From the minute you walk through the golden door of Cynthia Rowley’s West Village design studio, it’s clear adventure awaits. Inside, the fashion designer and lifestyle empress (She makes fitness wear! Phone cases! Furniture! Oh my…) completely transformed a former mechanic’s garage into a “community center”—if your community is the CFDA members’ monthly meetings.
It’s now an ever-changing showroom and event space where creativity literally flies; for a recent shoot, models were photographed bouncing on the in-house trampoline. On the cavernous, gallery-white ground floor, Rowley hosts surfing-inspired exercise classes, movie screenings, art exhibitions and blowout parties—like her enviably cool teenage daughter’s upcoming senior prom.
What else is next? “We should get a zipline in here,” Rowley says. She’s probably not kidding. As evidenced by her clothing designs — from outfit-making silk print kimonos to runway-worthy wetsuits —no one takes fun more seriously. Read on for our interview with Rowley herself (wearing her own sequin cardigan), and shop all her latest designs on Spring now!
“Now with our brand being more multifaceted, with furniture and fitness and all these other things, it makes sense to have a space where you can experience different parts of the lifestyle at different times.”
“The entire West Village is a photo op. But people are always standing outside that gold door getting their picture taken. I couldn’t change the garage door because of its landmark status, so I just had to add one little touch.”
The meeting area is a mix of Rowley’s own furniture design and vintage finds she bought online: “I like unusual things you can’t find anywhere else.”
Rowley’s favorite works of art include “LOL” by Exhibition A artists William Eadon and “You Win” by Robert Davis (above). During a recent exhibition in her studio, Rowley called dibs on a cherry blossom painting by Daniel Heidkamp (below), represented by her husband Bill Powers’s Half Gallery. “Everything else had sold, and I was like, ‘No. That one has to stay,’” she says. “It’s beautiful. I love it so much.”
Tell us about this space.
It changes a lot. We have so many different things going on in here all the time. Bill, my husband, had a gallery show in here two weeks ago. We hosted a Surfset class with people coming to work out. And we’ve had big blowout parties—even while it was still under construction. We had a girl in a hardhat on a forklift acting as the coat check. And in June, my daughter is having her prom here. It’s gonna be insane. So cool. The garage door goes up. We’ve pulled in food trucks, flower trucks. We have a trampoline in the basement. It was for a fitness shoot but then people liked it so we just left it for a while. The mix of art and sport and fashion is always great.
You moved your headquarters here about two years ago. Where were you before?
I was originally on Seventh Avenue in a building in the garment district, where all the designers are. I live in the neighborhood and I just needed to integrate my life and my family with my work. I love being downtown. I think it definitely doesn’t matter where you are anymore for work. You just want to be where you can be the most creative.
What’s the history of this space?
It used to be a mechanic’s garage. It’s been completely gut renovated. [Before] it looked like The Titanic underwater. It was rotted out, through and through. There was a car lift there, and a tank over there. The ceiling was really low so we raised it and then added the skylights. Everything is basically unrecognizable.
What’s your typical day like here?
I get a lot of stuff done at home in the morning, and then I’m usually here late, til 8-ish. But I live so close that sometimes my kids come here. Otherwise I can be home in two seconds, cooking and taking care of things. It’s good to have [my work-home life] be seamless in that way. I can walk here from my store on Bleecker Street. It’s a little bit old- school, like how in Europe people always live and work all in the same place. I had to have everything close because I work a lot, and any kind of commuting time just seemed not productive. So much of my work is physical—looking at things, touching things, making things. It doesn’t really work for me to work remotely.
So your kids come here and hang out?
They used to come here more when the trampoline was out actually. I need to get a zipline maybe.
Does your daughter Kit know what she’ll be wearing to her upcoming prom?
No. She’s like me. It’ll be the day before or the morning of and she’ll be like, ‘What can I wear?! What’s here?’ She doesn’t really think about clothes that much.
You do shoots and runway presentations here too?
The feather show was here. We also did a wetsuit shoot where we put down a plastic tarp over this whole area and then we had the trampoline in the middle and two hoses. The models were jumping on the trampoline while being shot with water. And the photographs are really cool, but it was really dangerous. It was really crazy if you think about it. Water with electrical cords…
Was that your idea?
I’m sure it was.
Where’s your favorite spot in the whole building?
Up there [in the loft] is like the grown-up area where it feels very quiet and serious. So I never go up there really.
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Photos: Taylor Jewell