She’s an American in Paris working as a fashion designer for Yves Saint Laurent. Oak Cliff native Kate Crouch had to travel across an ocean to find her calling, and she enjoys it so much she may never come home.
I understand you originally wanted to be a dancer.
I actually applied to go to Sidney Lanier Elementary, and that’s why I started dancing. I danced up until the age of 15 when I developed bad back problems and had to stop. I did really want to pursue dance as a career, but I guess the tables kind of turned, and it turns out for the better. It’s kind of like a blessing in disguise.
How did you end up in fashion design?
I went to Booker T. Washington Arts Magnet, and when I was no longer able to dance, the school told me I needed to either find a different cluster or go to my own school, which was Sunset. At that time, I also played piano, and I was also painting just as a hobby. They were trying to find a place for me at the school and nobody would take me. Finally the theater took me, so I was taking freshman theater courses when I was a sophomore, and I had to do a costume design class. That’s where I realized that I loved to design clothes. The course was for six months, and I just kept on designing. I would go to shops with my mom and say, ‘Oh, I could make that.’
Did you stick with it?
After that year, I was doing visual arts. I had completely forgotten about [fashion design] and started painting. I actually left Booker T. Washington a year early and went to El Centro. I had an exhibition at Twilight in Oak Cliff, and then the restaurant burned down with all of my artwork in it, so I was kind of at a loss. I didn’t really know what to do.
So you turned back to fashion?
My mom found a website for Paris American Academy, and I did a one month workshop just to see if that’s what I wanted to do. I realized that I really did enjoy fashion, and I finished out the semester then convinced my parents to let me go back for the next year. I met another girl going to a fashion school, Studio Berçot, and I finished my school there. In your third year they help you find internships, and they matched me with a company called Geroges Rech assisting with knitwear. I decided I definitely wanted to pursue a path in knitwear design for women.
How did you transition to Yves Saint Laurent?
The day before I went home for Christmas, I went by the school and said, ‘This is the last day of my internship.’ They phoned me back 15 minutes later to tell me there was an opening at Yves Saint Laurent, and I would have my interview that night. I showed them my portfolio, and they seemed quite interested. A week after I got home, I learned that I’d been accepted for a 6-month internship. I worked on the winter collection and a cruise collection, and I was offered the chance to apply for a position as a junior designer/assistant in the knitwear department. I had one week to prepare the collection, and did about 20 patterns and about 32 drawings. Five other people presented their collections as well. A couple of weeks later, they told me in the office that I had been accepted. It’s kind of like a fairy tale.
What are you working on now?
Now I’m assisting in the knitwear studio. I design T-shirts, swimwear and occasionally day dresses or evening dresses. I was hired to do what’s called ‘draping’, where you make the patterns directly on the dress form, as well as to do little samples of different kinds of stitching. Occasionally we go to Italy — Florence is where the Gucci headquarters are, and Yves Saint Laurent is a part of Gucci.
Does it ever feel surreal?
Yes, all the time. I’d have to say this past collection, we had to literally cut models out of the clothing backstage at the fashion show, and it was pretty surreal.
Is it anything like Bravo’s ‘Project Runway’?
In a way, yes, it is, because you have ridiculous deadlines and you have to be really innovative and really inventive. But it’s much different. You’re not competing against people. Everybody works as a team, so it’s not a one-man show; it’s everybody together.
What design are you most proud of?[Actress] Catherine Deneuve chose one of my dresses to possibly be worn to one of the movie festivals, I think the Cannes. She didn’t, but it was quite flattering to know that it was one of her options. There was another dress I draped in this last collection that took me three days to make, and it was one of the best selling in the collection.
What’s next for you?
I would eventually like to have my own label, but I’d really someday like to design children’s clothing. It’s much more imaginative and more fun and relaxed. It’s also a challenge because children really don’t have a form, but I think it would be super fun. In the meantime, I’d like to work for a couple more years under a larger mark to get more experience and learn how the business really works. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to the states, but I want to stay here a while longer in Paris to get more experience.
How is the fashion different in Paris?
It’s very chic, and there’s lots of black. I think that people back home are a lot more colorful and a lot more free and open about the way that they dress. Here everybody is fashionable, and everybody is really good looking. Personally, I enjoy being able to dress back home because I can dress a lot more extravagantly and wear brighter colors without being stared at, but I also enjoy the French style of dress — the chic, the je ne sais quoi.
Do you ever miss home?
Definitely — my family and Tex Mex.
I guess you can’t get Tex Mex in Paris.
You can, but it’s not the same. Usually the first thing we do when I get home is go straight to La Calle Doce or Herrera’s.
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