Kay Unger knows dresses.
Unger's line, Phoebe Couture, might feature a blouse or skirt here and there; but her main focus is dresses. All kinds of dresses -- frilly, fitted, sleek, sassy, comfortable, classic, printed, pleated and everything in between.
The New York-based designer mixes luxurious fabrics with feminine cuts for a line of perfect party frocks. She has two lines, Kay Unger New York and Phoebe Couture. Kay Unger New York embraces sophistication, while Phoebe Couture takes a more playful approach.
Her Fall 2011 collection is complete with sequins, floral prints, draping, ruffles and rich jewel tones. Her Spring 2012 collection is a blend of maxi skirts and 70s prints with tassels and tulle. Unger offers ideal options for any day or evening occasion. Her pieces can be purchased at luxury department stores like Nieman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.
Not only is Unger a brilliant designer, but she is also a selfless philanthropist. She participates in the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and acted as the former president of The Fashion Group, where she raised over $250,000 for cancer research. Her involvement in cancer charity continues today with Stand Up To Cancer, an organization dedicated to ending the disease. The Chicago-born fashionista is on the board of and was a founding member of The Committee of 200, an organization that promotes female leadership in business, as well as the Women's Campaign Forum.
IBTimes caught up with Unger to talk about Phoebe Couture, how to shop for the perfect dress and her battle with cancer.
Dresses are your forte. How does a woman shop for the perfect dress?
When buying a Kay Unger Dress -- which we think you should do! -- be sure to look in your closet and see what you already have. Take your smart phone; take pictures and be prepared when you go to the store. Focus on what you like about what you currently own, and what you want to add to your wardrobe. Make sure you think about the occasion, and pick a dress to fit the event!
What do you look for?
If you are shopping for fun, go with what makes you happy and comfortable. A good key tip is to look for a good stretch fabric.
Your Spring 2012 collection has a sort of retro vibe, with 70s prints and cuts. Where did your inspiration come from?
My own personal vintage collection!
My favorite piece is Style # 60D1968 from the Evening Collection - a see-through, sequined overlay against a nude sheath dress. Can you choose a favorite?
We have a new dress coming out this April. I was given some fabric and asked to drape, and came up with this gorgeous navy gown with a sheer long sleeve and back, with jewel detailing on the sleeves. It came out so nicely, and we can't wait 'til April to have it in stores.
Your clothes are available at Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Nordstrom. Tell us the moment when you first thought, Wow, I made it.
We sell to Bloomingdales, as well, and I am proud to be where I am and have been proud of where I have been and am going for forty years. I am always being productive and striving for more, though.
Do you feel that designing was an innate calling or was it a talent you truly developed after attending the Parsons School of Design?
Both! I had an innate calling in having a passion for fashion, but I had to work hard at Parsons to develop it.
You are a native Chicagoan currently living in New York City. Can you please elaborate on the different sort of muse each city provides?
NY has an urban chic vibe, and Chicago has a more traditional vibe. Both cities are great in their own way, but there isn't too much of a difference. My muse has always been Audrey Hepburn. She traveled and fit into any place she lived. People today are embracing a global lifestyle, and it is important for a woman to be fashionable and adjust to any city.
Which celebrity would you love to design an ensemble for?
Sofia Vergara from Modern Family. She is curvy and gorgeous, and exactly what Kay Unger embraces!
You are very involved in other charities - such as The Committee of 200, the Women's Campaign Forum, the CFDA, and Stand Up to Cancer. What sparked your involvement?
I have been involved in philanthropy since I was a kid and my parents set up a foundation for me in The Boys and Girls of America. Also, with having cancer when I was 16, I have always reached out to help others less fortunate than myself. Without being able to help others my success would mean nothing to me. Giving has always been very important in my life.
Do you watch Project Runway or any other design contests? What do you think of young designers today?
Once in awhile I sit down and enjoy the show. I taught at Parsons, and have worked with Tim Gunn. The show is so real, and I live that pressure every day. So if I ever had time to watch TV, I normally like to watch something that helps me relax, like cops shows! Young designers have it tough; with the way the economy is, it is harder to start a business these days, but the talent is there, and it will be exciting to see who rises up in the next few years.