Every time, I saw another Tucker top on her blog, I fell more in love. Every piece ooooozed So Cal chic. They managed to read laid back but still sophisticated. And don't even get me started on that loose, flattering fit and all those feminine, vaguely nostalgic prints.
Another reason I fell fast and hard: Tucker's founder Gaby Basora. Last December, I read a Fashionista article about her (copied it in full below because the online link is broken - F!) Something about her voice and authenticity in the interview spoke to me. It resonated with something in me. She sounded like the type of woman I would be friends with, she sounded like the businesswoman I could one day become.
Fast forward, 8 months. Last week when The Style Rules informed me there was a Tucker sample sale on Saturday, I knew. I knew the time had come. I was going to consummate a crush two years in the making: I knew I was about to make my very first Tucker purchases.
And let me tell you, I couldn't have popped my Tucker cherry in a more beautiful setting. The sample sale was poolside in Beverly Hills at The Avalon Hotel. Me-OW! I got there just as it opened so even though it was starting to get crowded, it wasn't unbearable.
Confession: I pawed practically every piece at the sample sale. I became a total chester the molestor at the sight of all those gorge fabrics and cuts and prints - the glorious, glorious prints! They are like a cross between DVF and Tibi, but softer somehow, more wearable. I snagged a dozen pieces to try on in a makeshift dress area then methodically discarded sizes that were too small or too large.
That got me down to six pieces. Most of which Mr. Diabolina said I already owned. UGH, WHY DO I BRING HIM TO THESE THINGS??? So I narrowed my "yes" pile to just these three beauties. One long sleeve and one short sleeve blouse and a kimono like linen jacket.
By Britt Aboutaleb
Before Fashion Week, I swung by Gaby Basora’s studio in the Meatpacking District.
I wanted to see how her line, Tucker, had gone from one shirt she made herself and wore everyday for weeks to an internationally recognized line carried everywhere from Barneys to Harvey Nichols in less than three years.
Apparently, she’s always done things quickly. She moved to New York at sixteen, skipped out on Sarah Lawrence after a couple of years, moved to Europe and explored every creative career under the sun by her mid-twenties.
The move from super successful stylist to business woman took a bit more time.
So What’s up?
Not much, just a normal day here at Tucker. Actually it’s very quiet in here right now, I feel like some of the girls are out at lunch
What’s a normal day?
This is going to cause a lot of laughter from the peanut gallery. I mean usually we all get here at nine and everybody does a little bit of everything here in the office. We’ve got a few interns who are here for the summer that sought us out from around the country which is really nice. We actually have a girl from Turkey who just left a little while ago. We do everything here, we don’t do sales because we have a showroom, but designs, shipping, pretty much everything is happening out of this office.
But your day - you wake up in the morning -
I wake up in the morning; I wake up on the early side because I have three boys, 8, 7 and 18 months - Jacques, Pablo and Heston. They go to school in the village -
Do you live around here (her studio’s in the Meatpacking District)?
I actually live in the East Village and they go to school in the West Village so we wake up, make the breakfast, make the lunch. It’s not too different in the summer because we get them off to camp. My husband works in Chelsea so we all leave the house together, drop the boys off, then usually the baby and I come up here and someone comes up and meets me. For a while, I was in Midtown and it was so dreadful, traveling back and forth in that crowdedness. It’s so magnificent walking out of your office in New York City and seeing water and sky. I grew up in Seattle I need that little bit of space and sky and water and horizon.
So you bring the baby to work?
I told the girls I was going to try and put him in a nursery in the Fall and they were like, “NO! We’re not ready!” I’ve finally folded up the crib and made a commitment to reclaim the space. I’ll send you pictures, they’re very cute. Last night my friend came over and she’s having a tough time - her dad’s sick - she’s so fantastic and Heston - we were laying on the couch - and all of a sudden he started giving her these juicy kisses like “muah, muah” and then he would turn to me and go “muah!” And I was like, “Jill, I know it’s not quite what you want, a guy making out with you and his mom at the same time, but isn’t it pretty nice?” So Heston’s here, I come in, I just… sit in my madness.
What’s your favorite breakfast?
I’m a three-meals-a-day kinda person. We make fresh waffles in the morning, or eggs. With three boys and a daddy it’s French toast, waffles, berries, whipped cream - they’re really into their meals. Then we all come over here together, it’s pretty nice.
So what happens once you’re in the office?
It just depends on what’s going on - we’re working on samples, or designing fabrics, or working on a new body, or fitting it, or waiting on things to come back from the samplemaker or something’s going in Spring or we’re waiting for Summer. There’s still tons of shuttling between Midtown and here, but it’s a small operation. We’re selling in about 150 stores and we just went into a European showroom so we’re in Liberty and Matches and Net-A- Porter and Harvey Nicks. It’s really exciting!
And the label’s about two years old?
Three and a half, but the first year we were only at Barneys. The collection was very small. So once I’m here, I’m in and out of the office. During the school year there are different things happening at my kids’ school so I go down there a lot. People like to come in and shop here. We had a little studio store on the LES that we opened because we felt that so many people were coming in to the studio to shop!
I didn’t even know you guys had a store. Do you do a lot with it?
It’s mostly friends and family actually. We thought, let’s open a little store and we can do collaborations, we can have dinners with artists, create a little social world, but we closed it in August. We’re hoping to get the space next door to this and just break through. The space that I took…You know when you look at something empty and it looks so deliciously charming and perfect and then you move in and put in three things that you want and you’re like, “Ok, that dinner party’s not happening now because there’s no room.” Being on Essex street felt like a natural, interesting spot to be, but it’s also a little bit tricky for people who don’t have much time in their day. This is must more centrally located, easier to get to. And it’s just easier to be next door when it comes to dividing my time for the business.
So you grew up in Seattle. Did you always want to be a designer?
No. I came to NY when I was sixteen, I’d never been before. I skipped two grades and went to Sarah Lawrence, which I just chose out of a book while I was living in Amsterdam. I was studying there, living with family friends from Seattle and the father of the family was a sculptor and artist and the mom in the family had been the editor of Rolling Stone when it first opened in San Francisco so of course I was completely enamored with this woman and I decided I wanted to be a writer. So I went to Sarah Lawrence and studied writing for the first semester and then I started studying languages. I mean I was sixteen and I had no idea.
I was working at Agnes B and I petitioned to move off campus because Bronxville was just so not New York City. I had envisioned myself in the city and I felt the country mouse. My sister went to NYU and it was not fair. But I ended up taking three years off college after two years, moved back to California and studied in Portland for a bit. At that point, I was either going to be a modern dancer or a photographer or writer or a terrible painter; I even studied theater. I was finally finishing college at this point and my boyfriend at the time introduced me to Karl Templer. He was a friend of his I started assisting him just for pocket money. It was the early 90’s and I just helped him out in America (he was still working in London a lot at that point). And then after working with Karl I started getting calls to do stuff on my own.
Did that become your career plan? Styling?
Oh no! It was definitely interesting to me and I loved aspects about it like the clothes, the people that you work with, the collaboration, the storytelling - I worked with some really interesting artists, went on the road with Lauryn Hill when she was doing the Miseducation tour -
That must’ve been awesome! What was the craziest thing that happened on tour?
There were many many bananas moments, but mostly just weird stuff. I was ironing a skirt for Lauryn before a show and there was plastic in the fabric and it just started to melt - I mean this is moments before she was going on stage and it was just melting. I don’t think I could’ve survived the madness of starting this company if I hadn’t been a stylist because it’s really grueling work on certain levels. Lauryn had six trunks full of wardrobe that we carried all over the world - if there was a concert, I packed it all up and brought it from the hotel. I didn’t have an assistant, so that whole thing of packing up the trucks and doing a fitting and then another fitting and fittings at four in the morning… I think being able to have that schedule that pace - and then being that fried and having the skirt melt you just have to keep it together. Good training for this! There are so many things like production problems or something doesn’t come out right and you have to regroup and figure out how you’re still making your delivery. When I first sold to Barneys, that first delivery, I was in alone in the factory with my notebook I met a mom at Jack’s school asked her to help me pack the clothes. She was super sweet, and we were in the factory at the last minute putting everything together and the elevator broke. The factory was on the twelfth floor. There were more than two hundred blouses stuffed into big boxes. After I walked downstairs I missed the truck I’d hired so I had to call Delancey, the car service, and drive it out to Lindhurst. We made it five minutes before the delivery window closed. It’s like every time you jump a hurdle, there’s a new one.
How did you get from being on tour from Lauryn Hill to here?
Well when I was styling, I’d want something specific and not be able to find it so I would have it made. And I would have things made for myself all the time, design things for myself…
You just bring your sketch to a tailor?
I am a terrible artist so a lot of times I’ll just take something and cut the arms off and re-pin it and people would respond to the things that I was wearing, like, “I want one” and this and that. Before I started Tucker, I’d gone to midtown and researched factories and got samples from fabric wholesalers and I thought I might really want to start a line. I ran into the guys from Duckie Brown on the street and they said something about hemmoraging money, which sounded terrible, but the two boys were little at the time and I really had a nice life in the sense that I could work for a week and then not work, I like to travel and take them away… I thought it would be really silly to start something that could affect the family so much, so I just put it on the backburner. But still, I’d just make something for myself and wear it nonstop, and my friends would go, “I want one!” and even I’d want more, I’d wear the same thing for two weeks!
What kind of stuff were you making?
I made trenchcoats and tube dresses, little tops, and the blouse that started Tucker. It was a red jersey blouse I was wearing every day and I just felt really good in it. It was summer and I wore it with my favorite vintage Levis, a white skirt, shorts, to work, to meet my husband for dinner. He’d say, “You’re in the red shirt again?” So I went to Mood and bought all this fabric that I really loved and went to all these little stores in midtown, factories I’d visited years before, and I asked them if they could do a small run of my red shirts. Then I sold them to my friends. I went into stores on styling jobs, like Opening Ceremony and different little boutiques in the East Village and the owners and buyers and shopkeepers would ask if they could buy it. So I said, “Oh sure, I’ll come back,” but I still wasn’t thinking that I had a business idea. I still felt a bit daunted by the fact that if stores didn’t like it, I still had to go in to pull for a job.
But then I was out wearing one [of the blouses] and a friend of a friend said, “I’m taking you to Barneys tomorrow,” and I just said fine. And she set up a meeting a manager actually. We had lunch at Fred and he kept saying, “I wish the buyer was here.” But I couldn’t figure out if he was just being polite or… You can be in an intentional headset looking for this support or you can just be on another planet not necessarily grasping the potential. He did call though, and I went back to Barneys with a piece of paper with little swatches of fabric stapled to lined and the buyer was like, “We’ll leave you alone to set up your presentation.” When she came back I was sitting in the same spot. I pulled out my piece of paper and I showed her. That’s one of the things I think is so beautiful about Tucker; it’s really about the product, the substantial product, this clothing that is just so beautiful and people feel beautiful or comfortable in it. I just think that she bought it right then and there, that she took everything because I said “I can give you one shirt in this fabric and one in this. It was all fabrics I’d collected and loved and I didn’t care if it was Ralph Lauren fabric - if I loved it and it caught my eye I’d bought it. So I told her you can have one blouse in that, two in this, seventeen in that and she bought everything I had, she took it all.
And when was that?
That was in the spring of 2006. And then she got another delivery six weeks later because that first delivery sold out. She ordered more for the fall and for 2006 it was exclusive to Barneys.
Was that their choice?
Yes, and I was happy to. So many stores now carry the same merchandise, but when you’re coming to New York when you’re 16 there’s Bergdorfs and Barneys and that’s what you save your money for.
And then you blew up!
I think that the lucky thing for me too is that in the beginning I didn’t have PR or any business sense other than my own intuition. I was really focusing on production because I thought it’d be terrible to have orders that I couldn’t fill. It’d be terrible to have attention and then limited capabilities in terms of production or actually being able to make stuff. So things happened nicely in terms of growth.
What’s the biggest challenge?
Oh they’re so many! But I think the nonstop calendar. In styling, there’s just a sprint and then a rest, sprint and then a rest. This is really fast running continuously. It’s not a jog, it’s not cross country running, it just doesn’t slow down. It’s exciting and it’s challenging and it’s amazing. Finally I can say oh my goodness I love what I’m doing.
What does it give you that styling didn’t?
I mean it gives you creative control that as a stylist you really don’t - unless you’re at a certain level where you’re choosing the models and the photographers, working with the designers through the fit process, like Karl was one of those few - there aren’t that many with total creative control. And with this I don’t mind doing the hard work because I can do the work and also be me. I can bring my kids here; I can be in a space that feels right to me as opposed to styling where you’re meeting the photographer and the director wherever works for him or her and even though there’s such a huge responsibility that comes with designing and business there is so much freedom because you’re doing what you love and there’s also freedom to define what it is.
And if you want it to change, you can change it.
It’s amazing, it really is amazing. It is so much work and there have definitely been times where I’m like, “Please get this rock off my back.”
Do you ever take a vacation?
I do, I do. In the beginning I didn’t, I cancelled every trip I bought tickets for because I couldn’t ever go away. It was just me! Now we have 6 people and a handful of interns that are amazing. We’ve been blessed with having the most amazing crew. I rent a house on Shelter Island and I go out every weekend in the summer. The house has no landline, no phone line. It’s just hanging out with friends and riding your bike to the beach, my husband surfs in Montauk and he goes out in the morning so I have the morning with the boys and we ride our bikes to the bakery. It’s a great balance. If I didn’t have that, the load would feel heavy. Though I also feel entitled because it’s so much work!
You can really only keep up a one woman operation for so long.
And it’s lifestyle choices too, I have to think about how quickly I’m growing and I finally said, “I am not going to midtown”. I’d think of another way. I really think of the way things affect my quality of life. Like the other day, I hopped on my bike and rode up the west side to pick up my son from camp, and rode with him back downtown. Being ten minutes away if he had a play or a performance - I mean, it’s great.
It’s easy to lose sight of ‘quality of life’ in New York. The move from Brooklyn to Manhattan, it’s enchanced it so many ways, but also made me define it differently.
I’ve always lived in the East Village. When I was sixteen, I moved above the Sunshine Theater, and the people I shared the apartment with were all working at Agnes B, too. I was like their little pet and under strict instructions never to go east of First Avenue. Seriously, alphabet city was insane, like shooting galleries. I could maybe to go Avenue A if it was still light out. And not because I wasn’t street smart! It was dangerous! Later, we’d go to WORLD - this club on Avenue D… I lived in that area for as long as I’ve lived in NY… on 1st and 1st above Little Frankies and on Houston and 7th. Now I’m just one block away, but in the same little radius. I feel like convenience is everything in New York - just being able to walk out your door and be close to where you’re going.
Any big plans coming up?
Life wise or work wise?
Oh, I was going to say a daughter! I want a girl! But, I’d love to do a presentation in February. I’ve been into growing it slowly because that makes sense. I like that it’s so strong that people like to build on it - like a blouse from Tucker and pants or slacks from Marc Jacobs. That’s how I put myself together and I think it’s interesting to be involved in the way that people dress. So a presentation would be great because I still think we’re a bit of a secret.
Where did the name tucker come from?
From a dream!