On a beautiful spring day, designer Heidi Carey walks through her flower-filled garden in Hillsborough describing how nature informs her work, from the delicate blossom that will appear on a piece of fabric to the undulating lines of stone that may make its way into trim.
Heidi Lancaster: How did your design journey begin?
Heidi Carey: I have always been drawn to personal style and design. I went to Barnard College in New York to study economics and took night classes at Parsons School of Design. I feel like designing stylish things others can enjoy is my purpose. You might say it’s in my blood too—I come from a long line of women with an appreciation for art and design. My great grandmother founded the Shelburne Museum. She had such a great eye for American Folk Art and my mother had an English Antiques shop. Expressing my sense of style is innate, I can’t help myself.
When I graduated from school, I went to work at Ralph Lauren and had the good fortune to be on the team with Vera Wang. Years later I moved to San Francisco and launched a line of cocktail and evening dresses that I sold to Nordstrom and Bendel’s. I took a break to raise my boys, but as soon as they were off to college, I jumped back into design and launched my Heidi Carey brand.
What is your vision for the business and what are your goals?
Carey: My goal is to design things that make my customers happy and feel stylish. As the business is starting to get bigger, I want it to become better. I am laser focused on quality—quality of design and craftsmanship. My only investors are my customers—every time they buy, it’s an investment for them and me. I love getting input from my customers on design. Building a community around high-quality design and style is my primary goal.
Carey: I have a white shirt line as well as a backpack that I am working on and very excited about. Actually, both are also good examples of my community of customers giving feedback and helping me with design decisions. I have lots of new necklaces on the way, too.
I like things to be classic but with a twist. Ralph Lauren hired me because of how I dressed. I fit his look for American style in the English tradition. My things will always be classic, but never expected. The line appeals to a broad spectrum of women, particularly tech execs. There’s an effortlessness to my pieces that helps women look pulled together without thinking about it too hard. I always think clothes and accessories should work for you without a lot of fuss.
Your line started with jewelry and accessories—what prompted you to venture into robes and white shirts?
Carey: I think of white shirts and robes as elegant essentials. When I thought about designing a robe to start the day, I knew it would be a pretty floral print with scalloping. I am crazy about scalloping; to me it is very graceful and you don’t see it much, which makes it special.
My white shirt line came into being at a tailor shop in Hong Kong. Whenever I am in Hong Kong buying stones for my jewelry, I have clothes made by a wonderful tailor. I often post photos from the design sessions on Instagram for fun. It didn’t take very long for people to start requesting I make some of the products I was wearing for sale—especially the white shirts. The shirts are not fancy, they have a simple, crisp style that can be worn any day with almost anything. I want customers to feel like they are wearing a custom-made shirt every time they put one on—fit is essential.
What inspires you?
Carey: I design mostly by intuition rather than inspiration. Growing up in New York I was exposed to European influences. In the last 30 years of living in California and traveling extensively throughout Asia, my design influences have become more global. I love things that are simple, elegant, and easy to wear. My color palette is very tonal, which I believe is always flattering to most women.
You love travel… what are some of your favorite places to visit?
Carey: I love Asia: Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, and of course India. I can’t wait to get back to traveling again.