Meet The Designer: Nelly Gavrilov of Forma of the West
Made with natural fibers in airy silhouettes, Forma of The West is a collection of made-to-order pieces that are one-of-a-kind, comfortable, and effortlessly chic.
The brain child of self-taught, up-and-coming designer Nelly Gavrilov, Forma brings a fresh perspective to the world of sustainable fashion, marrying contemporary and vintage silhouettes for a look that is current, yet timeless.
In addition to being an inherently sustainable option, clothes that are made-to-order just feel more special. But, ours is a world where fast-fashion reigns supreme in a culture that is very much based off instant gratification, so the notion that one will have to wait weeks for a garment to be produced for them might be difficult to understand.
Thankfully, brands like Forma really illustrate to consumers the art , skill, and care that should be going into our garments so that they stand the test of time, are gentler on the planet, and help to make us feel confident and comfortable. In some ways, brands within the slow fashion movement help to provide this education simply in the way they do business and choose to be transparent about their supply chains.
For Forma, it was never a question that sustainability and ethics would be woven into the very fabric of the brand. In fact, the foundation for Gavrilov’s love for slow fashion (before it was even a “thing”) was laid while growing up as the daughter of a seamstress.
I caught up with Nelly over some cappuccinos at Analog coffee shop in Long Beach, California and we chatted about her path to launching Forma, the motivation behind her brand, and her goals for the future.
“My mom immigrated from Ukraine where she was a seamstress… When she got to America she did the same thing. She didn’t really like it, but I’d beg her to make me stuff and we’d do it together but we’d have all these half projects around the house. But I had a sewing machine in the corner of the house. It was always around. My brother was the same way. We were tall skinny kids and my mom would buy us clothes and fix them up so we caught on quite quickly and started doing that to our own clothes.”
Altering, repairing, mending, buying secondhand and vintage were second nature to Gavrilov. And while her mother may have been the initial influence in her budding interest in fashion, it was her older brother who really fostered and encouraged her to develop her skills and pursue the creation of her own brand.
“ I wasn’t really a good student in high school. College was more fun and social to me. I bounced around from sociology to anthropology to communication to business. I didn’t even finish, basically. I did end up going back home and working in hospitality and basically needed something more.I saw my brother who was just like “ I’m going to be a tailor” and he was self taught and just did it. It was very inspiring to me. So every time I went to San Francisco to visit him I was like “this is what I want to be this is what I want to do.”
Gavrilov relocated to San Francisco in 2014 to live with her brother and began to develop her skills.
“He opened up a shop and I just learned from him. He does menswear which is hard and so precise. We did a suit jacket together for a client and it was actually really challenging… I learned a lot from that. I learned how to make a pattern and to sew it and do all these button techniques. So honestly from that one project I feel like I learned a lot. Eventually he moved the studio into our garage so we were doing a lot of projects there. I would show him my work. And I also learned a lot from YouTube!”
After living with her brother, honing her skills, and taking in all that San Francisco has to offer, Gavrilov traveled to South East Asia with her boyfriend and it’s there that she decided she would take the plunge and start her own brand.
About the brand
Working with linen, her favorite fabric to use, Gavrilov curates her collections in a very organic way - based off what she wants to be wearing.
“I do kind of sit there and look in the mirror and think “what do I wish I was wearing today”.. It depends on my mood. Some days I want to be so basic and some days I just want to bust out. Women in general are having a moment and just excited and feeling good and I wanted to represent that this season.”
For example, the patchwork dress was inspired by a quilt Gavrilov had initially set out to create. Made from fabric remnants, this dress is one-of-a-kind (and sold out!).
Her decision to use linen is a very intentional one. In our conversation she was sure to tout its benefits - how it feels on the skin, how it wears and lasts, and how natural fibers are much better for the environment than synthetic ones. Customers can shop pieces by category, including the no-waste collection.
Born from the excess fabric leftover from the Marni pant, a Forma staple, the no-waste collection ensures there is no fabric waste. The Marni top looks cute on its own, but pairs nicely as a set with the pant.
Gavrilov sees a bright future for her brand, and would ultimately like to have her own production house where she can grow, manage a small team of people, and branch off into wholesale while still embracing the made-to-order model. As anyone who is self-employed will tell you, working for yourself can often be lonely and isolating, so the idea of collaborating and working with others in one space is really appealing to Gavrilov.
For now, shop her collections on her website - she releases fresh pieces regularly!