here's a little sketch of an adorable bathing suit that Sheila described as "grecian with art-deco influences." We can't wait to see that one in the flesh!
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