starring Elle® magazine's Joe Zee

Episode Recap – Leila Shams – Slutty vs. Sexy

I was not kidding when I told Leila Shams that the difference between slutty and sexy is three more inches on her dress. In the world of fashion, those three inches can mean a completely different customer, a different store and ultimately, a different type of business. In her heart, Leila knew exactly what I was talking about.

Leila was a designer who designed for herself. This became quite evident to me during our time together (heels were her sneakers and minis were her comfort clothes!) and that philosophy of design usually works for me, except when you need to expand. Despite any of my initial impressions of Leila when we first met, she’s actually a very hard-working, bright girl and even under all her funny moments (ace bandages!) I knew she had talent. Talent that could make her stand out – if she could just elevate her sensibility.

And I’m so glad that happened and the items that Intermix responded to was exactly the direction I was pushing Leila towards. That hammered satin green dress was a good catalyst to the beginning of a quieter, chicer Leila. While the dress wasn’t perfect, it was a great start.

I remember reviewing her collection that first time with Keith in my office and being drawn to her photo prints. I knew that a few seasons back, we featured a top she did with a cat on it in ELLE and it was cute, but she just had to do better in my books. Her large-scale photo prints, on the other hand, had that potential. I just needed her to tap into that potential. I remember back to the early 90′s when Martin Margiela first broke onto the fashion scene, he was the master of photo prints, creating ideas and illusions with a very simple idea. Leila – formerly of DKNY and BeBe – is no Margiela, but it was the concept of seeing abstract versus literal that was important to me. Hence our Coney Island trip. And the ultimate lesson of seeing design in an abstracted way and it was walking on that boardwalk that day that I could see the switch flip in her head. I think she got it at that very moment. And hence our results.

I finished working with Leila back in September, but this past February during New York Fashion Week, Leila had emailed me to say “Come to my presentation. I took your advice and upgraded fabrics, lengthened styles (even maxis!), toned down embellishments, and even did PANTS! I’m telling you. I did you proud!”

How could I resist an invitation like that? And that is what I love about AOTL – that long after I’m gone, the designer’s commitment to business and design and the lessons we learned together all continues. And hey, isn’t that commitment what being a successful designer is all about?

Tune in for more designer transformations on Sundance Channel’s all new original series ALL ON THE LINE. Tuesdays at 10p.