Sunday, 2 December 2012

Interview: Julia Leach, Chance

Anyone who follows this blog regularly knows my love for a classic breton stripe! Who better then to interview than the queen of all things striped, a former creative director at Kate Spade and founder of simple but chic clothing label Chance? Let me introduce you to the lovely Julia Leach. Enjoy!

Hi Julia! Tell us about yourself. How did you get into design? I was interested in graphic design from a young age.  As a teenager, I took summertime classes at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design, then discovered that I could combine my love for design and tendency to be super organized in the world of advertising.  I was fortunate to have a great mentor in Jay Chiat, then worked with Kate and Andy Spade for many years as their Creative Director at kate spade.  Over the course of my career, I've always been immersed in the world of design, and with Chance, I was able to explore product and apparel design.  I guess you could say the Chance signature boatneck is my pièce de résistance, at least with regards to this current creative chapter.  So many people love it and have embraced it as their new chic wardrobe staple, which is an honor.

You previously worked as an executive vice president and creative director at Kate Spade. How did that influence your creativity? 
Kate and Andy gave me a tremendous amount of trust and room-to-run, so I was able to build a body of work - advertising, visual merchandising, special projects and collaborations, website and content - that reflected and helped give shape to their vision.  The experience didn't influence my creativity so much as it provided an environment where I could thrive, build a team, and help establish a special culture and brand.  It was a memorable and inspired 11 years.

What inspired you to start Chance? Was there a particular event that triggered it? I knew that I wanted to build a business around an item that represented my sensibility, outlook on the world, and values - design, simplicity, personal style, and adventure, and the striped t-shirt stands for all of those values in such a clear way.  When I found a red and white striped t-shirt in a Parisian vintage store, that sealed the deal.  I thought, "Why can't I find a new striped t-shirt with a great fit and character like this one?"  And the idea and voice of Chance came to me clearly after that moment of inspiration.

How did you go about turning your vision into a business? Since I'm not a trained designer, I found a production person and technical designer to help bring my ideas for the knitwear to life.  I'm generally a "roll up your sleeves" type of person, so it was many long days and nights of designing and seeking resources for the other products I wanted to include in the launch collection (espadrilles, beach towels, totes, hats, jewelry, books).  There were layers of creativity and coordination.  Picking canvas colors one minute, then giving creative direction to the web designers in the next.  It was fun to realize that as a creative person, if you put your mind to it, you can design something that's three dimensional (clothing, apparel, etc.), in addition to doing the storytelling and art direction part of brand building.  In addition, I have an incredible and generous group of friends, and when they said, "What can I do to help?" they meant it.  Though it's been a lot of work for me, the process of turning the vision into a business has been a bit like a barn-raising.  Lots of creative friends helping to pull different pieces into place, something I'm deeply grateful for.

What is it you love about a Breton stripe? It's timeless, simple, and classic, while at the same time, totally open to interpretation.  It can be worn by anyone from an ingenue to an artist, rock star to royalty, and always look great.  I often say it's the "paper clip of personal style" : one in every drawer, utilitarian, and put to use by different people in different ways to hold a look together.

What inspired the name Chance? 
I was watching the Peter Sellers movie "Being There," and the main character's name is "Chance, the gardener."  When someone said about him, "He has a particular brand of optimism," it was like a flash.  "Chance," that's the name.  I'd been considering other names, but after that quick decision, I've never looked back.

What influences your designs? Graphic design (from Tibor Kalman and Paul Rand to Max Bill and Alexey Brodovitch), travel, music, art, books, films, friendships, nature.  I think these things inspire many creative directors and designers, but it's all in how you filter it and how you combine various influential elements.

You split your time between New York and LA, both of which seem to influence the Chance aesthetic. What other places inspire you? On the one hand, places with sunshine and ocean air...Mexico, the Mediterranean (broadly speaking), while on the other hand, places that have a strong design backbone, such as Sweden and Japan.

What’s new for this season? There are a few nice hats and scarves for holiday, but I'm focused on next spring/summer, which is inspired by Greece - its natural beauty and color palette.

I love the Elliott Stripe tee. How did you come to collaborate with artist Elliott Puckette? 
Elliott is a dear girlfriend, and also an artist whose work inspires me tremendously.  Her work is lyrical yet reductive, and she continues to explore new ways to express her curiosity and process through her work.  She's one of my friends who said, "What can I do to help?" when I started the business.  Over lunch one day, we talked about how fun it would be to collaborate, combining her lines with the stripe idea of Chance.  It started there and the rest was fun and unfolded so easily.  She drew stripes by hand and I designed a special style, the "Simple Tee," and worked with my production partner in Peru to create a set in colors Elliott has used over the years in her palette.  It was a wonderful project, really a gift of friendship.

Who is the Chance girl? 
She's nearly any age - 20, 40, 60 - and she has an adventurous spirit.  When it comes to style, she appreciates timeless pieces but mixes them in an individualistic way with a nod to fashion.  She's confident, curious, kind, and more minimalist than maximalist, more understated than overstated.

What other brands inspire you? 
I appreciate how Jean Touitou combines consistency and irreverence at A.P.C.  I also love to see what they do at 45 rpm, a Japanese brand, every season.

How would you describe your personal style and how does that manifest itself in your designs? Tomboy Chic.  I think it comes through in the sense that there is a sophistication to Chance, but it is also very practical.  There's also a sense of freedom and independence at the core of the world of Chance.  A friend once described me as an "elegant outlaw."  I guess that mindset comes through in my style and in things I create.

What are your 5 wardrobe essentials?
1.  White jeans
5.  Striped t-shirt
2.  Fisherman's sweater
3.  Lanvin ballet flats in blue & brown python
4.  My three silver rings (two gifts from friends, one a gift from my mom) and a vintage Rolex watch

Any beauty rituals? I'm very minimalist when it comes to beauty.  Cetaphil cleanser at night, a dash of mascara and lip balm in the morning.  Taking long walks is my strongest and most enduring beauty ritual.

What outside of Chance is inspiring you at the moment? The strength and courage of people in New York, both people who have lost everything and who are focused on rebuilding their lives, as well as people who are working night and day to provide aid and relief.

Describe your perfect day. A Sunday in LA, waking up early and watching a movie - foreign, funny, or classic - in bed.  Then breakfast, then a long walk through Griffith Park followed by lunch at home in the sunshine with my boyfriend.  Riding horses on the beach, followed by dinner with friends - fresh fish, a big salad, champagne, a lemon tart.  Pretty simple stuff...sunshine, nature, a little bit of culture, and the people that mean the most to me.

See more of Julia's work on her website. Image by Mary Matson, artist, courtesy of Julia.


  1. Refreshing and inspiring interview. Thanks

  2. Wonderful interview! I love reading it all over again.

    under £10 womans fashion