Designer Interview: Lia Cinquegrano of Thomas IV

Text by Meghan Wright

I had the fantastic pleasure of interviewing Lia Cinquegrano, the creator and designer of handbag line Thomas IV. The Florida native (now in Brooklyn) has an interesting design aesthetic and makes wonderful use of different fabrics, textures, and patterns.

Photo c/o Thomas IV
 – Where did you get the name “Thomas IV?”

I usurped the family first name. My brother is Thomas Cinquegrano III, so I stole Thomas IV and passed it down to my handbag line

– I love your mixture of bold prints, colors and fabrics. Where does your inspiration come from?
My inspiration comes for the idea of using inherently colorful materials with little to no hardware. I use fabrics from Guatemala and India as well as recognizable graphic patterns like houndstooth. I like for all of the bags to be very relaxed, casual and quirky. They are a true reflection of my personality and represent how I feel about fashion. I do not take fashion seriously. I think all design should be clever and have a sense of humor. I am attracted to colors and patterns and mixed media. I wanted the bags to feel like they have a personality of their own and make a statement.

Photo c/o Thomas IV

– Why do you think it is more beneficial to you as a designer and to your product to have all of your pieces made locally? 
As a small and young designer who studied fashion design, I believe using the industry available in my home-city is super important.  I want to have a relationship with the people executing my designs. I want to be able to oversee the process any day of the week. I want to explain my ideas face to face with the technicians and I want to support my local economy and the industry that is available for people like me. I need to use factories that support small designers and are willing to forfeit high minimums. Using these factories benefits me because I am gaining a real hands-on education which in turn helps with my design process. When I can see how something is made and understand the possibilities of manufacturing, I can better design a product.

– Where did you get your start, and why did you choose to design bags? 

I studied fashion design at Rhode Island School of Design. I graduated in 2005 and moved to NYC in 2006. When I moved here I began working for womenswear designer Nanette Lepore designing clothes. I still work for her designing clothing, shoes and handbags. She manufactures 80% of her garments within a 5-block radius of her west 35th st. design studio. I used to walk to each factory to oversee the production of her sample garments. I gained an appreciation for the garment industry in New York which is why I am happy to use local manufacturers as well.

About 2 years ago I was fortunate enough to have access to a giant studio space in a former Catholic elementary school in Brooklyn.  Each classroom was rented out to artists, mostly RISD grads, who used the space as studios. When I first rented my studio I was not sure what I wanted to make. In addition to working for Nanette, I also had side projects designing costumes for music videos and theater, but having the studio space meant I had to find my own outlet. I had no boss or director or collaborator. I wanted to flush out my own design ideas so I started by patching together old printed leather jackets and turning them into bags. Then I started making silhouettes from scratch trying to come up w/ innovative ways to incorporate the functional elements of a handbag into the design with out using a lot of metal. For example, a bag must have a handle or a strap, it has to close and those elements have to be working together in a harmonious way so I tried to really think about signature ways to attach a strap or make an interesting closure. For Spring 2011 I made my first collection which consisted of 3 styles. I took photos of the samples at my brother’s loft and started sending my look book out to buyers. Barneys Co-op and Steven Alan picked up the line. I have now just designed my 4th collection for Fall 2012.
Photo c/o Thomas IV

– Do you have any advice for anyone who aspires to be a designer or work in the fashion industry?
I think it is important to honestly represent yourself. If you design something that you think is great and it is accurate representation of yourself and your personality than you have a recipe for success. I think it is important to recognize design gaps in the industry and fill them naturally with your ideas. I am still learning so much myself. I think quality control is extremely important as well as research within design and technical execution. I think it is important to spend time developing your ideas and testing them out before releasing them.

All photos are from Thomas IV’s Fall 2012 collection. 
Lia’s blog: Phuck Fashion
Twitter: slowsouthstyle Facebook: Slow Southern Style

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