Designer Spotlight: Denise Focil of Alpinestars

Daredevil motorcyclists have long depended on the Italian motor sports company Alpinestars for safety gear--their lives and limbs depend on it. But now, the Alpinestars logo is showing up on stylish girls who shop at boutiques like Fred Segal thanks to Denise Focil, 30, who just launched a women’s apparel division for the venerable brand.

Focil took a break from working on her super-secret Fall 2009 collection to chat with about hot colors, cool inspiration and every girl's need for speed.

Describe the Alpinestars girl.

Our girl is very rock’n’roll, dangerous and avant-garde. She’s the leader of her group of friends and doesn’t care what others think. She has a very mix-match way of dressing. We're a company based on speed, so we love adrenaline and thrill--our girl embodies that rebellious attitude.

Tell me about your own experience in motor sports.

I go to a race almost every weekend, so I know most racers on a friendly level. I’ve really been involved in the background of motor sports behind the scenes. My husband, Gabriele Mazzarolo, is an avid motorcycle rider and he owns Alpinestars.

Okay! So how did you guys get hooked up?

Well, we met in L.A. before I started working for Alpinestars just as friends. Then we started dating and around the time I started working here. We're both very hardworking, very involved—it’s our life!

What was Alpine Stars like before you got there and how you have changed it?

We make a lot of technical apparel like leather jackets and leather suits. When I got here, we were just starting our casual clothing department, like fanwear, and then we branched out into men’s clothing. About a year and a half ago we started a women’s division for a more boutique market and we'll officially launch this fall 2008.

What item do you think Latinas should be shopping for right now if they want to look cute in the fall?

I know this is Latina magazine and you have to put a Latin spin on things, but for me, I don’t think of Latina women, Asian women, etc. Being Latin and also growing up in such a melting pot as Los Angeles, I don’t see race. I have to put this out there, because I feel very strongly about this. I’ve always been a feminist, so all races are really the same. I am Latin, I love Latin people and I have a very Latin family, but I try to see everybody the same. I traveled a lot, I lived in Europe, so for fall, I think that women and Latina women included should be wearing some of our faux leather jackets, which are really cute. They are cropped pilot motorcycle jackets. They have a lot of detailing, paneling, and are made from a soft, buttery faux leather.

So no cows had to die.

Right, but you feel like you’re wearing a leather jacket, because it’s really soft. You have to smell it to know that it’s not real. It's the perfect city-chic thing to be wearing. Layer that with our slouchy oversized cardigan and with shiny leggings.

Okay, so the sweater peeks out below. The skinny jean thing is really huge right now, but as a designer what do you predict will be the next major jean silhouette?

Designers have been trying to figure that out for a while. We tried the high-waisted jean, which has been really successful only in small avant-garde circles. But the majority of the population did not adopt that. So sales wise, it’s been a total flop.

But do you wear them?

I do. I love them. Like if you go to West Hollywood, you see people wearing them, but that’s just a tiny representation of the market. But you see skinny jeans everywhere you go. The skinny jean embodies a very rock’n’roll feel. And it’s also a very body conscious way of dressing. So I think it’ll be around for a little while longer.

What can we expect to see in your upcoming spring 2009 collection?

There’s a lot of color. Yellow is a big one and it'll be here to stay for at least another year, but there's going to be evolutions of yellow--like more golden. Also, burnt orange, teal, fuchsia—very vibrant and rich and almost like Indian colors...really beautiful. And there are a lot of different wash techniques on our tops, T’s, and denim so that everything looks old and beat up, like you’ve been riding in it for years.

Can you tell me how you created that effect?

Hand airbrushing, potassium sprays, sandblasting to create pilling or rough edges, a “sulfur” mixed with rocks and sprayed on the garment. Crinkle minerals which creates an almost tie-dyed type of effect.

So do you travel to get inspiration?

I do one inspiration trip before every season. My last trip was to Stockholm. For a few years I used to do Tokyo, but I think Stockholm has become such an important design city. There’s no fear in the way people dress. Tokyo is the same way, so people are very expressive, very loud, crazy colors, lots of mix-matching, like Halloween costumes. And Stockholm is the same way, but in a much more Nordic, advanced, evolved way. So it’s a different color palette and not as bright. They play with patternmaking, draping, and sleeves.

Sounds cool!

Serena Kim