Designer & Founder of West 14th
Violeta Tentomas left a successful career in corporate fashion to build something she could call her own. Designer and founder of West 14th, she crafts quality pieces that get better with age, and make the women who wear them feel good in their skin.
We kick off the first of a series of conversations with some of our favourite women, in the director/designers local neighbourhood.
What was it like growing up in suburban New Jersey knowing that Manhattan was just across the water?
I lived 15 minutes from NYC but my friends weren’t interested in going to the city. I’d sneak off to Manhattan and, when I saw the students outside of The Fashion Institute of Technology, something clicked. I felt my future was there, and decided to be a fashion buyer.
You did a lot of internships while you were studying. Can you tell us about that?
I loved it. My goal was to be a standout candidate after graduation, as different as I could to my classmates at FIT. I wanted to learn as much as possible about the fashion industry, and interned at Henri Bendel, Nine West, Arcadia Group in London (who owns Top Shop), before landing a role in the womenswear buying office at Ralph Lauren.
They have an impressive heritage.
They do. The business focuses on quality and branding, and the design is classic. It was an incredible experience but after a while I felt stifled. I took a trip to Sydney to visit my bestie, a former New Yorker, and fell in love with the lifestyle. I moved to Bondi pretty soon after. It’s been home now for 11 years.
You transitioned from a successful corporate fashion career working with high profile labels in the US and Australia to start West 14th. What made you decide to make the leap?
I wanted the freedom to redefine the perception of leather. I was determined to create investment pieces without the designer price tag. Great leather that could be worn every day, with the strength of New York and the ease of Bondi.
Do you remember the first piece you ever made?
Vividly! The Greenwich Jacket, which is still our most popular shape. The leather has the softest hand feel, and moulds to your body. The drape is feminine but toughened with impactful hardware and stitch details.
Seeing leather jackets and pants that have gone baggy at the elbows and knees is my pet peeve. We only use leather that has great recovery, like the stretch leather used in our leggings.
Who are you designing for?
I call them our ‘women of substance’. Amazing women of all ages, professions, shapes and wardrobe needs – who care about quality and choose clothes that make them feel empowered.
We produce one highly-edited collection each year, and focus on creating timeless leather basics that are inherently versatile. In our latest collection, for example, we made a reversible jacket that looks sharp at work but can be layered over gym clothes, or slipped over a pretty dress for dinner.
Do you wear your own label on a regular basis?
Every day! Whether I’m looking at swatches in the studio, holding a meeting in a cafe, presenting a collection to retailers in a showroom, or jumping on a plane to Paris, Hong Kong or New York. Our pieces make me feel empowered and confident in any situation and, more importantly, they make me feel like myself.
How do you stay connected to your customers?
West 14th is a small business and I’m across every aspect of it. When a customer calls I’m the one who picks up the phone. The most regular feedback I get is that West 14th makes women feel strong, sexy, and comfortable in their own skin. It makes me feel very proud.
What does a typical day look like for you? Do you have any rituals or routines?
My days vary greatly but, before battling emails, I always start with a walk and a strong coffee. I also try to sneak out around midday for a yoga or pilates session which gives me time to myself, opens up my perspective and allows me to stay physically and mentally nimble. I end the day cooking with Pete, my other half.
Do you cook a lot?
It’s one of my great loves. My favourite way to spend a Sunday afternoon is with Pete and a pile of recipe books. We love hosting dinners for friends, unwinding over a glass of wine and having good conversations. I’m also obsessed with setting the table – to the point where I’m pinning ideas.
How do you feel when you wear West 14th?
Very special. Like I have my own personal armour – that’s stylish too!