a visit with 7115 by szeki


images by mary ferrill

we seem to be after them every season: the perfectly versatile dresses. they are pieces that assimilate so effortlessly into a wardrobe, one might wonder how it was possible to have not owned them before. or at least, such good versions of them. this season it’s that good, and it’s from 7115 by szeki — a line whose self-defined pillars are aesthetic, quality, and attainability, and whose streamlined designs we instantly fell in love with when we first saw them in the fall.  we visited 7115's lower east side store and chatted with szeki about her line and how she's arrived where she is now. 



ten minutes into our conversation, it is evident that where we are standing — the clean and compact storefront devoted to, and old as 7115 itself — has been integral to the success of the line.  "you learn so much; you really see," szeki explains, in regards to interacting with customers in the store, where she still works two to three days a week.  with a background that includes a brief career as a singer in her native china and with jewelry as her first foray into design, since 2010, szeki has focused on apparel. in that time, she hasn't had to rely on the seasonal cycle of retailers to gauge the success of particular designs. "when you have a store, it makes it easy. put it in your market and do a test." by this season's collection, most shapes are not entirely new.  silhouettes are refined, not replaced.  a zipper is reoriented, an elastic band is added, a new fabric is introduced.  


now a staple of the line, the kimono dress went through two years of samples before it arrived at its current iteration. on what made it, she says, "not until I saw the right fabric - it clicked."  the impetus for modifying a particular style often comes directly from customer feedback, which szeki cherishes and identifies as her main source of inspiration, a word which the fashion world demands all contemporary designers define. she insists several times throughout our visit that she is not a, "clothes person," and does not keep up with fashion's current.  favoring the pragmatic over the conceptual, szeki is a problem solver.  she sees a new opportunity each time a person walks through her doors.  she locates her goal around wanting to make, "things that make you happy and feel good."  despite her lack of formal fashion training, she has a parsons degree in design and technology, which she loosely describes as exploring social interaction with technology.  this suddenly seems quite apt.


the origami dress hangs in 7115 by szeki's LES store — shop here.


if 7115's storefront is its driving design force, the line's manufacturing structure allows for it. the clothes are exceptionally well-made. szeki retains ownership of production and a unique, even familial, relationship with the creation of her pieces. her mother runs a 7115 office in hong kong, an hour from qinzhou, where the workshop and studio is located. they employ graduates from qinzhou university to craft the line. szeki acknowledges the benefit of hiring and retaining a group of talented individuals, many of whom have been with her since the line's inception, "when the person is always with a company and they really understand the standard, their hands are only going to get better."  



thank you, szeki, for sharing your time and space with us!  



studio visit : willow knows


each time I've entered the willow knows studio, i feel an immediate lightness. sure, this might have something to do with the irresistible beauty of the airy atelier, housed in a former industrial space. where there are not large paneled windows draped in equally massive sheer curtains, there are white walls reaching high into the ceiling. the entire space is an experience of light, but the buoyancy I’ve felt seems to come more truly from the exquisite work created here, and the woman behind it – the lovely Jess Lee, founder and designer of willow knows, a collection of hand dyed textiles and one of the newest brands on the shelves of scarpa.


“i didn’t start willow knows with the intent to start a hand-dyed textile line,” she tells me, perched on a tall stool, cropped hair tucked neatly behind her ears. Jess, who studied textiles in college, moved to New York to work in film and had wanted to start her own clothing line. she soon realized that a smaller city would be more conducive to her work and decided to relocate. “i had just gotten to Charlottesville, and i started dying these tiny little scarves in my backyard as a new creative outlet,” she explains. she found herself, “desperately needing,” to use her hands again. returning to a medium she loved in her collegiate years, the work was initially an exploration, perhaps just a catalyst for something else. but her hand-dyed work was instantly well received, and after two seasons of creating scarves, she expanded her line into an apparel collection.


“my concept has always been easy, wearable silhouettes. it’s what I love to wear,” she explains with a smile, “to feel like you’re wearing nothing.” her crepe de chine pieces, including the popular cocoon dress, hang behind her from a suspended branch. and it’s true – they seem barely there, their edges softened by the bright light of the curtains behind them; a breeze from an open window sends a shutter through each piece revealing eddying patterns of dark blue and cream. ask Jess about her inspiration and she jumps to color – and it's obvious that she has an uncanny sense for it. “the textiles are a way of saying something i can’t say otherwise,” she explains. she sees her work housing, “a tension and argument between things that are fluid and things that are still.” one particular piece that most readily embodies this concern is a cropped t-shirt with a silk front and a chiffon back, all in dark blue, save for a shot of cream that extends across both panels of fabric. “design as conversation,” she offers.


jess’s attention to the seasonal tides also plays integrally into her work. in the warmer parts of the year, she looks toward her immediate surroundings for inspiration—rebirth, growth, bounty. in darker and colder months, she turns her focus inward and to imagined spaces – the deep sea bubbling up, a constant motion – its own complications and juxtapositions stilled for just a moment in swaths of silk.


our thanks, jess, for sharing your time and gorgeous space with us!

shop willow knows for scarpa here.