Irina Sigal sees the world through the eyes of fashion. With fashion in her blood, this Russian native is transforming the Philadelphia fashion scene, one custom-made piece at a time. Each unique piece she creates mirrors the one-of-a-kind woman that makes up her client base. Irina’s work highlights the best parts of the body – nearly every woman’s vogue dream. Irina Sigal Dressmaker, which has created over 200 wedding dresses to date, won Philadelphia Magazine’s coveted award, Best of Philly 2006, and has been named Best Alterations and Tailoring through MyPHL 17’s 2010 HOT LIST competition. As more and more accomplishments were added to her belt, Irina Sigal decided it was time for a business move – literally! Her Elkins Park boutique relocated to Center City in response to her clientele base, and she couldn’t be more excited. We spoke with Sigal to discuss her love for fashion and her big move to Center City.
These designs by Irina Sigal Dressmaker showcase her talent in evening wear.
The WALK: Was there a particular moment when you knew designing was the career for you?
Irina Sigal: I always knew as a child. Inspiration really came from the European women around me. I always knew I wanted to go into fashion and bring European styles to the US. When I came to the U.S., the fashion world was different and I decided to change it. I work with my customers and create something I think would be right for them instead of what they think they want to wear. It’s very challenging, but I love doing that.
WALK: What inspired you to pursue fashion and open up your boutique?
IS: I was inspired by some friends in the fashion industry. The most important inspiration for me is the woman herself. When I see someone’s character, eye color, and hair color, it gives me a lot [to work with]. It tells me what they would like to wear. It can also come from someone having a small waistline – then I’ll create [a piece] to complement it to showcase it.
WALK: How did you get involved in the fashion industry?
IS: When I was in Russia, I was a music teacher dreaming about fashion. One day I decided I wasn’t a musician – I was a designer!
WALK: When did you come to the United States? Was it in the pursuit of fashion?
IS: Over 20 years ago. I came wanting to open a boutique right away. I started by myself with just one sewing machine.
WALK: You list a wide variety of inspiration on your website, and it seems like many times it’s not fashion in the sense of what others consider “fashion,” but more so in life itself. Do you consider that true?
IS: Absolutely. Many times I draw from life and experiences, but I’m always inspired by the women. There might be a trend to follow or a dress to model after, but it really comes down to the woman’s problem areas or what she likes.
WALK: Are you the sole designer and manufacturer of your work?
IS: I am the sole designer. All my inspiration is my own and from my clients. A lot of times I’ll begin with a simple dress and the client will want changes made to fit their preferences.
WALK: You’re known as an “independent couture dressmaker.” How do you create your pieces? What types of pieces do you focus on and primarily make?
IS: I create a sample that I think will be very successful design-wise. I’ll pull it out and my client will say something like, “I love the dress but I don’t like the neckline. I don’t want it in black either…” Everything I make is unique and I never repeat. When I create something, I want it to inspire and I also want to bring what the client wants into each piece. I think that’s the beauty of it and that’s why I am successful. No matter how big a designer is, you can’t please everyone with one design. My clients might say, “I love it but I would never wear it.” But why? That is the beauty of custom-made clothing. Each client can change any design to fit their likes.
WALK: Your website states that you focus on “re-crafting materials that would otherwise be discarded as unusable.” What types of material do you use? And what is your favorite medium?
IS: I like taking zippers from dresses and turn them into necklaces. You would think something like that would just be thrown away, but instead I make it into a beautiful design. Another big part of my work is reconstructing existing clothing. Customers bring me their favorite things that are no longer in style or they want changed, for example by adding unusual fabric. I do things like change the color on a suit to make it look completely different and like a brand new piece. I love doing that as much as making pieces from scratch.
WALK: Do you often experiment with different media to see what works or what looks good?
IS: I collect Collezioni Magazine. It’s Italian and comes out twice a year, and I get some ideas and details from it. I also have boxes and boxes of beautiful leftover fabric to use.
WALK: You also sell accessories. Tell us a bit about that.
IS: I have a connection with a beautiful European line. Each piece sells very easily because I buy only pieces I would buy myself. I buy and sell. I wouldn’t buy it if I’d never wear it, so customers trust my taste.
WALK: You were inspired to open a Center City boutique after realizing the amount of clientele flocking to that area. How did you come to realize this?
IS: I realized a few years ago that many people were moving from the suburbs to the city and that those people were more likely to go out and wear my elegant designs. It was a natural transition from the suburban slower pace, where you don’t need ballgowns, etc., to an area with clientele who are active and need these things to go out into the city. I was in Philly about 18 years ago and had an unsuccessful boutique because the city wasn’t ready for the fashion. Now Philadelphia fashion has changed a lot, so I feel as if I have more potential.
WALK: Who do you see as the main target audience for your work?
IS: It’s nothing to do with age. It’s about how fashionable you are and how much money you have – not to be blunt. My audience mostly consists of people who bring things to reconstruct. Some women don’t mind investing in a beautiful gown, cocktail dress, or suit. I would say there are many target audiences that I reach out to.
WALK: What would you consider the most unique or most intriguing aspect of your work? And with that, what drives people to want your designs so badly?
IS: It’s the one-of-a-kind pieces. I also think my ability to work with leather is unusual. I create unique leather pieces and, looking at them, I can’t believe I made them – I’m not sure I could make more like them since they’re so unique and unusual. They’re not even for sale – I save them as museum pieces.
WALK: What drives young, college-aged, fashion-forward women to come your boutique and utilize your services?
IS: For the reconstruction of garments! If something has a tear, you don’t have to throw it away… it could be as good as new or better! Getting something fixed is something simple that would otherwise ruin the piece entirely. That’s something I don’t think young people often know or think about.
The color of Sigal’s pieces range from vivid hues to simple black designs.
Irina Sigal’s new shop is located at 2038 Locust St. Her original boutique remains open at 8120 Old York Rd. Check out Sigal’s work and call her at (215) 772- 1121 to schedule an appointment.
– Erica Ligenza
Photos courtesy of Irina Sigal.