I climbed the escalator in the Saks’s Fifth Avenue to the 3rd Floor, where I was told my interview with Roopal Patel would be. For those not in the know, Patel is currently the fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue and oversees menswear, womenwear, accessories, jewelry, and beauty. She is kind of a bad-ass in the fashion world, but also just a bad-ass woman in general.
As I wandered my way into the Designers section, in my stained dress from lunch, I thought to myself: “Am I going to make a fool of myself?” The short answer was, no. As I was ushered into the room, and sat face to face with Patel (who wore a Bottega Veneta camel suit with Cult Gaia heels, for those wondering), she was everything we don’t expect from our fashion icons: calm, cool, collected, and so incredibly chill. I told her there were some prepared questions, but really I just wanted to chat with her and how did she feel about that. She nodded at me approvingly, “I actually prefer that — it’s more natural.”
In the brief 15-minutes I spent with Patel, I learned so much and honestly, we could have chatted for hours. Here we talk about following your dreams, trendsetting and what to look out for during TIFF 2019.
StyleDemocracy: So, how did your love for fashion start? Where did that spark lead you to where you are today?
Roopal Patel: It really started when I was little, like eight or nine. CNN had Style with Elsa Klensch, and I use to watch that one show with Jeanne Beker…
StyleDemocracy: Oh, Fashion Television!
Roopal Patel: Yeah, Fashion Television, it started there. That’s honestly where I got to see my first Gianni Versace and Calvin Klein show. That is sort of where I started learning about fashion, but I didn’t know that at the time there was an industry, a world, if you weren’t a designer that would allow you to have a career in fashion.
StyleDemocracy: I think that totally makes sense, so what did you do?
Roopal Patel: I actually went to school to become a lawyer, and then into marketing. When I got into college, that’s when I actually started to really pursue a career in fashion.
StyleDemocracy: A career as a lawyer and working in fashion seem on the totally opposite ends of the spectrum…
Roopal Patel: They’re night and day. I knew that, and I think that’s why I made that switch immediately. But really, I didn’t know what a fashion director was until maybe three, or maybe four years later.
StyleDemocracy: You’re not the first person I’ve met in the fashion industry who originally went to school to be a lawyer.
Roopal Patel: For me, growing up, my dad was a doctor. So you just know from a young age, you have to pick a career. As a lawyer, you have to be very outspoken. You have to say your mind. But growing up, I always had this very creative aesthetic side of me that loved fashion, music, and dance. The minute I realized I could pursue it as a career, I did. I registered at New York University (NYU). But it wasn’t like what it is today. Back then, you sort of found your way. It meant you created your way.
StyleDemocracy: You mentioned television, but there must have been something else that ignited that passion.
Roopal Patel: Oh, a hundred percent. It was also retail, I’ve liked retail ever since I was a kid. My parents used to take us shopping, and it was the best time. Like, you know, we’d all go to the mall on a Thursday night. I remember studying the mannequins and looking at their clothes and touching the clothes and being very taken by everything. I always grew up with this idea, so as I grew older and learned more, I figured I can do it — let’s try it.
StyleDemocracy: When you mentioned you were changing your career path from lawyer to fashion to your parents, did they ever check in and ask, “Wait, what are you doing?”
Roopal Patel: You know, it’s funny, I think because, in those days, no one was doing it. No one was like, “Hey, mom and dad, I am not going to be a lawyer anymore.” I remember when I used to work for style.com and how huge it was, but how do you explain that to them? You just can’t do it. And I think that’s part of it for me, being in touch with who I am and always listening to my gut instinct.
StyleDemocracy: Have there ever been difficult moments?
Roopal Patel: Of course, but there is always something that tells me to keep going, keep finding your way in this. And there, there have been difficult moments and there have been times that I was like, why? Like, what am I doing here? But I feel incredibly blessed and incredibly gifted to grab every grateful moment. I should say, I do love every single day and love every moment.
StyleDemocracy: I know you’ve been with Saks for four years now, is every day the same?
Roopal Patel: Well, our home base is downtown and our corporate office is in New York. But I am in the fashion office overseeing men and women’s clothes, jewelry, shoes, and handbags. Four months of the year, my team and I spend traveling, whether it’s for women or men’s collections. Every day it’s a different experience! It can be started with a meeting downtown to go over our upcoming book and then meeting with a designer or you know, in the offices to review the direction they’re going in, jumping into a car or a taxi to go with sort of designer showroom. Once we’re back in the office, we might have a meeting to discuss our upcoming windows and our Fifth Avenue location. I never have a day that isn’t filled with so much imagery, beauty, and creativity. Every day is filled with fashion, which is kind of awesome.
StyleDemocracy: So right now it’s summer 2019, but what seasons are you currently working on?
Roopal Patel: It’s a split! Spring 2020 is going to be dropping in November. We just finished laying out our men’s spring 2020 book. There’s an overlap, for sure. We have fall, which is what we’re talking about today, in summer. I always feel like I’m living in all four seasons, and you know, it’s about finding that balance of the seasons. I have recently noticed a synergy these days between men and womenswear designers, with lots of gender-bending rules. I think there’s also a lot more crazier directors who were designing both.
StyleDemocracy: Do you think we’ll see anything like that during TIFF? What are some of the trends to watch out for?
Roopal Patel: I think and hope there’s going to be a lot of gold and metallic. We saw so much gold this season.
StyleDemocracy: Like a Grecian kind of feel?
Roopal Patel: Not Grecian, but crinkled, one-shoulder dress or a beautiful Princess Cinderella gown from Oscar de la Renta that sparkles and shines. I think there were a lot of different elements of gold that walked the runway this season, which would be perfect on the TIFF carpet. I hope some of the ladies pick that up. It’s very princess. It’s very glamorous. That’s what fall is about, especially in the evening.
StyleDemocracy: Now let’s say for a person like me who is headed to a TIFF event but working on a budget, what do you suggest?
Roopal Patel: That’s the beauty of gold, there are so many different ways! We think gold and immediately think gold jewelry, but it can be heels, handbags, accessories — the possibilities are endless. I think that that idea of black and gold always goes really well together. It’s a classic.
StyleDemocracy: Any advice you would give to someone looking to get into the fashion industry?
Roopal Patel: Be clear! Be clear in what you want to do in the industry. Be committed to it, be passionate about it, and give it everything you have. I think I find sometimes that people are very unclear and people have this idea of fashion. Everybody wants to be in the business of fashion, but when they start that, they don’t even know exactly what they want to do. I like clothes. I like shopping. Okay. It’s business fashioned as a business, as an industry, what is your role and what is your part of it? How are you going to make your stamp with the fashion industry? That’s what I always ask everyone when they come in for advice. I always say keep clear in what you want to do and how you want to make your mark in this industry.
All images provided by Saks Fifth Avenue.
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