• Jessica Perez for POLYCHROME

Founder spotlight: Career Highlights & Inspiration

Thea Pérez -  in Paris  early career

Welcome to another edition of our Founder Spotlight Series, focusing on Thea Pérez, Founder and Creative Director of Polychrome. This third post in the series highlights her early career and inspiration in fashion. Please feel free to submit questions for future posts!


Jessica: Ok, before we get into my questions, can you tell me about this photo? Looks like a fun time!

Thea: It was! This was taken in 1995. I was in Paris working for Geoffrey B. Small, and my two best friends from RISD, Susanne Barlett (at left) and Allison Paules (at right) were also there. Allison was working in Paris for Martin Margiela and Suz was there visiting her and getting her handbag line, Blanchard, off the ground. I was so happy that we all happened to be there at the same time. This picture was taken at a rooftop party the night before Geoffrey's runway show and I am wearing one of the hand-painted leather jackets from the line.

Jessica: I'm excited to have this opportunity to ask you about your career highlights. I think our readers are really eager to see how you've navigated the world of fashion! To start, did you have any early career experiences that made an impression on your work as an apparel designer?

Thea: Yes I did! A professional internship was required by the apparel department at RISD in order to graduate, so I had an internship for Mary McFadden during my winter session semester of senior year. It was a terrific experience for me because it was a small company and because of that I was given more varied work and responsibilities than I would have had at a larger one. Mary was in the office every single day and was very involved in the every aspect of the line; it was really great to have contact and be able to observe the founder of the company. I was also really fascinated with her signature fortuny pleating and how a line at that high price point was developed. It was here that I found others who were early mentors for me. I still think very fondly of her head designer, Tanya Ghantous, who was also a RISD grad. Tanya was very nurturing and kind to me, and really let me be involved as much as an intern could possibly be. There was also Dede Shipman, the President of the company; her office door was always open if you need to talk to her about something.

While I was there and almost at the end of my internship, Tanya gave her notice and she told me that Mary was considering hiring me to take her place. That would have landed me right into the position of being a full-fledged designer at a company I really enjoyed working with - and incredible opportunity. But I was so conflicted as to whether to take it or not. The main goal after graduation is always to land a job and launch your career, but to jump ahead and take the job without getting my diploma only one semester shy of graduation didn't feel right. So I decided not to pursue that opportunity with Mary. But it's one of those things that I look back on and wonder how different my career path would have been if I had chosen otherwise.

Jessica: Did you have a highlight working for Mary?

Thea: The highlight of my internship was actually having my designs put into the collection and on the runway! It's not all that common for an intern to have their own work put into a final collection. Here's how it happened for me... Most days I could be found helping Tanya in the design room, but one day the receptionist was out sick. Being the intern, I was asked to fill in at the front desk. Between answering phone calls or the door, I was sketching to pass the time because I was really inspired by the beautiful new fabric Mary had just gotten in for the new line. I didn't notice Mary approach because I was absorbed in what I was doing and before I knew it she had rifled through my sketches without saying much of anything and walked off with a bunch of them. I remember being really nervous because thought I was going to get in trouble for drawing while I was just supposed to be attending the door and phone. It turned out she had liked some of them and had brought them to the head seamstress to make protos. Months later, those pieces were on the runway and later in Saks Fifth Avenue. As you can imagine that was really exciting for me!

Mary McFadden luxury apparel 1993