Restoring Faith in Modest Fashionby Roza Sinaysky | 14.10.15
The world of modest fashion is an intriguing topic not only since it has lately made some serious waves in the fashion industry, but especially for me because even though I am very much Jewish, I am still a little bewildered when it comes to dressing by certain rules that come with my religion.
So recently while in New York, I met up with Simi Polonsky and Chaya Chanin – Australian born Brooklyn based sisters who stand behind the initiative “Frock Swap” – designing for the jewish religious community. We sat down to discuss some crucial questions I had about how to dress in a modest manner but remain stylish. Here is what they had to say –
Tell me about how you started your brand? What led you to design your own clothes?
We started with “The Frock Swap’ 5 years ago as a designer consignment Pop-up Shop. As we dressed women from the Jewish community and beyond, we saw the challenge many of our customers had when trying to create a stylish, yet modest ensemble. We felt there was a gap in the wardrobes of these women. Our initial desire was to create these missing yet essential pieces that would fit seamlessly into any closet and enable women to use these ‘Basics’ to complete the look they wanted to achieve. That is where “The Frock Basics” came in. We wanted to create basic, modest items that could be paired with any blazer, layered with any skirt, worn over a cool pair of pants and achieve a modest and fashionable look.
Our mission was to create clothing that worn alone would set the wearer apart in terms of simplicity and edge, yet paired could transform the outfit into something new. today, since we have our own line, we are able to create the essential pieces that we feel every modest wardrobe has to have.
There is a big wave of awareness for modest fashion these days, how do you explain that rise?
The world of social media has connected women from different cultures, climates and religions who share the same values and approach to dressing in a modest fashion, and gas drawn awareness to the similarities between these women.
Before the mass cross connection platform that social media has given us, fashion on a global scale was geared towards mainstream fashion websites, magazines etc. Social media has paved the way for independent, individual women who want to share their voice and style. Women from New York, Australia, London, India, Russia and more who are not the ‘big & famous’ fashion Icons are able to connect with each other. They share what they wear, the challenges they face when dressing modestly and help each other out by showing new and innovative places to shop and style if you want to dress modestly with a high fashion aesthetics! It has taken the social media world by storm!
Do you feel restricted by the “traditional” rules of dressing? How do you turn that into an advantage?
We grew up in a beach suburb in the city of Sydney, Australia where we were surrounded by bikini clad women, layered maybe with a pair of shorts. We were the only orthodox family within a 5 mile radius and as daughters of the Rabbi in that area we were raised to dress in a traditional/covered up style, modest by comparison to the fashions we were exposed to.
From a young age we wanted to transform the ‘traditional’ way of dressing modestly, so we would stand out as looking great, not just for being modest. So growing up, fusing fashion and modesty was something we did all the time, and eventually turned it into a craft. We wanted to look good, whilst maintaining a fashionable appeal. We didn’t want to stick out for looking different in bad way. Eventually we became really good at synthesizing both realms of covering up and keeping up with the trends. It requires more thought and effort and skill to find the right pieces and make it look effortless, but that’s where we come in. We combine a lot of layering to get the same look, but in a modest way.
Tell us about this shoot and the concept behind it.
When we envisioned the shoot, we were going for a ‘Vanity Fair’ meets ‘Vogue’ Aesthetic with our own touch. We specifically chose models that were ‘real people’ – meaning our friends that are not models at all because we wanted our clothes to feel accessible and relatable. None of the models had their hair or makeup done professionally. We wanted a Vogue-esque feel with a real woman appeal. The set is a house, as opposed to using a regular photoshoot setting because we wanted to give it more of a ‘at home with so and so feel” – as if the viewers could place themselves in the models place, see themselves relaxing on the couch or hanging out in their own backyard. ‘The Frock basics’ are about being real in the clothing you are wearing. If you want to be comfortable and be barefoot at home, and then slip on a pair of heels and walk out in the same dress, it should be easy and effortless. In terms of modesty in our designs and where our intention lies, we wanted to push the notions of what people usually expect from an orthodox ‘covered’ woman to look like. We wanted the shoot to challenge the idea that every orthodox women is dowdy, and strengthen the idea that a modest woman should have fun, be creative and express herself.
What reactions did you get from your community (also friends and family) when you came up with this collection? Were they supportive?
Before we actually began creating our own line, back in the days of our consignment business we built a loyal crowd of women who came to us looking to shop in a vibrant, social atmosphere where they could find an unexpected, fashionable spin on modest dressing.
By the time we launched our own line ’The Frock Basics’, we were overwhelmed by the positive response, demand and even desperate need. We have since then expanded to meet the growing needs of our customer base who is now international, but back then we couldn’t even supply fast enough. As corny as it sounds, our family, our mom, dad and siblings are our number 1 fans! The two of us are the only ones that live in New York, the rest split between Australia and Israel. We have a family chat that revolves just around our business- it is constantly buzzing with ideas, messages of support, encouragement and ‘nachat’ (how proud they are of us in Hebrew) as we continue on our journey of making cloths!
Tell us about the process of designing you collection.
Our designs originate from the pieces we feel are missing from our wardrobes. When we used to get dressed and wanted to wear an awesome blazer, we would vent and say how much we wished we had one dress that we could pair with it. One that would cover the knees, have sleeves without a plunging neckline! We knew what we wanted, were frustrated with the lack of it and decided we would take matters into our own hands. Our designs are aimed to fill the gap that exists in the market, and then we go ahead and produce it.
We naturally want to be ‘on trend’ and take inspiration from the runways and what is going on in the current fashion climate. We may be even inspired by a fantastic pair of Dries Van Noten wide-leg pants for instance, but since we don’t wear pants alone, we envision a stylish, versatile piece that you could throw on to complement this seasons wide leg pants trend, and wear alone as well (this was the inspiration behind our new fall dress coming soon). A small initial seed somehow gets planted, and as our process continues we eventually come up with our final design and pattern.
Is the fashion industry ready for modest fashion? What influences you see on the runway to match the spirit of your esthetic?
In the past 5-10 years we feel like the fashion world has been gearing more towards a covered approach. The idea that showing more skin doesn’t equate to looking better is becoming more widespread and almost a given factor in the high fashion arena. We feel that the current ‘Street style’ trend phenomenon is overflowing with modest fashion- not on purpose, but just because of the wind of the fashion climate.
Many style icons can be seen during fashion week in a look where we literally turn our heads and say,’damn she looks incredible!” and then we do a double take and realize she is actually modest. The latest Calvin Klein runway was filled with pieces that resembled our latest dress, the #SignatureSlip. Stripped down, it has the nonchalant look of an elegant gown, yet simply by putting on a couple of heavier pieces, this otherwise delicate look can become a realistic, chic option for every day. It’s basically your chic canvas for anything and everything. Rosie Assoulin teaches us a thing or two about ‘layering’ and our dresses come into focus when we envision them paired with otherwise, not modest pieces. We take a lot of style cues and are inspired by the androgynous, drape-y and layer-able styles of many Australian designers. Ultimately we want our designs to be easy to wear alone or layered, but maintain a fashionable aesthetic either way.
Whats next for Frock Swap?
Our basics will be on the styled pages of Vogue. Forbes is next!