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Designer Spotlight: Pipsqueak Chapeau

 [Sveta with her manager Lily in Brooklyn]

{Teenage Sveta Kazakova in the Soviet Union]


I’ve been a fan of Pipsqueak Chapeau for years.  I knew nothing about the designer, the history or any details beyond the basics: made in Brooklyn, small production, fabrics from Japan. She was in the middle of leaving Brooklyn as the pandemic ramped up – retreating to her country house north of the city.  I was lucky to learn more about the history and roots of Pipsqueak Chapeau. It was nothing short of fascinating.

 

Tell me a bit about where you grew up and your early influences...

Sveta: I grew up in the Soviet Union, in Moscow.  I came from a large Jewish family (spread thru Germany, Israel, Australia and Moscow) This family consisted mostly of dissident scientists. My parents studied geology and geophysics and most of the people we hung out with were science oriented but also creatives: architects, painters - very inspiring figures. My studies were in geology and paleontology. I thought I would go into wildlife management, marine biology or become a vet. I was very good at math and all logic related studies.


Any early experiences with clothing design or fashion?

Sveta: I do remember loving to throw on my incredibly tall Grandpa’s trench coat when I was hanging out with my friends. It was so oversized on me but I loved it and wore it often– despite my mother’s disapproval.  As far as other clothing influences my mom was a skilled, avid knitter and knit some of the family’s clothing.  She passed this skill to me at a young age. It was not however something I saw myself doing as a career. My passion was and has always been nature and this passion came from amazing summertime experiences for me and my brother.  From the age of 4 to 22 my parents arranged a family journey to an uninhibited island on the Volga River where a few other families would join with ours and we would plant ourselves for the entire summer, living in tents and cooking on wood fires by the river.  It was the same for 18 years. These summers were magical. I had a ritual. I would wake up every morning at 4am, wrap myself in layers of communist wool coats and sit on the dock and fish for 5 hours at a time. In my mind I created a fantasy world where I would speak to the fish, explain my strategy to catch them and coach them on how to assist me on my mission.  

A lot of my inspiration comes from this solitary experience of fishing.  Everyone would get up and waterski much later, but I preferred to start the day with fish. I had this amazing unfettered entry into the world of nature. I was on my own, allowed to explore and experience without being monitored or watched over.  Which children get this experience in today’s world? I wish I could give this to my kids. I was incredibly lucky. These summers of boundless freedom sparked a lifelong fascination and appreciation of animals and nature. When I am in nature I feel surrounded by love and beauty.  I am sure these summers inspired my work and no doubt shaped who I am today. 

I also was exposed to Russian theater, film making and photography.  Andrei Tarkovsky, creator of films like “The Mirror” and “Solaris” - made a big impression on me. The music of Nick Cave, as well as other musicians resonates to this day with my imaginary world. Great admiration of  Russian, and Japanese folk wear and costume uniforms is interwoven in my visual thought process. 

 

So tell me how you came to NY and got into making clothing. 

Sveta:  My parents came to NY ahead of my brother and me via the green card lottery. I stayed in Moscow to further study and later followed them with the hopes of becoming a vet.  I studied veterinary technology and worked as a nurse for 6 years in Brooklyn for a brilliant doctor.  In the meantime I had met my husband and became pregnant. I stopped working with the vet during this time and found myself bored and restless.  

 

I’m guessing this is where Pipsqueak comes in…?

Sveta:  Yes - so I knew how to knit from when my mother had taught me in Moscow. In the beginning I knitted  a small group of simple caps with pom poms for kids made out of luxurious hand dyed yarns. I would take a few in a basket directly to owners of stores in Soho without any concrete idea of how the retail/wholesale worked.  

I began with a few shops and did consignment and they sold out immediately so I went to a few more stores. Things grew from there and suddenly I had a small business. 

Where does the name Pip-squeak Chapeau come from?

Pip-squeak Chapeau is a reference to a French fairy tale “Chapeau Klyack” that I used to have read to me in Moscow as a child. Klyack was a mean old woman with a hat represented by a splash of ink. Pip-squeak was a reference to the little kid. Overall, just like the business itself, the name was a bit of a tongue in cheek joke.

So the line grew. I added a few kids clothing pieces and people then started asking me for the same clothing for adults.  I started with a few dresses and kimono pants (these are still in the line today) and they just kept selling.  The concept for the line has always been organic and simple. I don’t follow or care about trends in fashion. What I make is simple, well made, sturdy, not fussy – using quality fabrics and hands on craftsmanship. I want women of all sizes and ages to feel beautiful and comfortable. Pip-squeak Chapeau is meant to be effortless.  easy care, rugged and allowing the wearer to assemble the pieces to fit into their sense of style; as if, carrying on the spirit of the person who wears it.  13 years ago I decided to open my shop in Brooklyn.  I found a wonderful small factory of artisans who make the clothes for me and I have been working with them ever since. I refuse to compromise on fabric and quality of construction and personal connection with everyone who is involved in what we make. It’s not cheap for that reason.  It’s not meant to be precious, but instead is meant to be used and worn over and over – year after year. 

I do think nature inspires my work. I like to think I instill the movement of trees and water into my design.  Even the most gorgeous clothing is not beautiful without movement. It is always on my mind as I design.

Any thoughts on where we are now in these turbulent times? 

Sveta:  One thought is that this is a time when we all need to realign with nature and rethink the idea that we, as humans, are smarter, more powerful and all important.  All of this upheaval is hopefully leading us to a shift of priorities. I wish all children had a chance to learn through nature and learn to be at one with nature. Building confidence, skills and knowledge in forest schools, instead of desks and a dead-set curriculum. Wilderness is not scary, but humans certainly are :)

 

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