Do you know how to say "sewing machine" in French? Neither do I, but women's clothing designer Alice Ritter does. What she didn't know how to say, when she first moved to New York 16 years ago, was "sewing machine" in English. She figured it out quickly though, with a dictionary in one hand and a positive outlook in the other.Learning to speak English was one of the challenges Alice faced when she moved from Paris, France. She didn't think New York would be forever, but it's turned out that way so far. After a long process of self discovery, Alice now lives happily in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with her American husband, who brought her from Paris in 1998.Alice grew up in the east of France under a well to do family. While she was fond of her hometown, she found it very constricting at times. After high school she convinced her parents to let her move to Paris under the condition that Alice study something traditional. Alice agreed to her parents terms and studied economics. Upon graduation she did what most people seem to do...she found a job completely unrelated to her degree."I ended up doing PR for Universal. My life really changed at this point. I had a very traditional relationship at the time and this job was not something he, my parents, or I, expected. Instead of using economic principals day to day I was working with creative people and musicians from Beck to Snoop Dog. Eventually I left my boyfriend. I decided I didn't want to lead the traditional life of the wife of a brilliant lawyer, as brilliant as he was and still is. My current husband worked for Virgin Records. I met him shortly after my break up and a year later... I followed him to New York!""I always had an odd fascination for New York, as a lot of people do-especially French people! When I was young I envisioned myself running a big model agency and being a high power executive. I think it came from reading too many fashion magazines and watching too many movies. I never thought I would actually move and definitely not forever. I had a big social life in Paris and I was happy but New York was new and exciting. I remember hearing my dad before I boarded the plane, 'I can't think about how my grandchildren will be speaking with an American accent...'"When Alice first moved she had no plan for employment. Luckily she was able to get work at a PR company through a friend (owned by Marie Saeki of Terra New York, who I interviewed here). All the while she thought about pursuing different creative outlets, like photography, only to find it wasn't her calling. Remembering her days of sketching and drawing as a kid, Alice toyed with the idea of working in fashion. This is when she decided to buy a sewing machine."I didn't know how to say 'sewing machine 's English so I looked it up in the dictionary and bought one. I decided that if I was going to be a designer I was going to do it all the way and not just as a hobby. I had these signs around me, too. I would open up a paper and there would be another story about someone who moved to New York and became a fashion designer. You start to think it's meant to be when you read stories like this."In her spare time, Alice began making patterns on the floor of her apartment. "As Jack White from The White Stripes would say, 'I was in my little room.' I was experimenting; making ugly stuff and great stuff too. I'd cut out newspaper and make patterns from that. I was buying vintage clothes and flattening them and deconstructing them to see how they were made. Although I never studied design formally I was very self directed and my boyfriend (now husband) encouraged me. He told me to just do it and think later-a very American way to think. I really loved it."Alice's brand has evolved since it's start. She started wearing her own pieces and got attention from friends, then she moved into stores on consignment and, now, sells at wholesale. She was part of the CFDA Incubator at one point which also helped give the brand voice. Until recently she was designing under the label Alice Ritter. This collection was silk and embroidery heavy and higher priced than her current label, Piplette. Piplette emerged out of a desire to reach a different market. It satisfies a wider range of pockets and maintains high aesthetic appeal. Alice designs all the prints and picks the colors herself. Her spring 2013 prints are full of bright colors and fun graphics, partly due to the inspiration she got from the garden at her country house. You'll see this particular collection soon in Urban Outfitters."It is for certain I could never have done what I've done in New York, in Paris. I think it took me 3 years to know that I made the right choice to move. Now I come back from vacation and feel like this is home and where I belong." In the first couple of seconds of meeting Alice I could tell she had the spirit of somebody who genuinely loves this city. Her energy is contagious and her enthusiasm for her work makes you smile. I picked out some of my favorites from her collection (pictured above). Look for more styling shots during the upcoming Fashion Week!
Pictures of me taken by Alex Duncan.