When Escada fashion director Daniel Wingate, bid an aufwiedersehen to the sunny Southern state of Florida many years ago in pursuit of a great dream, he quickly realized that fashion was the place for his creativity. Today, he has brought the positive and relaxing vivacity of his native Tallahassee to the great city of Munich, Germany. As he brings new life to the colorful Escada collections, Daniel joins Lapalme magazine at the Escada show at Neiman Marcus Orlando, for talks about Europe, sunshine, and staying true to who you are as an artist.
MM: Who is Daniel Wingate? How would you describe yourself?
DW: First of all, I’m Daniel Wingate, fashion director at Escada. I am…I suppose patient? I am international, I am humorous, I am impatient (at the same time) I am creative, I love clothes, I love fashion obviously –I wouldn’t be in this business if I didn’t. I love color, I am Floridian by birth so I love color and flowers, and everything that’s beautiful.
MM: How do you feel that your personality matches the Escada brand?
DW: I feel that Escada stands for color, and une joie de vivre –sort of a joy of life, and luxury, and these are all things that I personally love. I’ve realized that really the most important things growing up in Florida and being in the sunshine, and now being in Germany for so long when I work with my colleagues; the life and the childhood that I had had here, and the general influence of sunshine, and the beautiful weather is very influential and effective when I have conversations. I can say that women do love color, they do want to wear yellow. There’s this image of a woman in a convertible, in 90 degree weather in December, for Floridians. We are a very strong brand in America, so that’s kind of a double scoop to the whole thing.
MM: Did you always know that you wanted to be involved in the fashion industry?
DW: I think I really wanted to be an artist and went into kind of studying art, and excelled in it in high school, and then going off to college –which I was first at University of Georgia studying art history. I was taking some classes but in the back of my mind I always loved something about fashion. My mother’s roommate when she lived in New York (before she married my father) had gone to Parsons School of Design, and as a child I had always heard about this woman, and I knew her, and I had in the back of my mind the dream of going to Parsons and just trying my luck. I did when I was 19, it all sort of just evolved from there.
MM: Growing up in Tallahassee, Florida, who became some of your icons of inspiration?
DW: I would have to say my mother and not Elizabeth Taylor or somebody –she was right in front of me. I would also have to say her friends, my father was actually a baritone singer, and was obviously very creative; he was a teacher at Florida State University as well, so we had always this very diverse crew of guests at our home. One time Soprano singer Leontyne Price was at our home. As a child, you see these people and… I think it affected me more to see the woman in front of me, to see how she moved, how she accessorized and just the whole being. I think it’s more of the personal icons that are private; like my mother, or my mothers best friend for example, they all had great style. Southern ladies somehow…but with a twist of international, my mother had lived in New York and her friends as well, or had also lived in other places. So I would have to say it was more the personal surroundings.
MM: How did you get started in the fashion world?
DW: I convinced my parents to let me go to summer school in New York City at Parsons, with the idea that if I liked it, then we would try to figure out if I could stay, and I did. My first job was an internship at Geoffrey Beene in NYC. That really was kind of the first step. I was going to school from 9 to 3pm in the afternoon, and then at 3pm I was going to work at Geoffrey Beene. So it was wonderful to get the daily routine of the microcosms of Parson School of Design and what everyone is draping and talking about, and then actually jumping across the street on 40th street, and going inside a company. At that point, Geoffrey Beene was like the pinnacle of New York fashion and also American fashion. I enjoyed Being in the workrooms and being with the designers and with Mr.Beene. I stayed there 3 and a half years, they eventually hired me… so I have a lot to thank Mr.Beene –rest in peace. I also have all the people to work with to thank (who I still know) like Albert Elbaz for example who was also one of the designers there.
MM: What changes do you feel you have brought to the Escada brand? and what do you feel has stayed the same?
DW: I think what stayed the same is the DNA. I always explain that I try to keep the history and the DNA in the left hand, but in the right hand try to pull the left hand forward. I think my personal mark on it is to try to keep it more relevant for women today. Obviously to see how they dress and how their lifestyles are changing, and how quickly they’ve changed in the last 5-10 years, mainly with effects of the internet and how people are buying; also with how they inform themselves. I’m generally more of a classically oriented creative person, but I love to have the color there. I love to have the detailing, I love to have sense of whimsy, also we like to call it in German the “aufgeweckt” which is like the wink, that little bit of humor; this kind of “pep”. I think fashion should be fun. It’s the same way I like to buy things too. It’s an expression and today the world is getting smaller so we want to be more individual in a sea of… you know?
MM: Absolutely. Well I remember owning a lovely orange Escada scent at one time, I believe it was Escada sport. That fragrance was truly delightful. Is there a particular Escada fragrance that you love most?
DW: I think the current Escada Joyful is sort of my latest favorite… there also was once an Escada men’s fragrance –magnetism.
MM: How is it like living in Munich, Germany? What do you like most about it, and what do you miss most about the U.S.?
DW: I love America for the opportunity, and the idea of “what if,” also the idea of 24-hours… is very helpful sometimes! (laughs) but I love more my current European life. Because I feel there’s a little bit more of a quality of life. I don’t want to criticize the American lifestyle; but in Europe, there is set time for vacation, for taking walks, for introspection. I would say the wheels are spinning much faster in America, and often you don’t know why you are spinning the wheels so fast. Europe has taught me to slow down. On Sundays in Germany you’re really not supposed to do anything as far as any kind of work around the house –it’s really a quiet day. One Sunday I was cleaning the windows of my apartment and my friend was like: “what are you doing? You can’t do that” and I was like: “Well I can do whatever I want…” you know? And he was like: “No you’re not supposed to” and I just said “that’s crazy” but then when I thought about it I was like… he’s right, it’s Sunday. Why can’t I just go for a walk, chill out, read a book, it’s the introspection time. Currently, I’m having that time on the airplanes because the phone can’t ring, I can’t read emails, so it’s basically the quiet time to think –what am I doing here? (laughs) where do I see myself in 5 years? And being proactive and insightful, instead of just constantly “reactive” because we all just have so much to do.
MM: Who is someone that has inspired and motivated you?
DW: There are a lot of different people, but I would have to say first and foremost my parents. They were kind of hesitant at first, but then they were extremely positive and helpful, and financially helpful with me going to Parsons and living in New York City. I think they are owed the biggest thanks.
MM: What do you feel have been some of the greatest challenges in achieving your goals?
DW: I think the biggest challenge was learning German. I think the biggest challenge is when you go to a different country, and it’s really a different culture. You have to hold that bird in your hand very lightly –because you can either crush it or it will fly away. There’s a sense of, you have to respect the culture and you have to understand how they are, but at the same time express your vision and what you want. There’s a lot of “lost in translation” that has happened over the course of my life, and still happens today. I mean I’m speaking fluent German, but I still don’t know everything. There are just these nuances of communication. Americans are much more communicative, they are more used to being communicative than the Europeans. I would say that this comes ‘first and foremost’ in my mind, that this is always a challenge. You’re not only dealing with the German mentality in a German company, but you’re dealing with Italian manufacturers, Italian fabrics, and you’re dealing with the French; so you kind of have to understand all of these things. Sometimes we as Americans can be kind of totalitarian in that we can do “everything” and we have to be a bit more sensitive. German was very hard to learn, and as I said I still make mistakes, but I wanted to –and I did. Languages are the best thing for the brain, it keeps the brain young, once I could learn the language and sell my idea then it wasn’t a problem.
MM: If you could go back to an era, which would you choose and why?
DW: In general I don’t really like to look back because I think nostalgia kind of kills you sometimes? But I love the idea of the 1920’s. This sort of ‘Great Gatsby’ beautiful clothing, Paul Poiret –this sort of liquid language, slim, beaded, dreamy… and then the whole idea of the industrial revolution. The new wealth, and the men looked great too by the way, the cars looked great.
MM: How would you describe the woman who wears Escada today?
DW: She’s still independent, I think independent is a very important word. I think she’s daring, I always love to say daring. She’s definitely the life of the party, she’s that one that you want to have at the party because she has that joy of life. She is at the same time extremely educated as far as what fashion is about, because obviously Escada is a luxury label, and it’s expensive so she recognizes the quality, and the way that the linings have been sewn in, the fit of the trousers, and the quality of the cashmere. I think what has changed is the influence of the internet; she’s becoming even more educated through visual accessibility. Her lifestyle has changed, she can travel more, I suppose she has a bit more of disposable income, she has a desire to be more international. It’s not worn as this total head-to-toe look as it used to be, (it was a time period in the 80’s) the modern Escada is sort of breaking it up and making it not be so perfectly matched together. She still looks put together, still looks fabulous, still wowing everyone at the party, but it’s not calculated.
MM: What is the best style advice you have ever received? Or you would ever give?
DW: At Parsons we had guest speakers, and one time Donna Karan came and she spoke to us and she said something I thought was great, though it probably is going against the cycle of fashion and all the clothes that are out there. But she said: “If there’s something in your wardrobe you haven’t worn in the past 3 months, then you need to get rid of it (of course if it’s like a sweater and it’s August then that’s why you’re not wearing it). If you’re not going to it, an you’re not loving it, then you’re not going to wear it. For some strange reason you don’t feel comfortable in it.” She’s the one who started this kind of 8 easy pieces, and everything going together, ‘less is more’, spending more on quality items but having less idea. I think we are going back to that, when I think about what he have here with the WholeFoods stores, and all of these friends starting homegrown organic beers, I think people are going back to the idea of having quality and understanding it. We are going back to this sort of craftsmanship. I still think about that when I go into my closet and I think: “I never wear those shoes, why are they in my closet?” I think that I also try to keep a smaller closet, because I’d rather have 5 suits that I love, and the best t-shirts, and the best cashmere, and the best shoes that I love and to just wear them. They become me, so when I wake up in the morning there’s no confusion or fuss about what I’m going to wear, because it just comes naturally together. I think that was a great knowledge from her.
MM: When you’re not designing, what do you like to do for fun and relaxation?
DW: I love to spend time with family and friends, I try to work out as far as running…I like to run, I went running yesterday on the beach. I love art and going to museums, and I love as well interiors, so you’ll usually find me in a museum in some city or thumbing through interior or architectural magazines.
MM: Last but not least. Is there a quote, statement, or proverb that you feel you live by?
DW: Goodness gracious you’re good… I always loved Henry David Thoreau, but there’s this one quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Explore, and explore, and explore… make yourself necessary to the world, and mankind will give you bread…” Otherwise I always love to say: “The mind like a parachute only works when open” and I think that today in this world, and in fashion especially, it is so relevant because everything is moving so fast, and if we don’t stay open then…
For more information visit:
- Daniel Wingate, the joyful creator behind the new ESCADA - May 27, 2015