Kathryn Sukey has been designing clothes since she was old enough to choose her own outfits. But it was when she moved to her husband’s hometown of New York City that her dream of pursuing a career in fashion began to take shape. After working her way up through the designer and ready-to-wear ranks, she happened upon the opportunity of a lifetime: to be the lead designer at Draper James and work side-by-side with the brand’s creator, Reese Witherspoon.
Beyond refreshing the seasonal releases at the Draper James brick-and-mortar boutiques and online, Kathryn recently created the Draper James RSVP line at Kohl’s, partnered with Fera on a chic skiwear collaboration, and launched the first-ever Draper James shoe collection. We talked with Kathryn about her impressive fashion background and how it steers the accessible, effortless Draper James style that we love here in the South.
Tell me a bit about your younger years — were you always trendy and creative?
My mother taught me to sew when I was eight, and as a teenager, I loved creating a custom wardrobe for myself by combing thrift shops and then deconstructing and reconstructing my amazing finds.
When did you know you wanted to make design your career?
I met my husband when we were undergraduate students at McGill in Montreal. He is from NYC, so as we became more serious and moved to New York together after graduation, my dream of becoming a designer became a reality.
How did your role at Draper James come about?
I had heard that Draper James was looking for a new head of design to help take the brand in a more commercial direction. I was the Senior Director of handbags and accessories at Kate Spade New York at the time, but I started my career in RTW (ready-to-wear). I thought it would be incredible to combine my entire background into one role, so I threw my name into the ring. After a series of design projects and interviews, it became more and more clear to me that this was the opportunity of a lifetime!
What’s the most significant difference between your work in NYC fashion and the more Southern styles of Draper James?
I have been a brand-builder my whole career, so getting to know the Draper James brand identity through Reese’s eyes was essential. She and I often speak about what Draper James means to the retail landscape and, more importantly, what it means to our customers. Always staying true to our brand ethos is key: classic feminine polish.
RELATED: 3 Southern Brands Owned By Sisters
What have you learned working with Reese Witherspoon?
Being present in every role, intentional in every opinion, and remaining true to yourself — those are the secrets to success.
What’s a common misconception that people have about your job?
That it’s glamorous day and night! Design takes a lot of hard work, strategy, and humility. The glamour is, of course, part of it all, but the hard work and dedication have to come first.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, and from whom?
Look good, feel good, do good! This has always been my approach to life and career, and then I came to find out after I joined Draper James that Reese’s mother and grandmother instilled in her these same values.
Besides faith, family and friends, name three things you couldn’t live without?
Delicious food, belly laughs, and self-confidence!
And one final “lightning round” of questions:
Last best meal?
Grouper tacos and margaritas in Boca Grande
Current closet staple you can’t stop wearing?
Dresses … always and forever dresses!
Favorite hidden gem in New York City?
The conservatory garden in Central Park — I love going there after school drop-off when it feels like I have the whole garden to myself.
Favorite boutique, beyond Draper James?
Don’t make me choose!
What’s on your bedside table?
I love a calm, clutter-free bedroom, so all I’ve got is my favorite Hay design table lamp, a rotating stack of books, and the Sicilian tile I bought on my honeymoon that I made into a water glass coaster.
Go-to birthday present (to give)?
Draper James pajamas and Tatcha skincare starter sets.
Thank you, Kathryn, for chatting with us, and thanks to Draper James for supplying the fabulous photos.
To read about more inspiring FACES of the South, visit our archives HERE!