Emily Payne

written by Lauren Farnoosh

She’s been a household name in San Francisco for the last two decades and has garnered the admiration and respect of her loyal client base, as well as creative/fashion community in the Bay area. Originally, her Ewok hoodie gained her some attention and recognition from publications like Paper Magazine, Nylon, Sportswear International and Women’s Wear Daily. However, it wasn’t until appearing on Bravo’s Project Runway Season 13 and Project Runway Allstars Season 5 that she was really put in the spotlight. Now, fashion designer, Emily Payne reflects on her creative influences, how PR has changed her life and where she is headed next.

Lauren Farnoosh: How long have you been designing and making clothes for? How did you get your start?

Emily Payne: I have been designing and making clothing since 1997. I began as a drawing/painting major, switched to costume design, switched to women’s fashion. I was sort of just drifting along my courses (at the Dallas Art Institute) I fully got into the swing of things when I found a casting call paper in the trash can at school for fashion designers at a local catwalk show. Luckily, the venue was AMAZING. The looks that I did for that show, the creative talent that I was able to pull together, the reaction that I received…it was all a huge turning point for me inspirationally.

LF: Who are some of your greatest creative influences?

EP: Back in the day, I would have to say Gaultier, Claude Montana, Thierry Mugler, and Yamamoto (although there were many times that I didn’t even realize who I was looking at since I was horrible about reading things back then). Today I am mainly inspired by people off the street.

LF: Do you have a specific type of customer in mind when designing? If so, who are they?

EP: My customer is an artist, a misfit, a romantic. They have a love for animals, care about how they look and about quality in construction, fabric, and details. They pretend that they hate people, but they are actually really kind underneath it all. They tend to see themselves as “a little dark.”

LF: How has life changed since participating in Project Runway?

EP: My life has changed completely since Project Runway, although not in the way that you would think. I mean, it definitely was beneficial in connecting me with many interesting projects, private clients, and collaborations with other creatives, but the greatest change it brought about was definitely spiritual. I know that sounds crazy, but there’s no other way to really express that. It was the catalyst that caused me to REALLY look inside myself and realize who I was and why I had been unhappy for so long.
Mainly, it was because the show had portrayed me as the “nice” one. I was the one who “never participated in any drama”. During the airing of my season on Project Runway and then directly after the airing of Allstars 5, I was told by strangers (literally every day for almost 3 years) how much they admired me for that reason, how I was a “good” person. Someone even tweeted that I was the “Mother Teresa of Designers” haha! All of this was great of course, but eventually, it started to cause me to question it. Was I REALLY that nice?…and wouldn’t someone who was really that nice also be a happy person who actually likes themselves?

When I really started to look inside (I had been so busy trying to build my own business with no outside funding and with project Runway) that I didn’t even realize that I was completely over-worked, over-caffeinated, isolated from my friends, resentful towards the person that I was supposed to be in love with, and caught up in a cycle of obsessive-compulsive behavior that consisted of making these incredibly long “to do” lists, and then beating myself up about not being able to complete them EVERYDAY.

Looking inside myself in this way caused me to want to be a better person and I knew that it needed to begin with self-love. As a result, I started to make sure I got up earlier every day to make time for me; to journal, meditate, workout, read. I read a lot of self-help books. I highly suggest “The Power Of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. He made me realize that I was not really that insane, haha…that almost everyone suffers from overthinking, and “becoming” their emotions. The information in that book has helped my emotional state immensely; it is so liberating! I am not anger or resentment; they are just passing emotions, things that can change in an instant! Being in a state of repetitive, negative thinking doesn’t make me a crazy person!
It is simply a conditioned mind-pattern; one that I can train myself to get out of. Today I am a much happier, healthier and peaceful person. I actually prioritize play over work, and I always make sure to make time for me first, so that I can be the best “me” for the people who really matter.

LF: Did the show influence or change anything about what you design?

EP: It vastly improved my time management skills, my sewing skills and my ability to edit. Project Runway is like designer boot camp!

LF: You always have something new you are working on. What are some of your next upcoming projects?

EP: I have several different private client projects that I’m working on simultaneously. The one that I’m finishing up (today actually) is a cobalt blue, beaded lace and silk custom gown for a young client (10 years old). Another one of my more interesting private client projects consists of reconstructing old bridal gowns into structural, Japanese inspired outerwear pieces. I’m also building a 10-piece edgy, entrepreneur’s wardrobe (it’s a custom project for my sister-in-law, a prior google executive who needed some elevated outfits for her launch into politics) but these pieces will be available for custom orders as well. Further down the pipeline (July) I am building an 8-piece signature collection for our online shop and select pop-up boutiques.

LF: How would you describe your aesthetic and brand?

EP: We create beautifully handcrafted garments that have personality. Every piece has a story to tell and so they add instant “life” to complete any look. The goal is to elevate our clients own personal look, while still maintaining comfort, wearability, and an effortlessly cool vibe.

LF: How has designing for children’s wear differed from adults?

EP: It forces you to edit. Less is ALWAYS more, especially when you’re working with such a tiny canvas. That’s the challenge; keeping it whimsical and fun (but still in your aesthetic) and minimal. Devon Rose was inspired and named after my daughter, but it has grown from being a kid’s line to an all ages/all sizes line. We specialize in outerwear and special occasion dresses. These pieces are custom made to fit your specifications, but the collections are designed to fit sizes 7/8 up to adult sizes.

LF: How do you feel your clothes influence your customers lives?

EP: My hope is that our pieces always make our clients feel unique and special. I want our jackets and dresses to be those “conversation starters”, that special item that elevates your whole look while still allowing the wearer to be themselves.

LF: How important of a role do you think fashion plays in our current society and culture?

EP: Fashion is a direct mirror. A huge example of that today is gender fluidity…everything is unisex and oversized..I LOVE IT!

LF: Any advice for aspiring designers or students just getting started?

EP: Really get to know who your dream client is…if you want to build your own business and have private clients, I strongly suggest enrolling in the on-line branding course https://www.myownirresistiblebrand.com/

You can stay up to date with Emily by following her Instagram accounts @ilovedevonrose and @emilysuepayne.