When someone decides to become a fashion designer, it isn’t a typical 9 to 5 they’ve chosen, it’s more like an adventure. One filled with experiences, good and bad, obstacles that sometimes are not easy to get around and sleepless months when deadlines have to be meet. It is not often when siblings decided to take on the adventurous lives of fashion designers together, but sisters Carol and Elizabeth Ai, behind the label AI for AI, are writing their own storybooks and would love for us to be part of their adventures.
The brand AI for AI is still a bit young in fashion years, but their first impression on me last fall at TMRW Coterie, left a lasting one. I loved their button-up skirts, beautifully draped tops and prints that are loud for all the right reasons. Now that the brand they’re created together is getting noticed by others, I wanted to know more about the sisters. Where do they call home, why fashion as a career path, any strange design request since launching Ai for Ai, and who do they see wearing their creations? I asked Carol and Elizabeth to answer a couple of questions for all of us to get better aquainted with them.
Name: Carol Ai & Elizabeth Ai
Age: Old enough to still power through an all nighter, too young for marriage!!
Most beloved possession: Carol: my vintage Singer sewing machine Elizabeth: If I told you, I would have to kill you!
Fashion Idol: Our Grama!!
Where do you guys call home base?
Echo Park, California
When did you start designing clothes? Was it something you and your sister started together or did one start first then the other?
Carol: We were just making clothes. I don’t think we sat around as little girls calling ourselves designers. Our grama and mom took us to fabric stores and we got to choose whatever fabric to make our dresses and pajamas in – really kind of a conventional little girl activity, right?
Elizabeth: We started making clothes at the same time – but really, Carol always took more chances. She would pair strange colors together and shapes. I would make fun of her and even after the tears she would still defiantly and proudly wear the clothes she just made.
When or how did your interest in designing clothes begin?
Elizabeth: Carol always knew she was going to working in the fashion industry. She was working at clothing boutiques in the mall before she could get a driver’s license.
If you’ll weren’t working in fashion, creating beautiful clothes what else would you be doing?
Carol: LOL. I know Liz wants to say I wanted to be a dancer!!
Elizabeth: It’s true. That’s what you said.
Carol: I said that once.
Elizabeth: For crying out loud, you were in a dance crew!! Admit it! You wanted to be a flygirl on IN LIVING COLOR!!
Since you guys are sisters running AI for AI together I’m quite sure there are more pros than cons to keeping it in the family, right?
Carol: Oh come on, you know you love me! It’s great and we have a tough time arguing over buttons and what color we’ll be using every season but in the end – it is worth it and we wear our clothes all the time. It’s kind of an amazing feeling.
So, do you guys share the responsibilities or is it better for you’ll to divide the different responsibilities? For instance, would you say that one of you has more of a head for the business end of your company while the other more of ahead for the design end?
Elizabeth: Exactly. We definitely divide the responsibility. We do both design and business but I have final say on biz decisions and Carol has final say on design. It works.
Since fashion tends to change alongside ever changing the trends, for the young brand that AI for AI is, have there been any major changes or new projects for you guys since your debut at Tmrw/Coterie last season?
Elizabeth: We’ve learned a lot but we’ve been sticking to our original vision of collaborating with creative ladies in Los Angeles.
Carol: Yes, we have a new shoe! Matiko (an LA based company) helped us make a shoe for our F/W11 season and it is amazing.
Elizabeth: We are really grateful – we didn’t think we’d be making a shoe so early in our trajectory. Thanks Matiko!
What designers do both of you like?
Elizabeth: Have always loved early Moschino and have a super soft spot for those 90s Moschino kitschy things. I am always combing around ebay for them.
Carol: Seriously, I absolutely love Rudy Gernreich, inventor of the pubikini AND the thong. Where would us ladies be without him? His designs will live on forever in my heart.
Who do you see wearing your clothes? Describe your typical follower or celeb you see doing your designs justice when they wear them?
Carol: Would love to see those oft-kilter sense of fashion girls and women wearing our clothes like Christina Ricci, Helena Bonham Carter…
What’s the craziest experience or request you guys have had ever since you started AI for AI?
Elizabeth: Ummm, Carol and I met Kool Keith from our friend that works at East Village Radio in NYC last September and Kool Keith asked us to make special lingerie for his porn-star friends. It was sort of awesome but something we’re going to table.
What was the inspiration or the concept for your Fall 2011 collection?
Elizabeth: We have a lovely painter, consummately creative L.A. gal pal, Kime Buzzelli, that perfectly embodied our Modern Mystic. We named our collection Modern Mystics, asked her to join us on the ride and we went for it.
Carol: We collaborated with Kime and it worked out perfectly with her dark and moody paintings. We gathered a bunch of thrift store finds of tarot cards, Egyptian jewelry, crystal balls, Ouija boards, masks and astrology books and let it inspire us in the design process. So much fun!
Any fabrics and colors you guys gravitated to for the collection?
Carol: We used a lot of different weights of wools this time. There was a lot of experimenting. We’re happy with the results.
Is this your second or third fall collection? Any drastic differences from then to now, for instance the amount of styles you guys design, your designing approach each season?
Elizabeth: This is our 2nd fall collection and much has changed since our 1st fall collection. We went for simplicity this time, not too much fancy seam work.
Carol: We let the pretty wools and silks and colors speak for themselves.
What are the some pieces you find yourself wearing over and over again from your Spring 2011 Collection and what new styles from Fall 2011 you’re showing now, that you just can’t wait to wear next Fall?
Carol: Liz and I are always in our batwing button top. Seriously it’s the comfiest thing and you look put together when you wear it!
Elizabeth: Too True! And the scorpio skirt is pretty stellar from our fall collection. I think the simple cut makes it easy to wear and the pencil shape with the slit up the front makes it irresistible.
Where can we purchase your designs?
In Los Angeles at either Satine, E.P.I.C. Boutique, Gather, MediaNoche and in New York at LSK in Long Island or at EVA in the Bowery. You could also check our website for additional stores.
Now that Elizabeth and Carol are growing, a collaboration with Matiko, working with West Coast artists like Mercedes Helnwein, Kime Buzzeli, musicians Dum Dum Girls and Best Coast, Ai for Ai are giving other designers something to think about with when it comes to showing us their beautiful clothes.