Designer Talks: Jacqueline Rabôt on Building Community Around Fashion
Launched in 2020, Jacqueline Rabôt’s namesake label is doing more than just adopting an environmentally conscious approach to fashion; it’s building a true community.
The Gorky sits quietly on the lip of Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it type of store, but once you’re there and once you’re inside, it’s anything but missable. The space is immediately uplifting – light-colored walls, bright wood, large windows. In a way, it’s the perfect temporary home to Los Angeles-based Rabôt’s colorful, sunny-side-up palette. After debuting at fashion mecca Fred Segal just a few weeks ago, Rabôt has set up (pop-up) shop at The Gorky – another haven for independent labels bringing renewed energy to the industry.
Although I’d already seen Rabôt’s spring-summer 2023 collection at Fred Segal’s launch party, this time around, I’m exploring it in peaceful quietude, with more ease and deliberation. And most importantly – context. Because not too long after I begin browsing among the clothing racks, I notice founder and designer Jacqueline Rabôt out of the corner of my eye. She weaves through the displays, the fringes of her skirt (a piece from her collection, of course) swaying to and fro with every step. I can’t help but say hello – I mean, wouldn’t you?
The conversation, unsurprisingly, starts at the very beginning – how she first launched the brand in 2020 with the help of like-minded friend Catharine Dahm (who she met, purely by chance, at the Philadelphia symphony). “This is the Paloma dress – this is how we started,” she pulls an emerald-green dress with a ruffled hem by its hanger, twisting it this way then that to reveal a low-dipping back. It’s soft, fluid and flattering – a silhouette you can’t go wrong with.
“And then we also started with the Mimi Cardi,” Jacqueline pulls a crisp white cotton top with ruffles around the neckline and sleeves. “Every season, we just cut it in different fabrics, different prints.” It’s another favorite – and it’s easy to see why. Among these Rabôt mainstays are some newcomers from the spring-summer season. This collection feels like a sunny getaway. Take, for example, the Sur dress, which is rendered in an aubergine and cranberry combination, with an orange, bra-shaped detail.
There’s also more ’70s-inflected, cheerful pieces. Think: a tangerine mini with a tie knotted at the waist and gold-fringed tie-dye skirt made from an environmentally-conscious fabric called Tencel™. And I’d be remiss not to mention the gorgeous prints – prints that tell a story. Because with Rabôt, there’s always a story. Stories of Los Angeles’ creative community. Stories of female artists and entrepreneurs making waves in the city. And now, as Jacqueline leads her label into the next chapter, there are even more of them to explore. Here’s everything Jacqueline had to say about Rabôt’s journey and the community she’s built around it.
This interview has been edited for style and clarity.
Why did you first start with evening wear?
I wanted to do something sustainable, I wanted to only use deadstock fabrics. I was finding a lot of really beautiful patterned silks, so I kind of launched the brand with that. And I did more than evening wear, I guess, I did do a lot of silk dresses specifically. We’ve diversified since then; We do a lot of mesh, a lot of prints.
A lot of ’70s-inspired prints – how did that aesthetic come about?
Each season, we work with a lot of Los Angeles-based artists to do our prints. Like this print – I love that one. Ceramist Amelia Lockwood did this print for us for the spring-summer collection, and for the fall-winter collection, we collaborated with Avery Wheless. She’s an oil painter. That’s the starting point of every collection; we’ll do a scarf with artwork by an LA-based female artist.
So, tell me about the spring-summer collection. What was your main inspiration?
It’s called Phantasia. I was watching the film Fantasia – it’s all about this fantastical world that reminded me of Los Angeles. I’m not from here; I moved here from New Jersey. So, Los Angeles is like an adult playground – it’s wonderful. There’s the beach, there’s the ocean …
It’s la-la land.
Exactly. So, the collection is based on that.
Are all your seamstresses in Los Angeles?
Everyone is in LA. We work with female pattern makers, sewers, and deadstock production. All made in LA – which is tough to do. We have all of our washes down here, too. It’s nice; it’s really manageable.
I love that you’re not just focusing on sustainability, but you’re also giving back and fostering a community around the brand. Was that the goal from the get-go?
From the get-go. I’ve worked for big companies my whole career. I’ve worked for Ralph Lauren. I’ve worked for Current/Elliott, Free People, and Abercrombie, which was my first job out of school. And I just wanted something sustainable – and something that doesn’t look sustainable. I want it to feel luxurious and fun and playful, but also sustainable.
Do you know about the portrait series that we do? We go around LA, a photographer and myself, and we pick different female creatives that we are inspired by. We photograph them in their home and style them in Rabôt. We’ve done like 40 portraits so far. We shoot amazing women – painters, writers, activists, and photographers. It’s been amazing.
To backtrack a bit, what prompted you to start Rabôt? Did you have an “aha moment,” or was this something you always wanted to do?
I’ve always wanted my own thing. My dad is in advertising – he has his own advertising business. Working for other companies for as long as I have, [I thought], I could do this better. I could do this more sustainably … I tried to start the brand when I was in Philly. It was really tough to manufacture; I had to take a train to New York. When I moved here, I realized how easier it was. I’d built a base with Current/Elliott; I found sewers and pattern makers. And I started really small. I developed like a six- or seven-piece collection. I shot it on a girlfriend of mine, and I had my guy friend shoot it. It was very manageable.
So, what is the dream five or 10 years from – your ultimate goal?
I think I really want a brand that changes things in the fashion industry. And I think it’s so important to have people like me and people that care about sustainability and activism in the fashion space. I just want it to be a big motivating factor in the fashion industry. […] I think it’s really important to remain consistent with your values while also giving back to the community.
What do you want people to feel when they wear Rabôt?
I want people to not take fashion so seriously. I feel like I don’t take fashion so seriously. It’s fun – it should be something like adornment. It’s like how we think of jewelry, hair or makeup; it’s an expression, and it should be really playful and fun. I feel like Los Angeles is like that, too.
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