Interview: Inside the Studio with Serena Dugan and Lily Kanter of Serena & Lily...

Ahhhh, Serena & Lily. Just thinking of the brand reminds me of trips to the beach while growing up in North Carolina. Salty air, boardwalks, sand dunes and a certain easy way of living are all part of the vibe this laid-back lifestyle brand suggests.

Last week I featured their initial capsule collection of apparel - the Serena & Lily's first foray into fashion. Seeing the simple silhouettes and everyday styling made realize that most clothing these days is over-designed. Somehow the creative minds behind this small collection had tapped into our collective desire for beautifully tailored clothing that feels effortless and natural to wear. They've created exactly that with these simple yet lovely dresses and casual separates - and managed to time the launch perfectly to coincide with our season of trips to the beach. Genius indeed. 

I'm pleased to share that I was able to interview Serena Dugan & Lily Kanter (yes, the real women behind the brand) to discover what makes them tick, what inspired these fresh pieces and whether or not we might see "mini-me" dresses coming online anytime soon (spoiler: nothing is impossible for these two).  

There’s no easy road, you have to remain optimistic, keep an open mind, and you have to be tenacious.
— Lily Kanter

Are you ready? You will be once you see their fantastic answers! Read on to get to know the brains behind this wildly successful lifestyle brand: 

Thank you ladies for taking time to dig a bit deeper into your capsule collection. I love that the collection was inspired by what you deemed a void in the market. I happen to agree. Where did you look for inspiration for the simple silhouettes for the Serena & Lily apparel? 

Serena Dugan:  I designed the collection to be classic in reference, flattering in fit, and timeless in your wardrobe.  I was the target audience for the collection, as it is exactly what I was missing and wanted to see.  Much of the collection was assembled around vintage pieces I had kept in my closet, knowing that they spoke not only to my aesthetic sensibility but to any female's...and were surprisingly hard to find.  

Your unique textile designs have played a key role in differentiating your brand. Tell us about the nuances of designing those textiles for dresses and pajamas versus those for bedding and other home textiles? 

SD: Ultimately designing for home and designing clothing is complementary. Our point of design differentiation for both categories is our attention to detail, quality construction, and our timeless silhouettes. We’re able to apply much of our knowledge of textiles and construction and production to apparel, while bringing a more feminine sensibility and fashion aesthetic.

I love that the limited collection focuses mainly on effortlessly chic dresses. Do you both find that dresses are your “go to” look for busy days? 

Lily Kanter: Yes, the shirt dress in particular is a favorite for me. The Jane dress is the perfect fit, impeccably tailored with just the right combination of fit and flare to take you from day to night. We are introducing four new colors with our fall collection, launching on 8/18.

You’ve imbued the capsule collection with that special southern California bohemian vibe, but still masterfully nailed the art of tailoring and fit. This must have been quite a learning process, moving from bedding and draperies into fitted garments. Tell us about that learning curve and what drove you to persist in spite of the challenges that are always paired with pushing ourselves to learn something entirely new. 

SD:  We learned that much like with home items, the fabric selection was incredibly important. We chose fabrics according to the fit and drape that we wanted the garment to have.  Our more tailored pieces needed fabrics with structure (which is why we chose an almost taffeta-like cotton for the party dress), and our flowy pieces needed to be silk, to get the effect that we were aiming for.  It’s not unlike décor:  You choose a material that fits the desired effect.

This is one of those instances where your brand extension leaves us (as fans and loyal customers) thinking “Yes, of course!” It feels like an organic and surprisingly obvious evolution of the Serena & Lily lifestyle brand. When did the idea first occur to dive into fashion and how long did it take from truly making the decision to develop a line until it hit production? 

SD: I’ve always wanted to design apparel, but it really began to take shape as we imagined people living in the environments we were creating for our catalog. It was a natural segue to envision their style and what they’re wearing.

It’s no secret that the collection as a whole has been favorably received. Many items are even sold out, so congratulations on nailing your vision and executing a very successful first foray into our closets! What has been the most satisfying part of seeing your creative and strategic vision come to fruition? 

SD: Many things about this collection and launch have been rewarding, but I think the best part has been seeing people react to and fall in love with the garments. I can’t wait to do it again for fall.

The entrepreneurs that succeed get knocked down every day, get up, brush themselves off, and start a new day.
— Lily Kanter

Can you share any insights for business owners and entrepreneurs considering extending their brand beyond what others might see as their obvious niche? 

LK: The entrepreneurs that succeed get knocked down every day, get up, brush themselves off, and start a new day. There’s no easy road, you have to remain optimistic, keep an open mind, and you have to be tenacious. Surround yourself with smarter people then yourself. I know I make it sound easy. It has not been easy and takes a lot of perseverance. 

As a mommy to two young girls I’ll just add this: I’d love to see a girls collection emerge next year. We live in cotton dresses all spring & summer long! 

LK: Nothing is out of the realm of possibility for us!

Oh, I love a duo on a mission, don't you? Based upon their vision, drive and history of successful designs I feel there's nothing out of reach for Serena & Lily - the women, the brand, the visionaries.  


Love hearing entrepreneurial stories? Be sure to see my interview series, filled with inspiration and ideas for your mind & soul.