Cynthia Rowley on Fashion and Where She Finds Inspiration

January 24, 2020

Fashion powerhouse Cynthia Rowley runs a global fashion and lifestyle empire where every new collection feels just like the first–energetic, carefree, and colorful. The designer, who started out wanting to be a painter, moved to New York City to launch her clothing line in 1988. Several decades and a CFDA award later, Cynthia Rowley has become a household name, expanding into home goods, accessories, and beauty products.

We met Cynthia at her studio in downtown NYC to learn more about her design process, the best advice she’s ever been given, and get a behind-the-scenes look at her latest collection.

To start off, tell us about Cynthia Rowley and how it all began.

I’ve always loved making things. I was actually studying to be a painter at the Art Institute of Chicago when I decided to change paths and start designing. The whole process just seemed way more collaborative and I thought it would be way easier to start a career in fashion (SIKE!).

Describe the brand in 5 words or less. 

Pretty, sporty, adventurous, artistic, thoughtful.

What’s the inspiration behind this collection? 

Everything we do is in the spirit of adventure. For Spring ‘20, pumped up pastels and sleek two-tone pieces mixed with texture and fun prints made for a joyful collection.

What are your must-rent pieces from the collection and why?

I love anything that I can throw on with a pair of sneakers or heels. “Beach to soirée” was the intention of the whole collection. The floral jumpsuit and wrap dress are definitely one of my favorites. 

What does your typical design process look like?

Everything is designed in-house. We even design all of our own prints. The inspiration is endless. 

Now, let’s get personal–give us your bio in one sentence. 

Designer, adventure seeker, mom. 

What does your typical morning routine look like?

I wake up early, shoot out of bed, and take my dog Ziggy on a walk. Then I make some coffee, get a quick workout in, and listen to stand-up comedy while I shower and get ready. After that, I Citi Bike to my studio.

How do you get into the creative zone? 

Creativity comes in bursts. Sometimes it comes in the middle of the night, sometimes in the shower–it happens throughout the day. Most of my day is spent on business and I try to be as creative in business as I am with design. 

Any latest reads, podcasts or shows inspiring you? 

I’m big on podcasts. I listen to them on the treadmill, cooking dinner, taxis, etc. My favorites right now are Goop, How I Get It Done, and TED. It actually inspired my daughter Kit and I to start one of our own named “Ageless” where we talk about fashion, travel, wellness, and the overall concept of agelessness. 

What’s your go-to work outfit? 

It’s fun to experiment mixing print and pattern, high and low, and different layers. One day it’s a pretty dress and sneakers and the next it could be jeans with a cozy sweater and heels. 

Favorite part of your day? 

When that spark of inspiration hits!

When the day’s over, how do you unwind? 

My days are long but when I leave the studio I turn off my work mode. Whether I’m having fun with friends, hanging with the fam, or date night – I like to end my day with something happy and fun. 

Rapid-fire Q&A:

  • First fashion memory: I cried tears of joy when my grandmother bought me these white Easter shoes that I just thought were the most beautiful things I’d ever seen when I was 7. 
  • Biggest fashion regret: #noregrets
  • Current fashion crush: Halima Aden – the first Muslim model to wear a burkini in Sports Illustrated Swimsuit. We’ve been making custom burkinis for her for Sports Illustrated ever since. Her voice and spirit are super inspiring. 
  • Personal fashion icon: It’s impossible to say just one. 
  • Best advice you’ve ever received: Well…Andy Warhol didn’t personally tell me this but…Say yes to everything!
  • Best advice you’ve ever given: Just do it…what’s the worst that can happen?