Over 4th of July weekend, we met up with Rachel Roy in Bermuda at the Hamilton Princess, the island’s newly revamped luxury hotel that has not only the most stunning views around, but also boasts one of the most impressive modern art collections you’ll find outside of a museum or a home. It was Roy’s second time at the hotel, having stayed there first as a judge for a Bermudian design competition. Roy, a very busy mother of two, has just launched a plus-size line, published a book, and is about to kick off a new swimwear collaboration with Melissa Odabash. Roy filled us in on her expanding business, how she juggles her many roles, and why she’s fallen in love with Bermuda.
What brought you to Bermuda the first time?
There was a design competition for Bermudian designers at the Bermuda Fashion Festival and I was asked to be one of the judges. Shiona Turini and the Bermuda board of tourism invited me. I was so taken by them that I ended up spending a lot of time in their environment to learn their business. They don’t have things like the CFDA where they can make a call if they’re just starting out and ask, When am I supposed to start licensing and what references do you have that I can borrow? When I first started out, I was a few floors underneath J. Mendel, and I was in desperate need of pattern makers. I would always see him in the elevator and he was super friendly. When I finally called on him for some real advice, he showed me his entire sample room and introduced me to people. So last year, I asked the winner if she wanted to come to my offices in New York and mentor under each of my executives, including my president, my head of fabric, production, design and marketing. Any success that I have is because I surround myself with people that are really good at what they do in areas in which I’m not an expert.
How did you connect with the owners of the Hamilton Princess?
I met the Green family while I was staying here as a judge for the competition. Peter Green and his sons Alex and Andrew and I just connected. The hotel has an amazing modern art collection that belongs to the family, and instead of keeping it in one of their homes, they put it in the hotel for us to see it. They have guides that can take you on little 15 to 20 minutes tours. I always like to hear what an artist was thinking. Later I gave him a thank-you dinner in New York, and from there we became friends. They asked me to invite friends, family and people that would enjoy the hotel for the 4th of July weekend and so, we are here. Another thing I like about the island and the hotel is that it’s super safe. Sometimes you just want to stay right in the compound of the hotel, but here if you go to any of the other beaches or the private beach that’s connected to the hotel, it’s just lovely. And it’s so close to New York! There are some smart people who know the island and scooped up some houses including Michael Bloomberg, Clint Eastwood, and Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones.
You are launching a new swimwear line with Melissa Odabash. What can we expect?
She is so great! When I find out that someone is super kind, generous, and lovely, then I feel better about buying and supporting their product. She is that kind of girl. She really wants to create a fit that makes women feel good about themselves, even though she is a size 0 in everything. I had a suit that I had been wearing from her for years; pregnancies, post-pregnancies,it’s the suit that you can go to when you don’t feel great but you want to feel as good as you can. So I asked her, Please, can we do my version? It was a lot of fun.
When does it come out?
It is going on the website in two weeks. Eventually, I will be doing swimwear as my own category extension. Swim is something that I have been wanting to do for so long, because it’s so personal. There are so many things you have to think about, like what kind of thickness the fabric should be, what kind of backing are you going to use, the cut…You know, there are certain things that people are fearful of on a hanger, like if it’s a high-cut leg, it diverts the eye and elongates you. Trust me, this is what I do when I have to hide things, people…I know!
You also have a new plus-size collection. What did you feel was lacking in that category?
We wanted to do that for a while, and when you are not on the inside of fashion it seems like, Well, why don’t they do this? or, Why don’t they have these extensions? or, Why don’t you make kids’? You have to find partners that have shared values and the resources. It took a while to find a partner that wanted curvy. Thankfully, I am there and it’s full force ahead. But it’s unfortunate that it’s not as widespread. It’s what I was asked about the most when I did personal appearances.
Was it challenging?
It’s not difficult on my end. It’s the same collection that I’m doing, I just have to make it in bigger sizes, which means I need fit models that actually understand the fit. A lot of fit models at a contemporary size don’t say anything; they just stand there while you fit on them. I very much needed a curvy fit model that said, This is what happens when I turn my arm this way or this way, and, If you raise this armhole this much, it will make all the difference. That is my secret ingredient. People ask, What are the problems with curvy that you don’t have in contemporary? It’s all the same thing; you want to ship on time, you want your factories to produce what you sent them and not make changes. So there are no issues other than you have to find the right partners.
You also released a book not too long ago. You are busy!
I did! It’s called Design Your Life. When I was young I didn’t realize that I was designing the life I wanted to have with images that I put in my room. I would cover my room as if it were a mood board. There was not one inch of paint that you could see, and it was images that made me feel better within the life that I was currently living, which was not a great life. I had images of things like Cindy Crawford, when she was still like 15 or 16 modeling for Macy’s. I used to tear them from magazines like Vogue. When you do that, you will find what you’re looking at constantly. I found a job in retail at 14; it wasn’t a great position but I worked my way up to become assistant manager by the time I was going off to college.
What was the name of the store?
Contempo Casuals in Monterey, California. Then they transferred me to the Bethesda Mall in the Washington, D.C area. But for someone else to hear it, it’s like, Oh great, you designed your life, you’re working in retail at the mall. But it gave me an outlet. What you put on, you can become that, and it’s not about where you are born. It’s the same thing with hair and makeup. I find that when I travel to third world countries, little girls love looking in my bag and pulling out the cosmetics. I went to a remote place in Ghana where the girls had never seen their image in a mirror, but they were happy with lip gloss. That’s the part of the beauty industry and fashion that I love, when it makes you feel good about yourself. When you have that bathing suit and you’re like, ‘You know what? I am not going to pass on the activities that my kids want me to do with my sarong. I am actually going to get in the water.’ Those are great things. I have my own company, so I can work with super smart women and work on things that we love.
How do you juggle all of these roles, including being a mother?
That’s a great question, and had you asked me 10 or even five years ago, I would give you an answer about balance and would have really meant it. Now I would say you can’t have balance. You are either doing your best at work or your best at whatever is in front of you, whether it is cooking, or a charity project, or children, and that’s where I get my peace. I’d like to be present here in this interview and then after when I go and find my daughter Tallulah, I want to be present for her. I just want to show up and be present wherever I am. I also rely very heavily on my team and I trust them and that’s how I get things done.
Do you have any summer traditions or 4th of July traditions?
Recently, I started what I already do at New Year’s, which is my daughters and I write a letter to ourselves about what we liked, what we felt really proud of, what we would like to change, and what we would like to work on. The next year, we open them and read it for ourselves. We were here for the 4th of July last year and we were having a great time. My little one can be a little shy, a little fearful. She is scared of flying and lots of things, and she kind of let loose when we were here. We went to a different beach each time and she had so much fun. I was observing her and I thought, ‘This doesn’t just have to be something we do on New Year’s; it can be the 4th of July where the country got its independence.’ But there is something about children where they start finding their independence and speaking for themselves and not relying on others. I wanted to give that to them, but I wanted to make sure I was remembering to do that as well. You hit certain ages and you think that you’re at capacity, but you only keep growing and getting better. When you read what your wrote from the previous year, it’s as a reminder of what you wanted to work on. It can help you, even if you just do five sentences.
[Editor’s Note: Believe it or not, the Hamilton Princess in Bermuda is just an hour and a half by plane from NYC. During our stay, we spotted chef Marcus Samuelson manning his newly opened restaurant Marcus, Facebook’s Eva Chen unwinding beachside with her husband and adorable daughter Ren, plus, Michael Williams of A Continuous Lean and style writer Sarah Bray of Town & Country all enjoying the hotel separately. Trust us when we say, this is the place to be and it’s paradise!]
More images from the Hamilton Princess in Bermuda: