I have always been so curious that I inevitably hang onto an elusive grade-school moment when a teacher once validated my questioning by saying that it was a sign of intelligence. Every so often I meet someone who shares my wide-eyed inquisitiveness and reinforces the wholesomeness of an unguarded perspective. That someone, who I had the remarkable fortune to cross paths with, is Christina Minasian, the designer behind Pencey.
Though Christina has captured a cascade of professional successes, what's of primary importance to her is her family's closeness and the quality with which she spends her free time. Staunchly opposed to life's low-grade gratifications and the mass mentality's negative energy, Christina's sartorial inspirations spring not from typical Anna Wintours but from the unexpected, like A$AP Rocky. Confident and not readily fazed, Lauryn Hill appointed Christina to be her stylist when the legendary singer spotted Christina working at Ralph Lauren in a straightforward yet right-on combo of white jeans, Adidas, and a white eyelet blouse. Had I not been my tenaciously interrogating self, Christina would have never revealed that Hill's MTV Unplugged album outfit is almost an exact replica of the one that Christina wore when the two first met.
Mia Morretti X Pencey jacket
Christina's free-flowing, bird's-eye view has placed her in a prolific amount of unconventional situations. Though her design experience was zero, Christina was offered the job of Pencey's head designer. But the failure that might've occurred due to her absence of traditional clothing design schooling didn't sap Christina's resolve: She jumped in head first and produced a powerhouse mix of classicism and hip hop. As for her own personal style, that's equally potent with white and black sweat suits mingled amongst Balenciaga motorcycle boots and Converse. Indeed, her style is simultaneously elemental and cognizant of the moment. Christina reminds us that you don't have to overexert yourself to do something right. Really, all that's required is healthy reflection and the confidence to leap into the unknown.
Pencey jacket & pants, Converse sneakers
Pencey jacket & pants, Balenciaga boots
Elisa: Can you talk a bit about where you’re from originally?
Christina: I’m from Chicago and I lived there pretty much my whole life until I went away to school. I have four brothers and sisters. My father’s in the rug business so I always wanted to do something with textiles. I thought I was going to go into the rug business. I always painted and I loved interiors and fabrics, but fashion was always something I just did. I always loved clothes, dressing up, putting together my own outfits, taking things from my mother's closet.
Elisa: Can you talk about the journey and the evolution that led you to start a line?
Christina: I moved to New York in 2000 and my first job was at Ralph Lauren. I was doing windows and interiors there. After that I started doing some styling because I met Lauryn Hill while working at Ralph Lauren and she hired me to work with her.
Elisa: Which store?
Christina: I worked at all the New York stores, but I met Lauryn at the one on West Broadway. She came in and I was downstairs in the stockroom. I thought, "I love Lauryn Hill. I shouldn’t be down here in the stockroom." I went upstairs and she was like, "Oh I love your sneakers, your jeans, your shirt. I love how you put everything together! Are you a stylist?" And I was like, "Yeah!"
Elisa: What were you wearing?
Christina: It’s really funny because what I was wearing that day is the same outfit she was wearing on her Unplugged album cover.
Elisa: What were you wearing?
Christina: I was wearing Seven jeans. They'd first come out, I didn’t even know what they were. I had just bought them at Scoop.
Elisa: I had those!
Christina: They had the perfect wash. I was also wearing Adidas soccer shoes (white ones) with a white eyelet blouse and a men's yellow cable knit sweater over it. She took my phone number and I was on cloud nine -- I was so happy and excited.
Elisa: What was she like? Intense?
Christina: Yes, very intense and serious. She didn’t crack a smile at all. But nice. She called me ten minutes later and said, "Here’s my credit card info and this is what I need. Can you start?" It was great. I worked for her for a while at her home. Rohan Marley would be in the back yard playing soccer with the neighborhood kids. After that I went to California for a while and I started working at Kitson. I was a buyer there, but I hated it, so I moved back to New York. Eventually, I met the people behind Pencey.
Elisa: Where did you meet them? You bumped into them on the street?
Christina: No, I was at Coterie, walking the show because my friend had a store and I was helping him out with the buying. My friend introduced me to Mr. Mac, the father of the owner of Pencey. Mr. Mac said, "Okay okay, you want to work for me? You want a line? Come to my office tomorrow." So I went in the next day.
Elisa: Had you ever done any designing?
Christina: No. Never. I came and we talked for an hour and they were like, "Okay, here’s your office. Find a technical designer. Go start." In the beginning I have to say I had no idea what I was doing. I faked it until I made it.
Elisa: There must be something that people just trust in you.
Christina: Yeah, it's happened to me a few times. With people on the street. I enjoy talking to other people and listening. I’m interested in what someone else has to say or what their story is. Whether it's some weirdo or someone who’s famous or really important. You can learn from every experience whether it's bad or good.
Elisa: Where do you get that wisdom? Not everyone has that.
Christina: Probably from my dad. My dad taught us that the customer is always right. If someone wanted him to go to the store on Christmas and spend the day looking at rugs he would. I’ve also traveled a lot - we’ve been to Africa, Turkey, and Romania. That taught me a lot too. At a young age I was traveling by myself. My dad always came to New York, and he’d also fly me out to meet him, so I was very independent.
Elisa: Have you given any thought to where our culture is? Are we beginning a new paradigm -- a renaissance of some kind?
Christina: Well it's funny because when I was growing up my parents had money, we weren’t like rich, but we weren’t poor. I could always do whatever I wanted and go to whatever school I wanted. That changed later in my life and it made a huge difference on how I think. It made a huge difference on how I view and value different things.
Elisa: You had it and it was taken away?
Christina: Yeah, it was scary and different. Lately I’ve been questioning myself, things that I value and care about and how I spend my time.
Elisa: Do you think your family support had lead to your ability to kind of just leap into things?
Christina: Yeah, it's huge. When people tell me they’re an only child or they’re not close with their brother or their sister, I feel so bad for them. I’m like, “Oh.” I don’t say it, but I think, “I’m so lucky that I have that.”
Elisa: Is it a desire and wish for you to do the same?
Christina: Yeah, for sure.
Elisa: I’m always sorry that I didn’t have a third or fourth. So, what happened when you started designing the line? How long ago was that?
Christina: So that was like seven years ago. Maybe six years ago. Pencey started out kind of like how Pencey Standard is now. It was a little bit more simple. The color palette was very simple and the styles were very simple. The fabrics were like some silks, jersey, some knits and it has evolved to more of a complete collection. I’ve learned a lot and we’ve learned a lot about what the brand is and who the Pencey girl is, and I think my personality and the way I dress comes out a lot in the collection. It's really like this downtown girl who likes to be pretty and feminine but she’s also kind of tough and tomboy. She’s always both. She’s never in spiked heels and dressed to the nines yet she’s never looking like shit or like a slob.
Elisa: What do you do with your time? When you’re not working?
Christina: Well I’m a big runner -- exercise. I love running and soul cycle. I do it every morning. I’ve been doing it since I was fifteen. It’s my time alone to meditate and get my energy out.
Elisa: How do you deal with doubt, personally? How do you deal with fear?
Christina: Oh, I have that all the time. Everyday. I don’t know... Allen, the owner, he’s great. He always reassures me. He has a lot of confidence in me, which is good. Very supportive. And it’s hard. It's a struggle. Everyday I’m like “Is this right? Is this good? Is this going to be good?” I ask my sister. I lean on my friends.
Elisa: Who are you inspired by? Are there people that come to mind? I know that’s kind of a broad question but what pops in your mind in terms of inspiration?
Christina: Yeah, you see cool stuff. I love to be on St. Marks Place. I love being places like that or Union Square where all those kids sit. I love to see high-school kids and grade-school kids -- how they wear clothes. It’s always surprising to me that either they have so much confidence to do something or they just don’t know that they’re doing it. But I find them very inspiring.
Elisa: What do you consider beautiful? What is beautiful about a person?
Christina: Their personality. What’s inside them. I think that can make a person beautiful or ugly. It really can. You say that and it sounds so cliche but it's true. I’ve met so many people who I think are beautiful from afar and then you speak to them and I’m like, "That person is terrible." It makes me think that they’re ugly. Also, aesthetically, I love people who look a little different or who have a little something that makes them stand out. I love A$AP Rocky, hip-hop culture, and the music that they're putting out now. I love the way they dress and their confidence.
Elisa: Let's just hope that the age of pretension and narcissism is at an end. I feel that it is. I think that when things get extremely pervasive they crash. These negative toxic things are very pervasive on the one hand but I also think lots of people are doing amazing things and moving away from it.
Christina: Yeah. I mean, working at Kitson, and that whole pop culture explosion that went on there, that was so narcissistic -- celebrities coming in and getting their pictures taken. The windows flooded with photographers every time Paris or Lindsay would come in. It was such a different time. You know?
Elisa: It has already become a different time... Do you have conflicts with it personally? The celebrity thing is on its way out in the way that we’ve known it because it’s everywhere.
Christina: Yeah, I just think it's dumb. Just because someone wears it doesn’t mean it's good. I can think of a lot of celebrities that drive sales but dress and look terrible. I’m sure you would say the same. But celebrities are what so many people in the country look up too
Elisa: That's what I’m saying. I think the cycle is definitely powerful, but it's almost over. I have a feeling that it might move to something else.
Christina: I think it is winding down, but I think it depends on what level.
Elisa: There’s a phoniness to it that connects to what we were saying about how 20-year-olds know what's fake. You can’t just keep doing what’s fake and think they’re going to do it too. That’s what I feel like is going to be next: They really have to be wearing it.
Christina: Right. Rihanna once bought my skirt at Intermix and I was like, “Oh my god, she bought it. That was so cool.” You know? When you see that, that's so authentic and feels so good to you.