Inside the Studio of Cool Cali Designer Tess Vigil!

Forever curious about the people behind the designs here at ModCloth, I decided to visit with Tess Vigil, the creator of 50 Dresses, to find out more about how she got started crafting the pretty dresses you see on our site. I met her for tea at her Santa Monica apartment (which doubles as her design studio) for a little behind-the-scenes peek into her creative process. Warmly greeted at the front door by her very enthusiastic pup, I was invited in for a proper cup of British tea before delving into the world of this Spanish lit major-turned-fashion designer.

What type of girl do you design your clothes for? Do you wear your own designs? 
Yes! Absolutely. My desire to design comes from my love of wearing dresses, and my love of seeing women in dresses. I want ladies to have great dresses in their closets for all occasions. I design for the girl who wants to look chic and classy, but still young and stylish. She doesn’t want to spend a ton on a dress, but wants quality as well as something unique and made in the U.S. Most of all, she wants to feel great. “You are chic! Wear a dress!” is the voice behind 50 Dresses.

What was the inspiration for your current collection? 
I can’t cite a specific inspiration, other than that this is what I feel girls will feel great wearing this time of year! All of my designs are inspired by vintage silhouettes or fabrics or sensibilities, but with enough modern energy to feel current.

Did you always know that you wanted to be a designer?
Yes, it’s always been my dream job. I feel like I’ve been “studying” for it since I was ten. I learned to sew from my mother, but formally studied design much later. I studied visual arts in college, and later took technical classes in sample sewing, sketching, and pattern-making. I learned a bit about the fashion industry and producing garments from an internship and assistant design position I’d held for a year prior to starting 50 Dresses.

How did 50 Dresses start? 
I decided that the best way to start a dress line would be to become really good at making dresses and to make a lot of them, so I could see the good stuff rise to the top! So, I decided to make 50 different dresses in my basement before launching the line. I blogged about each one I finished. I learned a lot about dress construction, fabric performance, and my own tastes through my 50 dresses basement project!

Do you think your previous experiences in school and then later at Teach for America have helped you in the world of design? 
I loved studying at Columbia. I studied visual arts and Spanish literature. Making art is similar to fashion design in that they are both committed to an aesthetic vision and making an impression on the visual world. The process of executing an idea into a final product crosses both fields as well… but, mostly, I loved the liberal arts education because I was able to study literature, writing, music, philosophy, and history in a way that helped me develop a good understanding and appreciation of the world we live in, and how to navigate it effectively. Teach for America was an amazing experience and has only helped me in the world of design — I learned if I work really hard at something, even if it seems impossible, I can eventually figure out how to succeed. TFA taught me to be tough, confident, and driven towards a big goal, even if I’m not very experienced at what I’m doing!

Any advice for young people interested in fashion or design? 
Sew! Sew lots of clothes. Design is a three-dimensional art [and] trade, and the understanding of fabric, fit, and form as it relates to the body is best learned by hands-on practice!

Tess, modeling one of her designs, the Handle With Square Dress.


About Erin Ellis

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  1. Avatar
    Lauren Helen 01/12/2012 at 3:12 pm #

    Her designs are stunning and she seems like a really lovely lady! Great feature!

  2. Avatar
    The Big Mac 01/12/2012 at 3:21 pm #

    What a lovely insight, I admire anybody that manages to run their own studio (and keep it tidy!) How inspiring.x

  3. Avatar
    Anne S. 01/13/2012 at 7:18 am #

    I wore Tess’s “circle and dots party dress” last summer on a visit to Santa Fe. We spent two days on Canyon Road, and I got “what a great dress!” five times a day. Tess’s dresses make you stand out in an elegant way. “Party dress” didn’t mean you have to wear it to a party. Wearing it anywhere, anytime, makes wherever you are a party!

  4. Avatar
    Betsey Coleman 01/13/2012 at 8:03 pm #

    I love Tess’s dresses and her site is sooooo user friendly. Plus, she has good taste in pups!

  5. Avatar
    QA Create 01/15/2012 at 11:01 am #

    Very nice Q&A. I am in love with her botanical mugs! Always lovely to hear the a designer’s story. She has a very lovely home!

  6. Avatar
    Pamela 01/17/2012 at 12:45 pm #

    Awesome post, I love how you really captured her in real life.

    I am a casual fan of your blog, and appreciate how you are often you all are in the know on current trends and amazing style. It is because of your merrit, that I must let you know, that to southern California natives the word “cali” (used in the title of this blog) is frowned upon. We tend to see it as a tourist-coined-phrase. Specifically tourists who are trying to look cool.

    So to save you from turning off Southern California natives. Using the whole name of California is a better choice in the future.

    Other than that, amazing job, I will for sure check out 50 Dresses!

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