Nili Lotan loves New York. And New York — and all its fashionistas, from Renée Zellweger to Kendall Jenner — love her French military pants.
Those pants were honed over 23 years in the garment district of her adopted city. And now Lotan wants to give back to her city with a sartorial love letter to the health-care workers at the front line.
Before launching her namesake brand in 2004, the Israeli-born New York-based designer cut her teeth working for some of the industry’s top movers and shakers. She learned her knit game at Adrienne Vittadini’s knee, then brushed up on the shirtdress at Liz Claiborne, before moving on to lead the design teams at Ralph Lauren and Nautica.
But it was Lotan’s desire to express her own point of view that ultimately led her to start her own brand.
“After designing into other people’s vision for 20 something years, I felt the need to express myself and do things from my point of view, and that’s why I started [my brand]. As I was in it, my biggest goal was to really capture and define what is it I am offering versus someone else.”
Lotan launched her self-funded label with six pieces, including two jackets and four cotton pants in Lotan’s now signature style known as the cropped “French Military” pants — which are still to this day her best-selling pants.
“I was looking for something that could replace denim, in the sense of how relaxed nonchalant casual it is, and at the same time is kinda sexy and works for morning and night. And I came up with this concept of designing cotton pants that had a utilitarian feel to them so they felt kind of cool and would serve women in their casual time,” Lotan explains.
What started as just a six-piece collection has evolved into a multimillion dollar business with three retail stores, along with a thriving e-commerce website and being carried by 300 specialty stores and online e-tailers around the world. Not to mention, Lotan’s label has gained a celeb-cult following that includes stylish It girls like Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Gwyneth Paltrow and Karlie Kloss.
Lotan is now using her platform to help health-care workers. Working with Masks4Medicine, a grassroots organization of doctors and nurses in NYC supplying personal protective equipment to front-line workers, she has recruited her atelier team to make masks and caps by sending sewing machines and repurposed fabric to their homes.
“This has been very successful and rewarding and we plan to continue doing it,” says Lotan.
But the designer wanted to find a way to connect with shoppers in a deeper way. Her solution: creating a special section on her website called NL Stories, where she shares her day-to-day thoughts, feelings and stories.
On the fashion front, Lotan recently launched a limited-edition “Nili Lotan Loves New York” capsule collection of comfy camouflage sweat separates and masks, and is donating 15 percent of all clothing proceeds along with 100 percent of the masks’ proceeds to NYU Langone Hospital.
“I love this city. I live here, raised my daughter here and manufacture here. I felt compelled to act and the need to contribute where I could,” explains Lotan.
Lotan hopes to raise at least $20,000; and based on the public outpouring of fans rushing to buy from the “Nili Lotan Loves New York” collection, the designer shouldn’t have a problem meeting her goal.
“We’ve been selling 600 to 700 masks a day and it’s only been a few days,” she says. “My entire website has turned into ‘Nili Lotan Loves New York’ — that’s all we’re selling right now because we put it at a more attractive price and 15 percent of the profits are going to NYU Langone Hospital, so everyone is in it,” says Lotan.
In an effort to reach a greater magnitude of women, Lotan sent a handful of her loyal shoppers pieces from the capsule. As a result, “Nili Lotan Loves New York” became a social-media sensation.
“So many people were touched by it on their own and started sharing it on their feeds and before you know it, it became a hit.”
To top it off, the designer is now offering personal styling sessions on her website in hopes of helping clients with all their wardrobe needs.
“When I realized everyone is on Zoom right now, I said to myself, ‘How can I use Zoom for selling purposes?,’ and we came up with this e-shopping concept,” Lotan explains.
NL New York “Brady” T-shirt, $78 at Nili Lotan
NL New York “Callie” zip-up hoodie, $199 at Nili Lotan
For fashionistas looking for a little styling advice, just head to the website and select “Book Now” to schedule an appointment with one of the label’s talented stylists.
Next up, the designer hopes to launch a Nili Lotan sample sale site to give shoppers the opportunity to score discounted wares without having to deal with the crazy crowds. “I am looking to start a website that will be a vehicle for me to do sample sales online because I think people will not stand in lines anymore and gather,” says Lotan.
But for the time being, Lotan is focusing on work and trying to remain positive at a time when innovation is key.
“There’s just something about those small wins that I have every day, that keeps me positive and optimistic and feeling that I can make it.”
By Bree Bonagofsky