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Behind the Brand: A cocktail & Interview with outerwear designer Michelle Waugh

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Outerwear designer Michelle Waugh has built a cult following for her collection of ultra-luxe cashmere coats.  All her pieces are handcrafted in New York, born from a mission to support luxury manufacturing in the United States.  We sat down with Michelle over a cocktail at our studio to talk cashmere and find out how she's made her way in the industry. 

michelle waugh, primary new york

[ Michelle Waugh, above, at Primary's Studio ]

CA: You're a Canadian New York designer - specializing in winter coats, tell me your French Canadian upbringing in Montreal had something to do with this?

MW: My French Canadian roots definitely played a role and continue to do so when creating the collection. Living in Canada, you absolutely needed a hearty winter coat to save you from the cold. I would always have a hard time finding a piece that would not only provide warmth but also style.  I wanted my collection to modify the essentials, while updating the classics and embodying a downtown ease. I create pieces that are simultaneously classic, and new, bold and modern.

 womens cashmere blazer, navy, michelle waugh, primary new york

[ Michelle Waugh Ainsley Blazer in Navy ] 

CA: Was there a specific reason you chose to focus on outerwear with one collection a year? 

MW: I focused on outerwear because it is the perfect statement piece, an investment piece, and the game changer in your wardrobe. Every coat I design has this versatility that embodies the beauty I see in women. That beauty is modern, raw, feminine and bold. For me it’s about creating outerwear with that “sweet spot” in mind where comfort, luxury and style converge without foregoing design and fit.  You wear your coat almost everyday. I’ve always loved outerwear and it was always the category I would invest in personally. A women's coat says the world about her. It goes with her on all of her adventures while shielding and protecting her. It is fundamental to any wardrobe. I also love the fact that I believe there are no rules when it comes to coats. They can be a timeless piece or incredibly playful. My coats strongly assert both of these views. You will have to stay tune but I do have some exciting news! I will be introducing a Spring/Summer collection. So you will be seeing a lot more of me!

CA: I know you’ve been working in the Fashion industry in New York for many years, beginning at Dior and have also worked in Finance, can you give us a bit of your background and how you got to here? 

MW: I was always captivated by fashion.  As a child, I would make my own clothes, apprenticing under the local seamstress in my hometown of Vancouver, Canada.  I graduated from Fordham University majoring in political science. Going on to work for luxury design house Christian Dior and Singaporean-based fashion brand Raoul, where I was a member of the public relations team responsible for their initial launch in the United States. The brand’s New York debut was an instant success, and I got a glimpse into the day-to-day life of an entrepreneur and this was so inspirational to starting my own business. In order to do so I needed a job that would help me sustain myself in New York and save some money to launch a business. I went to work for a brokerage firm where I became a credit broker. Working in a very male dominated industry, on a trading floor, I learned a lot about their needs and habits. Shortly after, I sensed an opportunity for easy to shop menswear, and I launched LIFTLUXE a curated online menswear shop.  It was here I realized my passion for the perfect pieces, wardrobe essentials that felt both curated and versatile. 

Influenced by classic men’s coats, I threw myself into building my label, creating an edited collection of elevated coats, easily worn with anything, always focusing on luxurious fabrics and impeccable fit. I’m proud to say my collection is produced entirely out of New York.

ice blue duster, chloe duster, figtny, primary new york, michelle waugh
[ Michelle Waugh's Chloe Duster coat in powder blue ] 

CA: You source your cashmere from Italy and the coats are all made in New York, how important is it to you to have that type of control over your product? 

MW: Quality control is tremendously important to me, therefore being made in New York was something that was imperative for me. I want to be able to walk into my factory and touch and feel my work. Having my production in New York where I live not only allows me to design what I sell, but also allows me to truly make it. For me it is also about connection and accountability. I personally know everyone involved in the making of every coat. I’ve built an incredible sense of trust and confidence in my product because of this. As for the cashmere, I love Italian cashmere not only for their superior quality, but I get to work with family owned and operated mills. To me these relationships are invaluable in producing beautiful pieces.  

CA: Your a super busy mom of two beautiful baby girls under 2!, is there a secret to juggling it all? How do you do it?

MW: I’m still trying to find the secret! So if you know, please tell me! Being a founder and mother is messier than I ever imagined. I keep asking myself “where are my flashy headquarters where everything is chic and angst free!” I have days where I am filled with self-doubt and asking myself why am I doing this. The reality is everything worth having in life, things that are truly the most rewarding, tends to be the most challenging. Motherhood has taught me some key lessons that have helped me greatly with my business. Do not touch anything with half of your heart. It takes a village and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Persist, persist, and persist! Be present and celebrate the victories, however small. So I wake up, and I try to be the best me I know how to be. I don’t know all of the answers when it comes to my business or mothering, but I know I just have to keep my feet moving.

CA: If a client is updating their Fall wardrobe with one new coat style this season, which would you suggest? — and what about in terms of color?  I feel like I’d want to suggest classic black, but everyone would have that, is it better to invest in a color that truly shows off it’s quality? 

MW: I would definitely suggest my Chloe long duster coat. This is an ankle length piece, no hardware and a dramatic back slit. It is the most versatile piece that you can dress down over your active wear, boyfriend jeans and tees or dress it up over a cocktail dress, gown, or sleek trouser. This piece makes everyone feel chic, sophisticated and instantaneously put together. Don’t be afraid of color. The powder blue I use tends to act as a beautiful neutral with its grey undertone. It goes with black, brown and navy. Color can be extremely versatile; do not shy away from it.

navy chloe duster, michelle waugh, cashmere, primary new yorkchloe duster, michelle waugh, primaryny

[ Michelle Waugh's Chloe Duster coat in navy

CA: What is your favorite coat you’ve designed, and which one is the one you wear most often? ( perhaps they’re the same - but maybe not! )

MW: My favorite coat is the boyfriend Harper coat. I do have a little bit of an emotional attachment to this coat since it was the first piece I’ve ever created for my label and it was one of my best sellers. I love the inverted back slit on the coat that makes it feel less overwhelming around the legs. I can dress it up or down and the deep pockets fit everything I need as a mom on the go.

cashmere wrap coat, michelle waugh, navy blue, primary new york

[ Michelle Waugh's Vienne shawl collar coat in Navy

CA: You seem to be involved in so many industry and women focused groups in the city, how important do you think it is be stay connected to your industry and your clients? 

MW: I am a BIG believer in that in takes a village. I have met so many mom entrepreneurs in the city and they captivate me. A friend of mine shared a saying with me once that really resonated with me. “We need women who are so strong they can be gentle, so educated they can be humble, so fierce they can be compassionate, so passionate they can be rational, and so disciplined they can be free.” Entrepreneurial women tend to have so many of these virtues.

CA: I know so many huge influencers and celebrities wear your coats, has there been a pinch me moment? 

MW: My fashion pinch me moment was having Meredith Koop (stylist to Michelle Obama) reach out to me to customize a coat for Mrs. Obama. I made her the Chloe duster in black. I’ve also had the amazing opportunity to work with stylist Erin Walsh on fittings for Uma Thurman, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Kerry Washington.

CA: What’s next for Michelle Waugh? Eyeing any new categories like cashmere knitwear? 

MW: I’m so excited to share that I’m expanding my Fall Winter 2018 collection into trench coats, wool blend coats, puffers and shearlings. I’m keeping the collection solely focused on outerwear but certainly bringing in a larger mandate of fabrics, styles and beautiful patterns.

CA: Ah that's SO exciting ~ we can't wait to see what's next for you.  Much love and thank you so much for chatting with us!  

black cashmere blazer, michelle waugh, primary new york

[ Above; Michelle Waugh's Ainsley blazer in black.  All images photographed by Cleo Ahn, for Primary New York featuring the beautiful Marloes Stevens.  See the entire Fall/Winter collection from Michelle Waugh here. ]