When entering the Araks studio, you're first greeted by their color library; a rainbow of fabric swatches and thread samples packed into an assortment of overflowing jars. It's a display reminiscent of a technicolor candy store, but instead is a curated collection of shades that serves as the foundation for fashion designer Araks Yeramyan's color-conscious and hands-on approach to designing lingerie. A Parson's graduate, Yeramyan began her career at J. Crew, but in 2000 the young designer struck off on her own and launched a six-piece capsule collection of lingerie.
"I had never designed lingerie before. It was something I knew I could manage and I went for it," admits Yeramyan, who sits surrounded by the kaleidoscope of her latest collection. "I knew from the start what I wanted. I only wore cotton basics from established brands like Hanro, so I decided to create the brand I could never find: an all-cotton lingerie line that incorporated effortless silhouettes and a more sophisticated color sensibility."
Although the New York-based line evolved quickly to include a ready-to-wear collection, loungewear and a soon-to-relaunch swimwear collection, Yeramyan's color-driven design philosophy and tactile approach are still an intrinsic part of Araks' design DNA. When answering a question about how she begins a collection, Yeramyan smiles and brings out boards upon boards adorned with a striking spray of swatches. "There is no exact formula for designing a collection. For me, it usually starts with an idea—whether that's something I see online or at an exhibition," says Yeramyan, pointing out the collage of images and swatches that swallows an entire wall of the space. "After that we begin extensively researching and collecting images and colors to match. Good research is essential to great design. Before search engines like Google, I used to use the image archives at the Met."
Following this initial round of research, Yeramyan and her team slowly narrow down the hundreds of tones until they reach a palette of seven or nine swatches, which serves as the jumping-off point for all the collections. This season, Yeramyan found inspiration in the traditional Victorian silhouettes and colorful garments of contemporary Namibia. "I've always had a fascination with Africa and the Victorian age, and in Namibia you see the two collide," explains Yeramyan. "When they were colonizing Namibia, the Germans brought their clothing, and today the people there have made it their own by infusing it with a vivacious patchwork of colors. They dress proudly and I think that's what first attracted me to the idea."
Translated simply, the new collection of Namibia-inspired ready-to-wear and lingerie introduces a rich and contrasting range of colors which include everything from sumptuous nudes and tans to psychedelic pinks and greens. Yet, when placed together Yeramyan's tones are surprisingly harmonious. It is this effortless, but unlikely, combination and Yeramyan's uncompromising stance on quality that is responsible for Araks cult-like following. Araks admirers include Jenna Lyons of J. Crew and Gwyneth Paltrow—both of whom recently reached out for collaborations.
A strong believer in natural fibers, Yeramyan's obsession for fabrics sends her to Italy, where she works with a trusted network of manufacturers. "It's important to maintain tight connections with the people that you work with and see the new fabrics and effects that are out there," says Yeramyan. "For the most part, all of our collections are either 100% cotton or silk. However, I have to admit I am a huge fan of polyester and the special effects it can produce, so sometimes I use it to get a certain look."
With everything produced in New York and Staten Island, Yeramyan is able to oversee and work closely with her production team as well as her design team. The majority of Yeramyan's production takes place in the historic Garment District where she works with a talented tailor network. Sewn by hand, each piece is the final result of experienced hands combined with thoughtful research and minimalist design.
Back at Araks headquarters, the sense that this is a tight-knit design team is evident as Yeramyan and her head designer pour over some thread samples and ask for the room's opinions. "Each of my designers brings a new perspective to the table that helps me think about the collection in a different way," explains Yeramyan. "Of course in the end you have to trust yourself and your sensibilities, but a team is invaluable."
Araks' resort collection is inspired by an exhibition Yeramyan attended at the Mary Boone Gallery for New York painter Andrew Masullo. "I saw the exhibition and sketched the collection that night. It took me two hours, but I guess that is what good inspiration can look like," laughed Yeramyan. "What attracted me to his work was the way Masullo married all these vibrant colors together with these abstract forms."
When asked about her mindset for creating swimwear and how it differs from lingerie, Yeramyan answered, "It doesn't really. However, I think when you look at swimwear, you have to think about direct sunlight and what affect that will have on the color and the shape. For our collection, I used much more vibrant and saturated colors than I would ever use for my lingerie, and I simplified my silhouettes even more so the pieces would pop in the sun."
Designing in a studio filled with bolts of silks, sumptuous cottons and endless lingerie samples, Yeramyan seems to have found a balance between comfortable and sexy—and it leaves a lasting impression. "I design lingerie the way I would want to be perceived and what I think of as sexy," explains Yeramyan. "For me, Araks is very sexy because it embodies what I think lingerie should be: strong, feminine and demure. Not everyone is going to like my line, but that's the point. It's not for everyone."
Images by Chris Doss