All On The Line S1E8: Julia Alarcon

Posted on May 20, 2011

Better late than never, darlings. A series of unplanned adventures prevented us from getting to this before now.

Meet Julia Alarcon. Julia is our hero because she went back to school at 40 to learn fashion design and started a line with her sister. Eventually the sister moved on, but Julia still had a dream, even if the initial positive reception to her work faded. Now she’s $300,000 in debt and needs the services of Dr. Joe to help her turn her dream around.

We liked her immediately. Unlike a lot of people on reality TV, she came across grounded, low-key and intelligent. Additionally, her work is gorgeous:

The problem? That old devil, “price point,” which is one of the biggest obstacles facing struggling designers. How do you put together a line that’s chic and expensive-looking without pricing yourself out of the market? Joe was shocked to find out these hot pants were priced at $500.

The problem with Julia – and with a lot of struggling designers – is that they see someone like, say, Marc Jacobs, who actually can sell a $500 pair of hot pants, and they think they can do the same thing right out of the gate. There’s a type of customer out there who will pay that kind of money, but not for a designer no one’s heard of. That sounds shallow, but that’s the way of it.

Joe wanted her to narrow her focus and do a line of chic work wear. He took her to a real estate office in Manhattan so she could chat with working women and get some idea of what the so-called average gal is looking for and how much she’s willing to pay for it. Julia nodded her head at the points the ladies made, and then apparently hit the internal “delete” button because she retained none of it.

This included the information that working women don’t generally want to pay $700 for an outfit and don’t generally walk around in tight dresses or perforated leather blouses all day. Once Joe was gone, she went right back to insisting on the most expensive designs she could come up with and none of them really sounded like work wear to us.

Joe’s sassy friend Antonio couldn’t even get her to re-think some of her techniques and materials. Even the grounded, level-headed ones are too stubborn to listen when a bunch of experts try to help her. She kept saying she didn’t want to “sell out,” which sounds kind of silly when you’re talking about things like seaming and buttons.

Loretta Soffe, Nordstrom Exec. VP of Women’s Apparel, stepped in once again as a favor for Joe and despite Julia’s talent, we half-covered our eyes during the presentation because we were afraid it was going to be a disaster.

It’s a beautiful, if slightly overdesigned dress. We love the fabric, but we can’t imagine anyone sitting at a desk all day in something this fussy.

Her seaming really is stunning. We can understand why she defended it so strongly. We’re not entirely sold on the lace panel, but we love the neckline and the sleeves. Still doesn’t look like work wear for anyone who isn’t a fashion editor.

Finally, something that looks practical as well as chic. Perfect.

If we squint, we can sort of see this as office wear. It’s gorgeous. Love the proportions.

Everyone seemed to love that jacket but us. We thought it looked heavy. Great design, but we just weren’t in love with the material.

This outfit is very sharp and chic, but it was a total needlescratch on the idea that she was showing a work wear collection. Come on, honey. The collection was beautiful – possibly the best so far on the show – but she might as well have just taken pieces from her previous collections and re-presented them.

Not only did she wander to far away from the work wear concept, she also didn’t listen to everyone’s pleading to get her price point down. These were, of course, the exact criticisms she got from the buyer and the reason why none of the pieces sold.

But talent will out in the end, because Loretta from Nordstrom was almost literally breathless at the sight of the pieces. You could tell she wasn’t just being polite; she really loved them. When she said she was willing to work with Julia to get the price down and get them on a Nordstrom rack, we believed her. We hope Julia learns that there’s a difference between selling out and finding a market.


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  • Anonymous

    I was all set to love this show, but I have stopped watching Joe try to manipulate these neurotic, sad designers and vent about their craziness week after week.  I like him and he seems to know what he’s talking about, but he does not seem to know how to get buy-in from the people he attempts to help. 

    • I’ve taught idealistic, arty types, as have friends of mine. The ones who were able to work with a combination of what they wanted to do, with what their audience wanted and needed, were those who succeeded in the end.

      They usually took my advice — at last, if not at first.

      The other’s floundered. And deserved to.

  •  I have to say, other than the Alpaca jacket (you guys nailed it, way to heavy for workwear) and that leather outfit at the end, I would wear it all to work…  Just not at those prices.  I hope they work it out and we see her designs in Nordstroms soon.

    • Mary McClelland

      me too! I would even wear the leather blouse – with a chic wool herringbone or gabardine pencil skirt or some work pants.  I thought ALL of of it was amazing office wear.  I can’t wait until she gets into Nordies! 

  • Anonymous

    most of the designers we’ve seen so far don’t really seem to take the show’s concept seriously. they seem to think that they can ask joe for help, suffer his criticisms for a day, and then go right back to what they were doing before, but this time with t.v. exposure. and it’s sad. i think it’s amazing joe has the patience for this kind of ungracious stubborness.

    • MilaXX

       That’s true when Gordon visits restaurant owners and Tabs visits salons. The only ones that are successful  are the ones that heed the advice. Sure being on tv will bring some interest, but in the long run it’s the one making the changes that turn their businesses around.

  • I don’t watch the show, but the Nordstrom lady was right those. w ill. sell. I don’t knkow how conservative New York work places are but in laid back Canada there are some definate must haves.  Maybe its because I work in a creative field that I can say that.

  • I actually would wear most of that to work.  Even the leather and the first 2 dresses, depending upon how they fit.  I’ve owned many items that looked like they’d be uncomfortable to work in, but were insanely well-cut so I could move easily. 

    Having not actually worn or touched the pieces, I’m not sure that they wouldn’t wear as work clothes. 

  • aussiegal77

     I love this show and am constantly impressed at Joe Zee’s ability to draw out the problem then find a solution.  He was spot on again in this ep.  As a working woman, I would never pay $700 for ONE outfit.  Nor would I wear that leather outfit, as gorgeous as it was, all day long.  

  • Anonymous

    I think the show really presents the problem with trying to succeed in the fashion industry. Good product comes from being highly creative and having an artistic vision. Success relies on good business skills and understanding. It’s rare for an individual to have a strong sense of both.

    At least with someone like Kara Janx and couple of the others, they just needed some artistic course correction. With others sadly it was about knocking some of the realities of their business model into their head. That’s the problem.

  • Anonymous

    She was wonderful, despite her stubbornness.  I’d kill for that seamed pencil skirt she wore when she met Joe.  And I wouldn’t care if it was lined in silk or acetate.  Beauty.  I’d wear that leather perforated blouse to work if I could afford it.

    • That pencil skirt ruled.

    • Anonymous

      I wholeheartedly agree. And that pencil skirt was killer! Very chic. 

  • I wonder if any of them read this blog…

    You’d think general opinion would drive it home.

  • Anonymous

    “Tlo said: She kept saying she didn’t want to “sell out,” which sounds kind of silly when you’re talking about things like seaming and buttons.”

    The claims of not wanting to ‘sell out’ is something one hears all the time from art school grads. Often it’s a cop-out. Unfortunately, the reality of making a living in the arts is, at some point you have to be practical. That’s not selling out – that’s the reality of making a living in the arts. Everyone entering the arts has a different timetable for learning that lesson and having to face that reality; the ones who have others to support them (whether it be family or husbands) take longer to have to face that reality. The fantasy of a career in the arts is not reality.  

    Most of those who won’t face that reality end up working in other fields, and I was glad to hear Joe bring that up. While she’s lucky enough to still in a position of being able to make a choice, she needs to choose between making unmarketable pieces or having a career running a viable company. How short-sighted to abandon a dream of being a designer over buttons, fabrics and seams?

    I liked her clothes. They struck me as vintage with a twist. But I didn’t get the alpaca jacket love either. To teddy bear peltish for me. And I loved Joe’s line about it taking a special woman to wear perforated leather to the office. That cracked me up.


    • Anonymous

       The whole time I was watching it, I was thinking about the interview with Christian Siriano that someone here linked to–CS just shrugged about his alliances with low-price chain stores, and said, in a perfectly matter-of-fact tone, that if he needs to sell clothes if he’s going to keep making the big pieces.  And that struck me because it is such a different attitude than we see from a lot of art school grads.  (It also struck me that he seemed to actually take pleasure in the business part of it, but let’s not ask for miracles.  I’d be glad to see more simple understanding.)

      Some of what she wanted to keep had merit–her seaming is wonderful and would be a good signature to build her line on, despite the increase in price.  But digging in her heels on everything else as well, when she’d been told repeatedly that she needed to get her price down… that’s something that, hopefully, her association with Nordstrom’s will help cure her of.

  • I don’t get this channel, so haven’t actually watched the show, but have really enjoyed reading the posts about it. It seems that many of the designers in the series suffer from a problem that is quite common among creatives in many fields. I’m in graphic design, and I see this attitude a lot with newer designers. They have a hard time separating their vision (art) from the practicalities of business. You are in a business, so to be successful you must figure out who your customer is, what they want and then give it to them. Of course you can be super creative, but part of that is the creativity of figuring out how to present your vision in a way that also satisfies your client’s needs. Sometimes it’s ego that gets in the way, but often its the misguided idea that the client needs to bend to your desires. That is the attitude that is a recipe for failure.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know, guys… I think the first dress is perfect for the office.  To me, separates are more fussy because I am always making sure my blouse is tucked in, etc.  I love dresses precisely because I don’t have to fuss with them. 

    I love this collection and I hope Nordstorm carries Julia’s work wear – in varying colors, please – I look awful in brown! 🙂

    • Anonymous

        I love dresses precisely because I don’t have to fuss with them.


      Some separates are low-maintenance, but anything tucked in means spending the whole day re-tucking it, or it looks terrible–either that, or wearing a jacket over it all the time so the tuck can’t be seen, but that kind of defeats the purpose of buying an expensive top.  Dresses, though–just pull ’em on and leave ’em alone.

  • Anonymous

    The curvilinear dress would be great in some jobs.  Not in mine–it doesn’t lend itself to crawling around on the floor to find books on the bottom shelf–but some.  Lawyer, bank executive, high end real estate. Further, as long as the fit was good, it’s not limited to models, and the seaming would be very flattering to a larger woman.  Not at that price, though.  The reverse neckline would be nice as well, though not for someone as flat-chested as it’s shown on here; it makes the poor model actually look concave.  Not for really physically active work, but it’s definitely professional attire.  I’d like to see a few softening elements, but that’s just a taste thing.  Then again, I’m kind of relieved by any look that doesn’t try to “translate” men’s suits into women’s wear.

    TLo’s point about some established designers being able to charge prices like that, but not unknown ones, is a very good one. Maybe there is a buyer of four-hundred dollar hot pants out there, for the sake of a name.  Granted, that buyer would not be me, even if I won the lottery–I think it’s an insane thing to spend that kind of money on no matter whose name is attached to it–but then, most fashion isn’t marketed to me.  But when you’re just starting, you can’t assume the luxuries of someone who’s already established.  Establish yourself first!

    This is one where I’d really have liked to go to the factory, see why the things she does are so much more expensive.  I don’t think she should, in general, skimp on the seaming, which seems to be a trademark.  But there are certainly other places where she could have found a place to cut costs.

    • Having grown up around them, I can’t imagine a lawyer wearing that dress at all. But I do think it’s pretty and I can definitely see bank executives, real estate agents, high-end hotel managers etc working it now that you mention it!

      • Anonymous

         Yeah, I guess I can see your point about lawyers–they can’t deviate too far from the business suit look, because they have to worry about impressions they might make on juries.

      • Anonymous

        Hey, I’m a lawyer (in one of THE most conservative fields of law) and I would wear that!  I would wear all of it, including the perforated leather blouse (well, maybe not the first dress — would have to see how the rack would look with all that extra fabric around it).  I’m also wondering what happened to the shawl collar blouse with the double seam on front.  I liked that, too.

        Although the Alpaca jacket — is that meant to be outerwear?  Because it would get awfully hot in a stuffy office.

  • MilaXX

    I liked this collection but as you mentioned except for the 3rd and 4th one they were hardly work wear. I also wasn’t crazy about the lack of color. I’m obviously not her target audience because honestly? This is the stuff I would wait until it landed at Nordstrom’s Rack  and buy at outlet prices.  I did like that first dress, but that would be a cocktail dress for me, not work wear. She was nice, just  a little to stubborn for someone 300k in debt.

  • I adore the reverse neckline dress and would totally wear it to work. I’m a physician, and it would be perfectly appropriate for clinic day.

  • Anonymous

    I would love to wear pieces 1, 2 and 4 to work.  I’m a lawyer and think I could pull it off.  But….I don’t have that kind of money, so I would sigh and return it to the rack.  Also, the brown color got old after the second look. 

  •  I can’t believe the retail mark up is so low in that price sheet pic. Is that standard in the US?  I’d kill* to be able to only mark up x2. Standard here is about 2.8, once had a buyer very upset that my RRP on a shirt was only a 2.3 MU 
    *not literally, I might pinch someone, maybe

  • I adore that leather blouse. Not for work, though, but I hope that she can work with Nordstrom’s on a reasonable price. She does beautiful work.

  • 300 K in debt will make a girl need to sell hot pants for $500 each. OUCH! That is an extreme amount of debt. Suddenly I feel rich. But not rich enough to buy 500 dollar hot pants.

  • Anonymous

    I have a swatch of the wool from the first dress — gorgeous –love how she used it one the bias.

  • Anonymous

     it looked to me that the jacket she is wearing at the buyer meeting is the Alpaca jacket, but in wool.  Lovely.  I also liked her stuff, but really couldn’t see why the prices are so expensive.  Maybe they look better in person, but i have seen lots of prices that have great seaming that look in the same vein as her’s that are more reasonably priced.

    Overall, she just sounded so unrealistic.  Yes, there is a market for really expensive stuff, but an extremely limited one.  And i suspect a VERY label sensitive one.  If you are going to spend thousands on an article of clothing, i suspect that it better have a recognized name attached to it.

    Also, i can totally see the last look in an office.

    •  I could actually see the last look’s top paired with a nice pair of lighter wash jeans and an ankle boot.  Fun for casual friday, and great for going out to work afterwords.

    • Example why prices are so expensive for small designers….
       (I’ve not seen the show unfortunately but give a real lift experience) Fitted multi panel cotton print shirt from previous collection of mine. Fabric per shirt (approx 1.75m- around £14 British pounds wholesale – the print was gorgeous from a well known company and quality was excellent, washes amazingly well, buttons – cover made to order around 22 buttons per shirt approx €5, interfacing costs too, pattern grading cost varies as spread out among all garments produced, cost per shirt to have sewn locally- volume of garments too small to have sewn abroad- €45 per shirt, that’s just for sewing, not counting my time cutting and preparing the shirt or time on the initial design and sampling and studio running costs, transport, sales time/cost etc…) Just to break even on outsourced sewing and fabrics without any studio costs or my time covered we’re talking over €70 wholesale (+VAT) and with a mark up of 2.8 the shirt would have to be sold in a boutique for nearly €200 and I wouldn’t even have covered myself. The argument is not to have the custom buttons and get rid of the panelling detail (basic shirt no panelling and simple collar = €30 to be sewn up each) or even use a cheaper fabric. That brings the quality of the item down to high street level and even at my cheapest, I couldn’t compete with their prices manufacturing 20,000 at once in China. 

      I’ve more or less had to give up on those shirts even though they sold well but did get around it a bit by direct sales and, sewing pieces together in house for boutique sales instead of outsourcing but that’s not sustainable long term and I’m trying to be realistic…

      Hope that helps to explain why smaller local designers can be so expensive. 

      I love this designers clothes btw….

      • Anonymous

        Thank you!  I wanted through the whole episode to ask what was driving the price up into the stratosphere, but everyone seemed to take things for granted and not explain. 

      • Thanks for this! Very interesting.

      • Oh, I am in complete agreement, that’s why it’s so hard for new designers to establish their businesses. But I don’t think it should be an excuse in charging outlandish prices (which can also hurt you). Successful people learn and figure out how to thrive under constraints. That’s the challenge in starting a new business and it’s true for most industries, not just creative ones. Whether it’s a family-owned restaurant, a mom-and-pop store or a freelance designer, it’s very challenging to figure out suppliers and distributors, labor costs, material and equipment access and costs, turnaround time, quality of product vs. volume, etc, and be able to find a sustainable balance between all these factors. You’re going to have to make compromises, whether it’s in the quality of ingredients and materials, the volume of clients/customers, sourcing labor, and your profit margin.

        I personally am willing to pay more for small, local products and services, but rarely exponentially more.

        • Exactly. Couldn’t agree more. It’s all about finding the balance. I’m still trying to do that but am aware and getting there. If you can’t enjoy creative problem solving and getting your teeth into these issues you shouldn’t be self-employed!

           Then there’s the whole issue about the smaller your business, in any field, the less likely you are to be paid on time by the places you supply. That’s a completely different aspect of it but another factor that will drive up expenses and costs for small designers while we’re on the ‘why do these garments cost so much?’ question. 

      • Anonymous

        This is an interesting point, because I have felt for a long time that we have a false sense of “what stuff costs” based on cheaply made, mass produced imported items.  I am in a position to be a bit less price sensitive with my clothing purchases and I would actually prefer to support designers who take more care in the integrity of the manufacturing process.

        That said, I understand Nordstrom has a business to run and they know exactly what their customers are willing to pay, so the designer has to learn to work in those parameters.  I hope Loretta and Julia find a way to make it work because I would love to buy at least one of these pieces.

  • Joyce VG

    Good luck to her!  She makes beautiful clothes.

  • K

    I  dunno, those first 2 dresses look exactly like things some of the young girls in my office would wear. I don’t think they’re too out there.

  • She’s definitely got mad talent to back herself up, but I’m not really feeling the choice of fabric and color here. Few of those pieces look like they’re worth the hefty pricetag. And while I’d love to wear some of them, I also wouldn’t call any of it workwear.

  • Anonymous

    I loved every one of Julia’s pieces and can see them in the office and at evening events as well. As someone who works in the arts and has a regular schedule of evening events, Julia’s line would definitely fit my lifestyle. She’s got tremendous talent and a pretty good head on her shoulders. I wish her luck and hope to see her line in Nordstrom’s soon. 

  • Anonymous

    The average consumer, whether she earns a secretarial salary or is a CEO, really doesn’t care that buttons are horn, or that linings are silk or that something is made of cashmere vs wool. The most important things to her are fit, comfort and perceived value. Any designer who thinks otherwise is in for big trouble.

  • Anonymous

    The average consumer, whether she earns a secretarial salary or is a CEO, really doesn’t care that buttons are horn, or that linings are silk or that something is made of cashmere vs wool. The most important things to her are fit, comfort and perceived value. Any designer who thinks otherwise is in for big trouble.

  • Anonymous

    I could wear everything but the leather and the fuzzy jacket to my work place.  Couldn’t afford to, though.

  • I just caught this episode on re-run. I loved the clothes, but the $500 office blouse was a bit extreme.Maybe having to work in a real office (as she may have to at that price point) would bring her down to earth…

  • Anonymous