Walking into Tanya Taylor’s tranquil SoHo office, it’s hard to believe that she and her tiny team are prepping for a New York Fashion Week show the following day. Her spring 2015 clothing samples are hung and neatly organized, a dazzling array of citrus brights, bold monochromes and pops of blue.

It’s a smaller offering than previous season’s collections. Taylor, a nominee for this year’s Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund prize, edited the number of runway pieces down on the advice of the judging panel. The fund was created in 2004 to support emerging fashion designers; the 2014 award will be handed out on Nov. 3 at a gala event in New York. “To be able to condense your brand mission into a few sentences or to edit your collection down to 24 looks shows a level of maturity and confidence that I think [the committee] wants to inspire in young designers,” says Taylor, who was raised in Toronto and studied finance at McGill University. After graduating, she enrolled in a fashion course at Central Saint Martins in London and later studied at Parsons The New School for Design in New York. Taylor worked for the contemporary women’swear brand Elizabeth and James before launching her own line in 2012.
According to the designer, she makes clothing that combines “a youthful spirit with the integrity of a designer point of view,” a notion illustrated by the riotous colour palettes and novel textures she develops each season. “We make everything in New York,” Taylor notes; she herself hand-paints the prints for the fabrics. This attention to detail and level of personalization sets Taylor apart from many of her peers, who purchase their fabric outright and outsource their production, something Taylor strives to avoid.

Much hinges on Taylor’s purposeful approach: Winning the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award, which counts megabrand J.Crew as a co-sponsor, includes a cash prize of $300,000 (two runners-up will receive $100,000 each) as well as business mentoring opportunities. Both the publicity and the cash reward have bolstered past winners, from the men’s-wear label Public School to the jewellery designer Pamela Love.

The prize would be icing on an already good year for Taylor. Beyoncé, for instance, was spotted wearing a skirt from her 2015 resort collection during a recent trip to London, while Michelle Obama has worn Taylor’s pieces on several occasions. Taylor met Obama for the first time in Washington last month.

Her “visibility has changed but so have the pressure and expectations,” Taylor says of her whirlwind year. “I’d like to really be able to find a way to be commercially successful, but also to make the line exciting. That’s a challenge I’ve had.”

Since July, Taylor and her fellow CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund nominees (there are 13 others, including Brett Haymen, creator of the buzzed-about Edie Parker clutches) have worked on a series of proscribed challenges. One task involved describing their brand’s history, present status and future goals in a 10-minute presentation The judging panel, which includes designer Diane von Furstenberg (who is president of the CFDA) and J.Crew creative director Jenna Lyons, has overseen the process and provided guidance to the competitors during studio visits, motivating them to consider not only their artistry, but the importance of building their business operations.

“I love that they talk about that openly, that they’re trying to support designers who are both commercially successful and unique in the market – a really hard combination,” she says. “I’m happy that they’re expressing the importance of business. That’s the only way we’ll all be here.”

Although Taylor is in the final stages of the competition, she shows no signs of stress or fatigue. “My biggest challenge is having to be very open with the judges,” she says of the experience. “I’ve had to learn how to be very real with them and that’s hard for me because I default to being a really happy, glossy [person]. Everything is going really well with the brand, but I need to express to them why I need them.”

Following their advice has paid off so far. After Taylor’s spring 2015 presentation at Fashion Week, Brittany Adams of noted how the designer successfully edited the runway collection, writing that “it seems that ‘retail-friendly’ is the new ‘directional’ when it comes to winning fashion prizes these days – and Taylor’s definitely got her eye on the prize.”

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