Idaho-Raised Fashionista Is Designing Life On Her Own Terms

By Dana Oland
The Idaho Statesman.

Bellevue-raised fashion designer Ryan Roche took a huge step this week in the high-powered fashion world as runner-up in the coveted Council of Fashion Designers of America / Vogue Fashion Fund Awards.

The awards were announced at a banquet and fashion event Tuesday in New York.

“For a young designer, it’s like winning an Oscar,” Roche, 36, said Wednesday from her home in Hurley, a hamlet in upstate New York. “I really feel like I’ve arrived in a really big way, and it all feels real now. To be endorsed by Vogue and the Council of Fashion Designers of America is pretty amazing.”

Roche received a $100,000 cash award for her namesake business, Ryan Roche, and a yearlong mentorship with an established American designer. That part is still in the works.

She will develop five designs for J. Crew, as will fellow runner-up Eva Zuckerman of Eva Fehren, an American jewelry designer, and first-prize winner Paul Andrew, a British shoe designer.

Those should be in stores in spring 2015.

You can see Roche’s work in a two-page spread in this month’s Vogue. You also can relive her past four months on “The Fashion Fund,” a TV series on the Ovation channel that documented the competition for the CFDA/Vogue awards.

Roche grew up far from the runways of New York. Her mom, Laurie Lindsey, is an avid seamstress, and her grandmother, Iris Thomas, a knitter.

“I remember anytime we would go to the mall, my mom would always say, ‘Don’t buy that. We can make it so much better,’ ” she said.

Roche’s biggest influence was her great-grandmother Rita Fator Kyes, whom Roche and her sisters called Mor Mor Rita (mormor is Swedish for grandmother.)

Sister Shelly Lindsey has a bakery in Ketchum, and sister Melisa James has a home decor store in Boise.

Kyes was a milliner in the 1920s who had a huge knitting machine that took over a room in her house.

That left an impression. Roche now creates a line of elegantly casual shawls, caps, sweaters and dresses made of dyed cashmere that are manufactured through a women’s cooperative in Nepal.

You can find her designs in independent boutiques around the world. That might change, because the Vogue awards tend to launch designers into mass appeal. That’s what the award did for Phillip Lim and Alexander Wang, whose fashions are available at Nordstrom and H&M.

Roche studied fashion design at San Francisco’s Academy of Art. She left in 2000 before graduating after suffering a broken heart.

“I moved to New York City to get away,” she said.

There she met her husband, Garrett. She raised their first two children while launching her first fashion venture, a children’s clothing store and line called Mor Mor Rita, a favorite of actress Maggie Gyllenhaal.

She launched her current line after moving to upstate New York in 2006. Today she works from her studio in a renovated barn on the property there.

It’s off the beaten path from the fashion industry — enough so that New York Times fashion editor Vanessa Friedman described Roche as a “dark horse.”

Andrew, who took home the top $300,000 prize, spent 15 years at design houses such as Donna Karan and Alexander McQueen.

“Although I’ve been successful, I’m still unknown,” Roche said. “I’m not living in New York City. I’m doing things on my terms.”

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