AN EVENING WITH RETROFÊTE'S OHAD SEROYA
December 20, 2022
Walking into the auditorium, the anticipation was almost tangible. Young, eager, fashion-idolizing students clamored around me to hear and speak with co-founder, CEO, and designer of Retrofête, Ohad Seroya. The seats began to fill, and a buzz of excitement hung in the air. Then, proceeding an illustrious introduction, out walked Seabass Immomen, F@B’s host for the evening, and Seroya; a vision in sandy beige pieces from his brand, Seroya, accessorized with gold jewelry and a palpable aura of a certain je ne sais quoi.
Ohad Seroya was born and raised in Israel. His mother, who could not afford a babysitter, took Seroya and his siblings to her work cleaning people’s houses. This first exposed Seroya to the world of fashion when he saw designer pieces in the houses his mother cleaned, but his infatuation sparked when he saw his mother transform from a cleaning lady at work to what he described “a fashion icon” when she went out. Derived from his mother’s influence, Seroya’s creations have “always been about the woman and dressing up”. So, at 16 Seroya began his fashion journey working in a boutique. He would often thrift and buy vintage pieces only to distress, cut, and rearrange them into his own style, or as he would say fulfilling his constant need to “upgrade and elevate his wardrobe”. These upgrades, however, did not go unnoticed. Soon enough, customers at the boutique noticed Seroya wearing clothes they had never seen before. Customers began to wonder where this teenager had obtained such novel pieces only to find out they were his own designs. People started to buy his clothes, and as the years quickly progressed, Seroya opened his own boutique in Tel Aviv called The Brunch. While the boutique never took off, it offered Seroya an incredible opportunity to learn and gain inspiration. His time there was highlighted by “one of the biggest celebrities in Israel seen wearing one of the pieces [he] had shown”. This gave him a belief and confidence in himself that brought him to New York City where he first opened his first showroom, Mint, and where he has just opened a Retrofête store in SoHo. Seroya attributes his success to his drive, energy, and his willingness to try new things in new places. His ability to read the client and sell them the products they want displays his business savvy. Although, his capacity to leverage human connection is perhaps what sets him apart from the rest– that and Mint’s signature, “life changing” drink of mint tea. With the blooming success of the Mint Showroom, Seroya soon opened Retrofête, and the party was just getting started.
Retreofête pieces designed by Seroya are a fusion of Gatsby-worthy glamor and a rhythmic raunchiness nostalgic of Studio 54 that result in an elegant twist on modern party-chic. This signature vibe, as Seroya calls it, is all about “party… It’s a celebration of confidence, sexiness… it’s about [designing] something that a woman will feel energetic wearing”. Indeed, his infamous Gabrielle Dress has skyrocketed and been seen on some of fashion’s most elite: Jennifer Lopez, Heidi Klum, Paris Hilton, and Taylor Swift. While Seroya has “always been a big, big fan of the party”, he discusses how the party changes, and how he and Retrofête adapt:
“Studio 54 is not the vibe anymore… no disco balls. You have to adjust in fashion; you cannot stay in one place. For instance the market doesn’t want to wear disco high [rise jeans] it wants to wear 90s low [rise jeans]. It’s [about] seeing what the market wants, following it, and bringing in your own vibe. I would love to go towards the 80s vibe and sequins, but so many people are not shopping sequins. At the end of our [recent] shows and collections, we ran up the market reports to find that sequins had gone down by 60%. So we have to change.”
After the talk, I had the extraordinary privilege of speaking with the man of the hour, only to find that he is as charming and good natured as he is quick-witted, vibrant, and captivating. While the majority of the questions I might have had were previously discussed during the talk, there were a couple query’s I couldn’t quite quash.
CS: You say you take a lot of inspiration from vintage and looking through older collections. There seems to be elements of Studio 54 and Gatsby-like glamor. Is there a particular era that you cultivate most of your inspiration from?
OS: So when we opened Retrofête, it was all about Studio 54 but now the theme has shifted to the 90s– Sex and the City, Tom Ford, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana. This is the vibe now… I was a big fan of Sex and the City, so it’s exactly where we are going now. 90s Tom Ford and Gucci were some of the best fashion shows, and this is where we are getting our inspiration and where we are going with the brand. We’re in a different story, a [different] vibe. Today Retrofête isn’t just about sequins, it’s about silks, denims, it’s about suiting. It’s still a party, it’s still a vibe, but we have to change and shift.
CS: Do you have a personal favorite of the designs or collections you have created?
OS: I feel like there are so many. The naked dress we did last season– the inspiration was Britney Spears in Toxic. I said this is the vibe now and people were like… what?? Our dress is not an exact copy but it’s the same vibe. And it’s one of my favorites and today it is still a top seller. Someone posted on TikTok and said “isn’t it weird that Retrofête looks like Toxic Britney Spears?” and I was [outed]. This is one of my favorite items because many girls are leaning away from very conservative and [starting] to wear sheer with just underwear and a bra, so I say we don’t have to worry about lining anymore.
CS: Britney Spears you say? I can see now your shift to the 90s– Britney Spears is a 90s icon, and Toxic is most definitely of the Retrofête vibe. Do you draw inspiration from other designers? Perhaps some from Paris in October?
OS: A designer will always look at other designers. I like the challenge… You have to design roughly six months ahead. So when we were designing for [this] fall– which we are showing next month– it was [originally] inspired by The Little Mermaid. But then a lot of the [spring summer] collections were resemblant of Little Mermaid, so I was stuck with what do I do now? I do look at other designers, I do take inspiration from them and they take inspiration from us. This is what is beautiful about fashion: it’s a circle. You take something and make it your own, [yet] we do not copy which is very important. We look at them and they look at us, and with that we are creating that beautiful product. For designers it is very important to see what the market wants. Chase, commercial, uniqueness, we follow what the market desires. She wants sexy we make sexy. She wants corporate we make corporate.
With those three questions, I shook Seroya’s hand, received a “thank you very much, darling”, and bid goodnight. There is something simply different about Ohad Seroya and his creations for Retrofête; perhaps it is that aforementioned je ne sais quoi or, to put it in Seroyan terms, a vibe. Whatever it may be, Seroya weaves this x-factor into his decadent pieces which transform a woman into her sexiest, most confident version of herself not through innate change, but by illuminating the party within her.
*All quotes taken from F@B’s Speaker Series with Ohad Seroya and a personal interview.