With chain stores from New York to Sioux City selling mass-produced “vintage” gear once only worn by those hip enough to know which bins to scour at the local resale shop, good luck finding a look that really makes you different. That is, until you find Sample Line, Aimee Grubel’s line of statement-making tops, skirts, and dresses available in New York boutiques as well as cool stores across the country.
This is not clothing for the blend-into-the-background crowd. Grubel, who loves to mix texture and play with design, will often layer mismatched stripes into a ruffled skirt with an asymmetrical hemline or put a faux-bustle of contrasting fabric onto an A-line skirt. “These are for women who are not wallflowers,” she explains.
“I’m not interested in conforming,” says Nancy Levie, a jewelry designer who is one of Grubel’s best customers “Aimee does expressiveness in a way that’s well-designed and really high quality.” As an artist herself, Levie likes to wear her clothing as a statement. Frustrated with what she perceived as a lack of risk-taking by women in New York, supposedly the world’s most fashionable city, Levie was delighted when she discovered Sample Line.
Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of Grubel’s clothing is not its individuality but that these clothes are flattering to so many figures. Too often clothes for the achingly cool only work for the young and thin. Grubel sells pieces to moms in their fifties and prom dresses to their teenaged daughters. Her bouncy skirts and angular shirts will certainly make their wearer the center of attention, but Grubel specializes in enhancing women, not turning them into caricatures. For instance, a long winter skirt made out of two fabrics, one an orange, yellow and black stripe, boldly reminiscent of the seventies; the other a muted brown, winter white, and black stripe. The fabrics make the piece really stand out, particularly with the irregularity of the layers and the gathers at the bottom, but the wearer never looks silly, only adventurous.
At 31, Grubel has been practicing that art since her college years. After graduating from New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, Grubel worked designing lingerie for Carol Hochman, a company responsible for Christian Dior and DKNY underwear. She also freelanced at Marc by Marc Jacobs, all the while working on her own designs. When Grubel noticed that the more adventuresome and interesting pieces from the major lines were being cut, she decided to focus on her own risk-taking designs, determined there was a market for creative clothing. Even better is their reasonable price with most skirts and tops costing between 100 and 200 dollars.
This is ideal for Michelle Johnson, the owner of Lagniappe, a small boutique in the hipper-than-hip Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, who focuses on stocking up-and-coming designers. Johnson, like Levie and Grubel herself, loves the appeal Sample Line has for creative women of all ages as well as the clothes’ appeal to so many of Johnson’s client. However, as a business owner, Johnson has other, more practical reasons for stocking Sample Line. “Business-wise, Aimee is fantastic,” said Johnson. “Her company is very easy to deal with, and I’d rather deal with her than with a large corporation.”
Grubel plans on staying small. She has no interest in being the next Donna Karan, instead admiring successful designers like Betsey Johnson who manage to stay true to their work and vision as they grow. She now employs free-lance sewers and takes in enough money to hire pattern-makers to work on the more structured pants and jackets she wants to introduce into her line. Besides Lagniappe, Grubel’s clothes are also available at exclusive Manhattan stores like A-Uno and 30 Vandam in SoHo, and she even sells in California, the Virgin Islands, and London. Sample Line is also available through her website at www.samplelinerocks.com.
Despite her success and the growth of her company, Grubel’s Washington Heights studio in the northern part of Manhattan still maintains the look of an artist’s den. An ironing board crowds the entry way, and racks of clothing and shelves of her instantly-recognizable striped fabric fight for space on the scuffed wood floor with several half-draped mannequins and an old-fashioned Singer sewing machine. The space is barely big enough for two people, ensuring that, at least for now, Sample Line is going to stay small and manageable—just the way Grubel wants it.
– by Elizabeth Fitch