Adam Selman on Selfies, Hugging Anna Wintour and Classic Denim
The CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund–nominated designer responsible for Rihanna’s “naked dress” talks about not becoming a “gimmick.”
In the heat of Indian summer, Adam Selman — dressed in all denim — hit New Orleans for his CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund pal, Krewe founder Stirling Barrett’s annual Krewe Fête, and shared some insight on his craft, among other topics. Selman, of course, is known in Hollywood and the fashion industry for both his costume design work for Rihanna, Lady Gaga and others, and his eponymous ready-to-wear fashion label.
He’s also the creative mind behind the Le Specs futuristic collab that was seen on everyone from Rihanna to Bella and Gigi Hadid, Sofia Richie and Kendall Jenner this summer. (Selman slyly compliments people on the street he sees wearing them.) Funnily enough, he shares, “I actually designed them three years ago and it took two years for 900 pairs to sell, then they just skyrocketed in the last year. At one point this year, Selman says, thousands of pairs sold in a 24-hour period, direct to consumer: “It was like bam, and then there was a waitlist.”
What was it like meeting Anna Wintour during the CFDA Fashion Fund Incubator last year?
I had an awkward interaction with her — apparently you’re not supposed to hug her. I’m a hugger, I go in, so I shook her hand and pulled her in and she got all stiff. She really doesn’t like hugging, you do not cross the boundary. But she’s been super-supportive.
You had an iconic moment with Rihanna’s dress at the CFDA Awards in 2014. Do you feel strongly about anything you’re designing now that doesn’t get as much attention?
I’m really passionate about denim, like really, really, really passionate about denim. But classic denim. I wear the same cut — I’m very specific about it. But people like the iteration of denim coming from me as opposed to the actual denim, so it’s been a hard lesson. If a girl or boy is wearing high-waisted jeans that suck your waist in, really nice straight leg, and a cute tight jacket with a white T-shirt, that to me is a perfect outfit, and people just haven’t responded to that coming from me. It’s a learning curve. But it’s not a failure because I’m going to keep doing it because I’m passionate about it.
You were very successful working for a costume designer, for Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and Michael Jackson. Then you became known with Rihanna. What made you want to start your own line?
I got poached and started working for Rihanna, and made over 150 custom looks for her in a three-year span of time. I had eight full-time people just making looks for her. It was an incredible experience; I love her, she’s a dear friend, but at the end of the day I needed a new challenge, so I started my own brand four years ago. I think a big part of why I started it and why I did the Fashion Fund is I didn’t want to become a gimmick. I didn’t want to just become known for that Rihanna dress, I didn’t want to become known for just doing her costumes. I’m so much more than that and I can push myself so much further.
I’m still doing custom stuff, for Rihanna, and I just did Katy Perry’s tour. I like to be busy. I do side projects [like Le Specs], and at the end of the day I just want to design, clothes or costumes or shoes or sunglasses. I want to design, that’s what I want to do, and [the side projects] provide me the freedom to have my own brand.
What has been your biggest celebrity coup?
The biggest thing is when Gigi [Hadid] wore the black [Le Specs]. I have an amazing PR team that helps, but we’ve actually only given away about 125 pairs from the PR side. That’s a very small amount to give away to celebrities. I wanted to make glasses for selfies. You put the glasses on a girl or boy and you really capture this amazing attitude in the quickest instant. For me, with clothing and sunglasses, if you can give someone a moment, then you can give them a lifetime of inspiration. They’ll be like, “Oh, my God, I wore those glasses and I got 'x' amount of likes, or I went out and got wasted in those glasses, had the best time of my life, and I lost them but I can buy another pair because they were $125.”
What is a big challenge you face?
Knowing when to push something forward and knowing when it’s complete. Have I done it enough? Have I done it too much? Choose your lane and stick with it, but also know when to branch out. I haven’t always made the right decision, for sure. I just profited for the first time last month [September] — it’s just a journey, you know?
Who would you most love to design for?
I just really want Faye Dunaway to wear something. I’ve watched all her movies, obsessed. I’ve sent her glasses. I’m dying, I’m this close.
What do you feel has the biggest effect on what people buy and what becomes a hero piece? Celebrities? Influencers? The media?
For me, it’s more about passion. There are girls or celebrities I interact with that are just so passionate about it and if they’re like "I want it," as a designer that’s the biggest flattery, that’s what you want to hear. Because girls are like, ‘You can give me anything,’ and I’m like, ‘No, no, no.’ The designer wants to hear: "I saw that dress, I need that dress." Whenever they get specific and passionate about something, I get really excited.
The first collection I did I made these little silk dresses and we only made, I think, 15. They were really high cut and this girl came up to me on the street and was like, “I bought that slip dress and I went out and I got so wasted because I was feeling myself so hard that it ripped and it was destroyed,” and she couldn’t find another one. So we made her another one, because it made me so happy that she had had that experience in that dress, and it made her feel so lively she went and had the best night ever. It was amazing.