x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

'I actually made my first sale when I'd been grounded'

Colette Malouf has fashion in her genes: growing up, her family had a design firm called Perfect Negligee.
Colette Malouf has fashion in her genes: growing up, her family had a design firm called Perfect Negligee.

Colette Malouf, the New York-based designer of hair accessories and costume jewellery, talks about her life in fashion. When I was about seven, I really hated to wear dresses. Everybody wanted to dress me in these sweet dresses and I remember asking my mother to return them. My aunt would buy them and she was the designer of my family's design firm, Perfect Negligée, and she had exquisite taste. I'm sure they were gorgeous, top quality Bergdorf Goodman dresses, but they were these crisp, stiff cotton dresses, A-line like a bell and I hated them.

It was the seventies and I loved stretch knit-polyester bicycle shorts with a variegated stripe because I could be very active and run. I didn't like dolls and I didn't like dresses. Both sides of my family are from Lebanon and in Perfect Negligée my grandfather brought to the US the concept of the kaftan. So the DNA of the brand was the kaftan: it was loungewear, but it was couture loungewear, so my mother would wear velvet quilted robes with lace. My mother would dress me like that too, but I didn't like the formality.

I grew up in Greenwich Village just by SoHo and I remember as a small child I was growing up with casual seventies social trends, so I was rebelling against the fancy outfits. However in the eighties, that all changed. When I started to really go into the factory, I saw marabou feather jackets and a white angora sweater with dolman sleeves that I fell in love with. So it was more that my family was very traditional and I was not as traditional, and I was really rejecting not the fashion, but the traditional way.

So I remember I was 12 and someone gave me a job in a store and I came home with gold stretch PVC hot pants and my mother said: "No you don't. You go and return those right now!" And I'm still annoyed that I had to do that. I went to camp in upstate New York and I really didn't fit in. I arrived with Kelly green satin shorts and a little baseball cap in satin and Ray Bans and clogs and all the girls had sneakers and socks up to their knees.

Growing up with this downtown feeling but a family of fashion, there was really a mixing of the two in my life. When I was in college I was making costume jewellery on the side and my father told me where to buy the resources and it was quite successful - it was big eighties punk style. I actually made my first sale when I'd been grounded for spending too much money. When my parents came home and asked me what I'd done all day, I told them I'd made $230: I'd dug up some change, made jewellery from the hardware store, gone into SoHo and sold it to one of the fancy Italian stores.

When I graduated from college, my aunt had passed away, so my father needed some help. I'd never really spent that much time in the factory and when I did, I started to hoard things like a Juliet sleeve, black velvet with white mink or jewelled buttons, silk flowers, intricately embroidered and jewelled silk ribbons. In high school I was into vintage, wearing my grandmother's shoes and her coats. I was tall, my full height at 13, and I was wearing 1940s clothes and then I'd go to the East Village and go to the thrift shop and dig up clothes from the forties and thirties.

My grandmother said to my mother: 'What is this? Your husband makes the most fabulous clothes and your daughter's digging up rags and wearing them!' I wore my grandmother's Persian lamb coat and my aunt's oversized herringbone coat with black velvet collar and one single button from the fifties. I was really into vintage and I revisited vintage in my early 20s as well. My paternal grandmother had a big house outside the city and it had an attic filled with Norell, Schiaparelli, Dior, and hat boxes with Hattie Carnegie hats and leather suitcases and OshKosh B'Gosh suitcases and jewel-encrusted shoes and bronze sculptures from the '20s and art deco perfume bottles and white kidskin gloves and black doeskin bags with jewelled closures. And it goes on and on - silk stockings with seams and garter belts and lingerie and crocodile change purses and silver cigarette holders ... As far back as I can remember I wanted to play in the attic. That's the reference point for everything I do today.

Colette Malouf accessories are available at Boutique 1 in Dubai. * Gemma Champ