A Wednesday afternoon on an overcast day in Los Angeles, I wandered into the offices for Suh-Tahn—a new high-end fashion line from the creative young minds of French designer Shannon Natif and Russian designer and wunderkind entrepreneur Dimitri “Dima” Tcharfas.  Their label was founded on ideas of balance and harmony achieved through an embrace of competing forces.  A celebration of the many differences, but overwhelming similarities that connects us.

JESSE ALBA:  What’s the hardest part about working with Dima?

[Silence.  Both seem stunned, if not horrified.  Then Shannon giggles.]


SHANNON NATIF:  His hobbies.  His Blackberry.  The Blackberry, I can’t stand his Blackberry.

DIMA TCHARFAS:  You have a Blackberry!

SN:  Yeah, but you’re always pounding on yours while I’m talking to you.

JA:  Dima, what about Shannon?

DT:  Where do I start?

SN:  I like working with Dima.

DT:  I feel the same.  She’s constantly getting amazing ideas.  If she had her way, she would create all of them; but that’s unrealistic in our position, so that’s when I ground her.

JA:  Do you split duties in the company?

DT:  She takes care of the inspirational pieces, but we collectively describe what goes through.  I approach more of the financial and legal aspects.  But it’s 50-50.

JA:  What’s the hardest part about your business right now?

DT:  Finding sample makers, being prepared financially for two seasons in advance.  With the work force and the money.

SN:  Making samples, being on top of trends, the people.

DT:  The timing.

SN:  You have an idea for a certain style, but if you don’t get it out, it can pass, or others may have imagined it and taken steps.  Once you have it, finding people with the right technical skills to tailor or construct garments is seemingly harder here, because so much of the production being done is in T-shirts.


JA:  How important are personal relationships?

DT:  Just like any other industry.  Any connections have to be milked.

SN:  Our designs appeal to people, they find a personal connection with the line, and they are more willing to help.

JA:  To what do they connect?

SN:  The concept as well as the line.

DT:  The craftsmanship as well as the product.

JA:  Tell me about the philosophy behind Suh-Tahn.

SN:  Based on the encouragement of consciousness, we look towards balance.

DT:  Balance, comfort, and style…but not price.

SN:  No.

[Laughter throughout the room.]


JA:  Your pieces are all very elaborate.  Share one of your non-conventional concepts.

DT:  The pieces that we choose to make do not involve your basic approach.  They’re a mix between many influences, and layering.  Layering is a big thing for us.  We have a vest that has a scarf attached to it.  A cape jacket that has the cape, and the mini-sleeves, nothing is traditional.

SN:  Trying to bring a different approach to a sweatshirt.  It’s a statement it’s different, it’s cool.

DT:  We take a very serious approach to the construction, stitching, tailoring, fit.  All the pieces consist of many intricate parts.  It’s taken us a long time to make them.

JA:  Could you dress your parents in your clothes?

SN:  I really hope not.

DT:  Totally.

SN:  Can I adjust what I just said about my parents?  I don’t think they’re interested in the same style, but I’d love to see them in it.

DT:  That’s better.

SN:  We want to appeal to people who put themselves out and are willing to make statements.  Statements that stand for more than good style, [and] people who are aware and awake.  A more enlightened lifestyle.

JA:  How far in advance are you designing?

SN:  You design a year in advance.  You design the clothes, you do the shows, and you ship six months later.  Which is interesting, because you can’t look at today’s trends, you have to tap into what you like, designs that are true to you and different, and you hope that in a year’s time, it will be on point.

JA:  From what influences do you draw upon in your designs?

SN:  Usually from past history or costuming.

DT:  It’s all about evolving.  You look at yourself, others, and you evolve from that.  There is a natural progression about fashion, being able to see into the next season, then the next season.

JA:  What’s your biggest fear, beyond simply not succeeding?

DT:  Not relating to [the public].  We do want to appeal to the mass (sic).  We don’t want to be perceived as—

SN:  Anything you’re putting your heart into and believe in, you hope people identify with.

DT:  We’ve been getting positive feedback, but it’s about the mass seeing it, and accepting it.

SN:  It’s the quality, not quantity

DT:  We want to be situated in reputable stores, but no departments.

SN:  Places where artistry and originality are found.


JA:  Any final words?

DT:  With a lot of unique items, be sure to maintain the larger vision, and select pieces that connect the entire concept.  

SN:  We’d rather spend more money making our garments, infused with the artistry we want, as opposed to outsourcing to another country, where the concern is purely on mass production, and very rarely on quantity.

DT:  Stay away from China.