ON THE SEASON four premiere of Gossip Girl, the popular TV series about rich kids living the high life in Manhattan, a new character named Juliet shows up wearing a fabulous light grey blazer from the New York label Alex & Eli.
At the end of the show, Juliet tries to retag the item, but her love interest interrupts, and she quickly puts the blazer back on, suggesting Juliet is trying to appear wealthier than she really is.
For a small brand that’s trying to become a major player in the fashion world, that’s the kind of exposure money can’t buy. Since launching Alex & Eli two years ago, Aja Singer, a graduate of Bishop Strachan School, and her co-owner and co-designer, Anna Zeman, have slowly built a loyal following with their small clothing label.
Out of Singer’s small Nolita apartment, the duo creates suits for women that combine classic shapes and fabrics with a more aggressive, modern style.
“When we started two years ago, there really wasn’t anything that wasn’t a pinstriped black blazer for girls to wear.We saw that was an area of the market that wasn’t being fulfilled,so that’s where it came from,”says Singer. “We use classic silhouettes and classic fabrics and add an edginess.”
The label’s fall/winter 2010 line was inspired by motocross and hunting wear. One jacket uses a fox-hunting silhouette, with a grey and black houndstooth fabric and black elbow patches.
A clothing label to call her own was a long time coming for Singer, 27. She remembers making dresses for father-daughter dances at BSS and “little outfits” for “grub” (non-uniform) days at school. After graduation in 2002, she headed to McGill to pursue math and science but eventually realized that fashion, not medicine, was where her ambitions lay. She finished her degree in anatomy and cell biology and applied to Parsons, the prestigious fashion school in New York.
Punctual by nature, Singer would show up so early that only other keeners were in the building. One of those keeners was Zeman. She and Singer hit it off, eventually agreeing to start a label together.
Today, Alex & Eli is an extension of their personalities. Singer describes her design aesthetic as more feminine, and Zeman’s as more experimental. Even the name of the label is reflective of the co-owners: the name is short for Alexandra and Elizabeth, Singer’s and Zeman’s middle names, respectively.
Alex & Eli is now available at Lileo, 55 Mill St.,Toronto.