Yansi Fugel launched her collection of simply gorgeous women's tuxedos after a long career in fashion, including her own namesake label. Here's how she got her start.
Tell us about your background. How did you get into fashion?
My mom used to make coordinating outfits for me and my sister. We weren't used to going to a store and buying things off the rack. Instead, my mom would use the same fabric and make outfits for the two of us. Plus, she was always very well dressed and put together so it was a bit of an unknown yet subtle influence. I also really enjoyed drawing so it wasn't surprising that I ended up in a creative field.
Did you go to fashion school?
After graduating, I worked at a retail company for about 9 years. It was a small company called Paraphernalia out of London that was very hip and upscale with really cool cosmetics and clothing. I got to do everything from shooting catalogues, going to market for buying, and eventually ended up as the head of product development to create clothing under the Paraphernalia label. Everything was produced domestically and we were able to sell at really attractive prices since we were direct to consumer.
I eventually met my husband and we decided to take the private label concept (which was super new back then) to other companies. He focused on the manufacturing relationships while I did the design and merchandising. We had great accounts like Neiman Marcus, Macys, Nordstrom etc. It was a great experience but eventually our clients brought the private label concept in-house as they got more and more experienced.
That's when you came up with your namesake brand.
Yes. Yansi Fugel's concept was womenswear for women who work. Breaking the ceiling. Make getting dressed simpler but still fashionable using fabrics that were easy care. We started with distribution in department stores and eventually shifted more towards specialty boutiques. I did a lot of trunk shows in these stores where I got direct feedback from customers and it was a really great learning experience. Women would tell me exactly what they wanted or needed which I would then design and produce.
What happened to Yansi Fugel?
The 2008 recession happened. It was a huge punch in the gut. We tried to keep it going but it was so difficult. Eventually we decided to take a hiatus and in the meantime I spent quality time with my daughter who was about to apply to college. We did the whole college tour thing and she left. That's when I realized that I wasn't finished. I did a bit of consulting work which I hated - clients essentially pay you a ton of money but don't take your advice.
When did the idea for Tux Couture come about?
Around 2016, stores that I had worked with in the past started to reach out to me. They told me that they couldn't find pants that fit the way that mine did. Apparently my classic pant and jacket were their bestselling styles and they weren't able to replace them. They asked if I could produce these styles again. I went to my long-time manufacturing partners in China and asked them to do a small run. Which they did at sample prices which was really expensive but otherwise there wasn't any R&D cost since they already had all my patterns and my custom fabric. It was just the cost of cutting and sewing the fabric.
Eventually I had a customer who was heavy on the charity circuit and she really wanted a tuxedo. I showed her all these fabrics for a black tie tux but she eventually went with my signature custom fabric that I had developed years ago. This fabric was great because it could easily transition from day to evening. It was outfit that you could wear to a black tie event but you could wear the pieces separately somewhere less fancy. She would wear the pieces all the time and I kept getting referrals. Eventually, after many many client referrals, my husband told me that I should make a little collection of tuxes. And that's how it started!
Tell us about your fabric and production process.
The fabric was developed with a Japanese mill way back. It's an up-twisted microfiber polyester. Polyester gets a bad rep but this fabric is super long-lasting, has mechanical stretch, doesn't wrinkle, is season-less, is washable, and you can keep it forever which to me is the true definition of sustainable garments. I introduced the fabric in 1997 and it's still going strong!
We have a made to order process because I didn't want inventory. The traditional production model is too wasteful - you produce, customers buy some of it, you have leftover inventory which you then mark down or toss... It makes no sense. Because I have such a great relationship with my producers, I can make one or 50 pieces depending on customer demand. I can also make things according to your body and offer a much wider range of sizes.
Who is the Tux Couture woman?
She can be anyone. I recently did a tux for a woman who was celebrating her 40th and her husband also wore a tux. I did one for a woman who came out and wanted a red tux. I also did a collection of red satin tuxes for a bridal party who wanted something totally different to the standard pastel cocktail dresses that are de rigeur in bridesmaid outfits. I monogrammed their names on the inside of the jacket and also matched their jacket linings with their college colors which they loved.
What's great about the tuxes is that while they look fabulous as an ensemble, my women love that they are so reusable in other settings as well. No more racks of bridesmaid dresses that languish in your closet, never to be seen again!