Seeing Between the Lines: An Interview With Cynthia Rowley

Image by Austin Dandridge/TheDigitel

“I was an artist before I got into fashion,” says a petite, gentle woman, in between sips of her cocktail.

She wears a long, grey coat patterned with blue sequins.  “I jokingly say that I got into fashion because I didn’t want to be a bartender for the rest of my life.  I was tending bar to support my passion for art, then I realized I should get into something easier – fashion.”

That could have been the best decision world-renowned fashion designer Cynthia Rowley ever made.  Winner of the exalted Perry Ellis Award for Womenswear, Rowley explains that “Being in fashion was easier to be creative for me, and to make a business.”

Rowley’s lovely employees, all dressed in her Spring collection are milling about, offering drinks and showcasing off pieces from Rowley’s newest line: a collaboration with Roxy with bright, flirty colors and prints with a punch.

But Rowley isn't here to showcase her work.  She comes to her Charleston store to promote Between the Lines, a children’s coloring book for RxArt.

“RxArt is an organization that promotes healing through contemporary art,” explains Rowley, “We raise money to bring art and murals into children’s hospitals.  We create this coloring book once a year as a fundraiser, and we also hold an auction of the contributing artist’s pieces to raise even more money for the organization.  It’s a very noble organization.”

Rowley is dedicated to the plight of RxArt, and has been a board member for the organization for “2 or 3 years.”  Rowley also appreciates the impact that art and creativity has upon children.  “I grew up in a  very artistic household.  Both of my Grandparents were artists – my ninety-seven year old Grandmother still paints!” she giggles, “In my house, everyone was creative – we were always making clothes and other things, it was just a normal thing for us.”

Rowley is also in town to judge for Charleston Fashion Week’s 2010 Emerging Designer Competition.  She explains her excitement as a result of her trip to Charleston Fashion Week 2009, “I was so impressed, there is so much talent here, and I always like to support emerging talent.”  Cynthia was also impressed by the art and fashion culture of Charleston overall, “All of the big designers have stores here, but there are also lots of creators that design based out of Charleston.”

Ironically, she interjects with a note on just how wonderful her drink is – a lovely concoction made with Charleston’s own Firefly Peach Vodka.  Warned that they were great, but sneakily dangerous, Cynthia replies, “I don’t see how!  It’s so sweet!  Perhaps that is why.”  She was also pleased to find out that her refreshing gem of a beverage was also made locally here in Charleston.

“I think Charleston’s art culture is very hip, and cosmopolitan,” she continues, “Charleston fosters a lot of art – there are a lot of artists and galleries here, and fashion and art go hand in hand.”

Very modestly, but not surprisingly, Rowley never spoke of her fantastic drawing that she contributed to Between the Lines, a delightful sketch of two elephants frolicking on a teeter-totter. 

Her humility and kindness to her fans was refreshing – a woman brought in a design of Rowley’s from years ago – a now ghastly outdated multi-colored dress with gold buttons, and again – the iniquitous lines - adorning the front of the dress.  Laughingly, Rowley tells her fan “To take the buttons off!” 

Always thinking and changing her creations, she speaks like a true artist and designer – only without all the pomp, substituting with gratitude.

You can learn more about RxArt and purchase Between the Lines here.