Meet Olivia Cheng, the designer and visionary behind Dauphinette, the happiest brand on Earth. In 2018, Olivia founded Dauphinette by customizing vintage finds and in turn creating eye-catching one-of-a-kind pieces. Since then, Olivia has expanded Dauphinette to include a dreamy collection of complex, optimistic and storied handbags and accessories that transmute the normal into the strange and beautiful. Keep reading as we dive into Olivia's wondrous mind and chat about Dauphinette's beginnings, what Olivia imagines the future of fashion to look like, where Olivia's favourite spots to shop and eat in NYC are, and what Olivia's creative thought process looks like when she's brainstorming new ideas for her eclectic brand.
Who is Olivia Cheng?
Lover of flowers, friend of humans, magpie mind… the rest is always changing.
Can you tell us about Dauphinette’s beginnings and its growth to become the brand it is now?
When I started working on Dauphinette, I was living in a one-bedroom apartment with two roommates on the Lower East Side—Dauphinette was just a rack of clothes next to my bed. I launched with a tiny collection of up-cycled vintage outerwear based upon the concept of recycling fur and leather, partially because it was the only affordable way for me to start a brand. That being said, my guiding principles have remained the same. There is this Dadaist idea about making something normal feel strange again which I think about a lot. How can I make “normal” things— old, historic, and at times tired concepts— feel “strange” and exciting again? How can we keep renewing excitement and joy? I hope my work always embodies that feeling.
Why was it important to you that Dauphinette embodies sustainable values?
In ways I feel like the opposite question is more appropriate— why is any product-driven company not focused on embodying sustainable values? There’s no point of making more *things* if we aren’t going to be around to enjoy them, and vice versa. That was engrained in me from the beginning— that honesty and the pursuit of good art are more important than marketing value or making the most money.
What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned since launching Dauphinette?
Hearing “no” now can almost always become “yes” later. The timing of your request is as important as the request itself.
Be kind and respectful, including towards yourself.
What does slow fashion mean to you?
Making what you want and thinking about the people and places you’re impacting while you do it.
Where are your favourite places to shop and eat in NYC?
To shop, I love going to Madame Matovu (a beautiful vintage shop) in the West Village— Rosemary, the owner, is a friend of mine and we always end up chatting for hours about random topics. I never get much shopping done; all the time is happily lost to conversation. For homewares I love Pippin on 17th St. and 6th Ave.— as you enter from the sidewalk, you walk down a long mirror-lined corridor and the shop is inside a blacksmith’s cottage. It’s the only public blacksmith’s cottage left in downtown Manhattan— how special is that?!
To eat— I could go on forever— but here’s a shortlist in no particular order:
L’Accolade in West Village— a thoughtful wine bar with equally amazing happy hour hot food
Nick & Sons in Williamsburg for the absolute, hands-down best croissants in New York. They have special menu items on the weekends like za’atar croissants and lemon cardamom bars.
Win Son Bakery for delicious Taiwanese brunch
Luckybird Bakery for simple, perfect cakes and a perfect weekend pastries spread
Four Horsemen for an unpretentiously elevated weekend brunch and natural wine pairings
Delice & Sarrasin for vegan-but-you’d-never-guess French food in the West Village. Get the “cheese plate”, the oyster mushroom escargot, and the konjac salmon galette.
Jeju Noodle Bar for hearty, indulgent ramen in the West Village
Miss Ada’s for decadent, flavorful Israeli food all day and night
Bunker for a delicious house-grown mushroom Banh Mi
As a designer, there’s a sense that you need to be in a constant sate of production and always creating something new. What is something you’ve been working on that requires longevity?
This is an interesting question! I have been asking myself the same thing a lot, and realizing that nothing requires more longevity than working on yourself. For most of my life I have deluded myself into believing that I was selfish if I ever put my own desires before my work, but I’m learning to take a different approach. None of my “favorite” ideas have come from sitting down with the anticipation to make something new. Especially working in an industry that relies so heavily on optics and noise, I’m realizing that I need to be here for myself and not hide behind my brand— it’s incredibly easy to become trapped behind a wall of your own perceptions of other peoples’ expectations. You can’t walk forward freely when you’re accepting everyone’s opinions from a place of fear and replaying them on a mental loop.
You have such a playful approach to fashion – can you walk us through your creative process or how you create your garments and jewelry from inspiration to finish?
I feel like a pretty serious, self-disciplining person, so it entertains me that my work manifests so playfully. It’s nice to remind myself that things are not that serious! There’s definitely a darker, more nuanced side to certain “cute” things that doesn’t come across at surface value, and it doesn’t necessarily need to. In regards to the design process itself, that I actually love designing in crowded public spaces… corner tables of coffee shops or even while riding the subway. Although it’s a bit torturous, I get a weird thrill out of finding peace inside of noise. That being said, once a design has left my mind, been brought into a collection, and is ready to head out into the world, I love everything to be extremely organized. It’s like the inside of my mind meeting the outside, and under ideal circumstances they shock and rupture each other just the right amount.
What do you imagine the future of fashion to look like?
More thoughtfulness and fewer SKUs.
What are some skills you would say are important for this new generation of fashion designers?
Resilience, focus, extreme attention to detail.
Beauty and skincare products you swear by?
My mom actually makes her own face moisturizer and mails it to me… she mixes in things like rosehip oil and collagen, so I rarely buy moisturizers. My exception to this rule is when I go to Paris— I always stock up on the Avene Revitalizing Nourishing Cream, and also Homeoplasmine for dry winter lips and any cuts. I know you can get those things in the US but it’s more exciting to me this way! I also keep a good amount of Aesop around my home for hand-washing, hand-sanitizing, hair and body wash… just some nice-smelling things for making domestic hygiene exciting.
I don’t wear makeup very often and have a pretty rudimentary approach, but I do love highlighter. I like to layer the cover FX drops with the Dior Luminizer in 01. For brows I’ll usually switch off between the Chanel pencil and the Glossier blow flick- whichever I’m in the mood for- and top off with Boy Brow.
How do you decompress?
A glass of chilled natural wine, soft cheese, followed by a hot bath while reading food articles. The way people write and talk about food is one of the most enchanting applications of language! If I’m feeling more introspective I’ll skip the food media and just journal.
What are some of your favourite photos on your camera roll right now?
What is the legacy you hope to leave on this world? What are you out to accomplish?
I hope to leave a lot in peoples’ hearts and souls and not a lot in the landfills. I hope to live with both confidence and vulnerability, create beautiful things, and distribute my energy meaningfully.