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An interview with the designer Cana Klebanoff.

Phipps: Oh, yes. This really surprises me. So many models, they walk down the runway, their faces are down, they are looking down. It seems such a simple thing.

Top: Model Luke Roberts in one of the designer's looks from SNOW 2012, A White Fashion Event presented by SFBA Fashion Network. Bottom: The designer at a private fitting, with his client. Photographs by the author.

Klebanoff: I'm sounding harsh, very disciplined, I guess because I grew up being disciplined. Knowing that business is business. Especially when you're doing work like this. It's other people's involvement, so it's not just you trying to look good. It's trying to make other people around you look good, because they have their name attached to it. So that's why I was telling my guys, you're wearing my garment, I do want you to be yourself, but please remember the camera is on you every second. You're supposedly a model. You should know your body by now. You should be looking at your body and your face structure every second of the day, in front of the mirror. I tell them, you guys have it easy to practice. You can just walk from your bedroom to the kitchen and learn to walk. I can't practice sewing every time I walk out on the street. I tell my guys, when you are walking down the street, start practicing. When you are at home, start working on your poses. It really does show. And then the ones I underestimate really surprise me. After I see the videotape of them walking, I think, oh, I should have put them at the front of the show, I should have had them close the show. So people can surprise you. But I think practice really does show.

Phipps: Give me a tip about walking.

Klebanoff: I just tell them, just give me a walk. I don't tell them how to walk. Just walk. You can tell when someone is actually trying too hard. I tell them to just relax. Just like they are walking down the street. It's funny, because when they are not on the spot they can do it really well. But for some reason, when they know that there is someone focusing on the way they walk, they start freezing up, or they start getting stiff. And it's kind of funny too when it comes from models, because they know people are going to look at them regardless. So that's why I always find it a little bit ironic when they get a little bit nervous. But everybody has insecurities, or has something they are insecure of. So they are only human. What can you expect? So you learn and move on and eventually learn how to balance it, be it as acting or real life. But sometimes you need to bring both just to find the medium.

Phipps: That was one of the biggest surprises to me when I started shooting fashion. I never appreciated what a talent, truly a talent it is, for the models to walk, and also to pose. I had always just assumed, you know, you're an attractive person, how difficult can it be to take a good photograph? And it happens again and again, I work with these attractive people, and they just can't model.

Klebanoff: I don't know what it is at times. I think it's just because, it's a lot tougher being done than said. People can say they can do certain things, but then when they are actually put on the spot, it gets really tough. I think that goes for anything in general. Just for myself, I can say I can make certain garments. But then when there's people watching, it does get a little tense. I can do it but it does get a little tense. I guess they're not used to all those eyes, knowing that everyone is staring. They eventually learn. And they have to get used to it. And for the models around here, this market, once you see an opportunity I think you have to just jump on it. Even if it's in a different city, a different country. Because your career can expand. But a lot of runway around here doesn't pay.

Phipps: What is your feeling about the fashion market in San Francisco? From the perspective of designers, talk to me about the fashion market here.

Klebanoff: If you have money to fund yourself, stay here. If you don't, I think this is a good launching pad. Before it starts getting really competitive, and cutthroat. That's why I'm glad I started here. I think it's a really great community. You really know each other here. And for me, my shows, I like to kind of keep it a surprise, keep things a little bit fresh, keep it under wraps. Maybe only do two shows a year. Just keep things a surprise.

Phipps: So this is something else I'm really curious about. Talk to me about finding the inspiration for doing a new collection.

Klebanoff: Inspiration, everybody I guess gets their own different inspiration, gets inspired in different ways. One of the main things for me is fabrics.

Phipps: Do you start there?

Klebanoff: I usually start from fabrics. If I have a specific color pallet in mind, or a specific kind of fabric in mind, I would try to find it. But I wouldn't break the bank on it, because I'm pretty cheap. I'm very cheap. I'll buy my fabric at Walmart. I wouldn't spend more than fifteen dollars a yard. That's how cheap I am. But fabrics are usually what inspire me, kind of remnants of different images I see in my head. And that's usually how I get inspired. I used to get inspired by different musicians, since I'm from a music background.

Phipps: You started with violin?

Klebanoff: Started with violin when I was younger, then traded that in for electric guitar. And because of my background being a musician, different bands I listen to, their images from how they style themselves, or how they present themselves is what inspires me at times. Seeing who they are, you start looking at their style. It's more along the lines of the personality really reaching out of their clothing. And that's what I like to emulate in my clothes, when I make my clothes. People's persona coming out, as well as their style, how they present themselves. For SNOW, once we were told it had to be white fabric, my initial inspiration was G.I. Joe, because I always like the military look. And I kept thinking about G.I. Joe, the figures. And I was looking at this specific ninja that was part of the G.I. Joe comic book series, and I kept thinking about his uniform for some reason.

Phipps: Did we see that in the high-collar jacket at SNOW?

Klebanoff: Yes.

Phipps: What did you call that piece?

Klebanoff: I just called it double-breasted high-collar. I was calling it the dramatic piece, because that was the show piece.

Phipps: What was that fabric? It seemed to have a lot of texture to it?

Klebanoff: It did not have any texture. That was the most loose, it was like woven twill polyester. Very very very cheap fabric. And very flimsy. I had a lot fabric issues for that show. I didn't start doing a lot of the fabricating until the first week of January. I didn't cut more than half the stuff until the first week of January. Then a lot of the shirts weren't made until a few days before the show. It was because I was being so cheap. I started buying my stuff online, because I figure, you could buy them in huge yardage. Once I got it, this is the reason why it's so important to touch fabric. It was so cheap, it was so flimsy. And the interfacing they used didn't give it structure. That's when craftsmanship does come into play. Where it's really important, you really need to know what you're doing. Trying to make it look structured. It really wasn't as structured as maybe it turned out to look. Which I was very fortunate enough to get. But craftsmanship was really important. You do learn a lesson after each garment.

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