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Tracy and Susan Wohlgenant, ex-sisters in law, designers and co-founders of herman and herman™ clothiers, were interviewed in a retired Chicago hat factory.  On the day of our interview, sun streamed in through the floor-to-ceiling factory windows.  Tracy – gamine with short blonde hair – wore cuffed, selvedge jeans, a grey and white thin-striped “little boy” t-shirt and chunky, mustard-yellow sandals.   A silver and leather bracelet on one wrist completed her look.  Susan has silver-white, asymmetrically cut jaw-length hair, and was clad in a green vintage Lanvin dress worn over wide-cut Italian denim. Dark brown Cydwok flats and long, minimalist silver earrings gave her ensemble a modern, edgy look.

Both women are physically fit, alert, and funny.  They laughed often with each other throughout the interview.  Susan’s wit is dry and sharp; Tracy’s humor is playful and physical.  They both posses a penchant for details (at one point they talked animatedly about “the perfect” cuff length on jeans) and they often finish each other’s sentences.  It’s not surprising they have created a fashion line together – they share a history of and an obsession with fashion, ideas and stories.

The two fed off each other constantly during the interview and ideas for new designs popped up as soon as they began to talk about their next season.


INTERVIEWER

What does fashion design mean to you?

TRACY WOHLGENANT

I think, for us, fashion design is really about problem-solving. We are creative problem-solvers at our core – my background is in writing and filmmaking, which, once you take the shine off of it, is almost entirely problem-solving – and Susan not only studied and taught fashion design she was raised IN architecture by an architect, a study which is a constant exercise in problem-solving.

SUSAN WOHLGENANT

I would agree. Aside from our mutual obsession with fashion, our root in creating designs comes first from answering a question: what is the problem and how are we going to design our way out of it? We are able to tap into our strengths and our differences – Tracy’s gift with color and my intense lean towards form and function – make us stronger designers, together.

INTERVIEWER

Tell me a little about your designs? How are they unique in today’s over-saturated market?

SUSAN WOHLGENANT

We had to think a lot about this when we started – how are we going to nudge our way in? But then we realized – really quickly – that we are offering something that’s not there right now. Our clothes are under the umbrella of “tomboy chic”, rooted in menswear but with a substantial feminine appeal. And they are for women of any age. That was important to us. We stand away from the trends. Tracy and I like to say we’re designing for women who want to be “quietly chic”.

TRACY WOHLGENANT

Exactly. For example, we’re doing a blouse right now that we call “The Gatsby”, it’s a very feminine floral blouse, but understated and elegant. It’s for the woman who wants to wear a girly blouse without wearing one. The style is feminine enough without calling attention to itself or feeling too sugary. Our customer can pop this on over worn-out jeans and look chic and feminine without being trendy, or too precious or like she’s “trying to hard”. Effortless is what we’re after. Susan and I want our customer to reach into her closet, grab a herman and herman™ blouse and feel instantly chic.

INTERVIEWER

Talk to me about fabric.

SUSAN WOHLGENANT

Where do we begin? Fabric is where it all starts for us.

TRACY WOHLGENANT

We like to say we treat fabric like an Inuit carver treats a piece of stone. We let the fabric tell us what it wants to be.

SUSAN WOHLGENANT

It really is pretty magical what happens. And it’s a very critical part of our process and our brand. We use only the best of the best. We are meticulous in our hunt for just the right fabric – and for the one that speaks to us. A single fabric can steer and initiate an entire collection.

TRACY WOHLGENANT

What’s amazing in this process is that our egos are never a part of the decision. We always let the fabric speak first – and then we brainstorm. We play.

SUSAN WOHLGENANT

Play. That’s exactly what it is. We play. Ideas flow and we don’t staunch the flow off with judgment. It’s joyful.

TRACY WOHLGENANT

It almost feels like we’re jazz musicians jamming – and together we’re stronger. I have to say, it’s a truly amazing experience working with you.

SUSAN WOHLGENANT

Likewise, Hermie, likewise.

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