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Behind The Scenes

Anna Zeman and Aja Singer Decide Not to Play Doctor

What did Anna Zeman and Aja Singer want to be when they grew up? Doctors or fashion designers. Though they settled on the latter—creating the structured, suit-fueled line Alex & Eli—they still welcome the opportunity to work the left sides of their brains. “When we were starting the collection, we were drawing pictures of constellations and talking about working them into the seamwork of our blazers,” says Anna. So don’t be surprised if their future collections take an astro-, geo-, aero-, or biological turn, and, in the meantime, take in the stories of their scientific backgrounds and the geeked-out images that inspire them. Anna: “I grew up on a beach in the middle of nowhere—in Hansville, Washington. My father and my brothers are civil engineers. For my birthdays, my parents would get me biology books, and I would just love them. I went to the University of Washington, and, during my internships in college, I started to think that though I loved science, I didn’t necessarily love the people in the field. I just didn’t feel the passion. It was a sad realization—that maybe I was missing out on the creative side of things. My junior year, I made the decision: I said, ‘I’m not going to do biochemistry anymore.’ I had enough Spanish credits to graduate early, and I knew I wanted to go to Parsons.” Aja: “I’ve always been an artistic person, but I’ve always had an affinity for math and science, too. Solving a really difficult problem is very satisfying. I was on a full-blown med school track—taking courses where you worked with cadavers and stuff at McGill University. I really enjoyed it, but I was spending all my time memorizing. I had no time to devote to art and fashion, and I just felt like this whole part of my life was missing. So I finished the degree and applied to Parsons. I was the only one in my college program who didn’t go on to do something in the medical field.”The Alex & Eli duo created a bolo bow tie for Of a Kind! Clearly, you need to see it.
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Anna Zeman, Aja Singer, and their Special Buttons

Just thinking about how much work goes into starting a fashion line can make your head spin. Take, for example, sourcing the hardware. Anna Zeman and Aja Singer, of the immaculately tailored (but very downtown) line Alex & Eli, talk us through how they landed on their awesome custom buttons, which feature both a lion and a unicorn. Anna: Our first season, we said, “Let’s get all of these vintage buttons that no one else has!”Aja: There’s this one style that’s a little triangle—almost a guitar pick. We bought a bunch in that particular style. So now I have this 30-pound bag of buttons in my apartment.Anna: We started doing our custom buttons our second season. I’m always about custom—almost to a fault. I’ll be like, “Aja, we need custom pencils!”Aja: We have, like, a thousand pencils. I don’t even want to talk about it.Anna: So, we did some research and found a factory—Waterbury Button in Waterbury, Connecticut.Aja: They’re the oldest—I think probably pretty much the only—button mill left in the states.Anna: Most of their business comes from military buttons, for different countries. [Ed: According to the company’s website, “When General Ulysses S. Grant met General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse, both men wore Waterbury buttons on their chests.” Whoa.]Aja: They specialize in metal buttons with different finishes—like gunmetal and matte black.Anna: They have different presses that they used in the past, and so they were able to build off one of those to create the lion and unicorn design for us. It’s a small detail, but we think it’s so strong. Score the limited-edition bolo bow tie Anna and Aja made (with plenty of attention to detail) for Of a Kind—there are only 13 in the world.
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Four Ways Anna and Aja Jazz Up a Jacket

Aja points out the melton on Anna’s blazer. As Anna Zeman and Aja Singer quickly learned, suiting is a complicated thing—and for them, that just made the process of developing Alex & Eli even more exciting. Since they launched their very polished line in 2008, they’ve mastered fit and developed a special fondness for some jacket details that make their work really pop. What’s the ideal thing to wear with a crisp, structured blazer? The bolo bow tie (you read that right) that Anna and Aja made especially for Of a Kind. A loud, striped look from the Alex & Eli spring 2011 collection. Physician’s SleevesAnna: “Generally, on women’s blazers, you never find working buttons on the cuffs because you have to build a placket and then actually construct the buttonholes.”Aja: “Buttonholes are expensive, which is always amazing to me.”Anna: “We love to have excessive amounts of buttons.” MeltonAja: “The melton is the fabric on the underside of the collar, and for next fall season we did a bright red material.”Anna: “In men’s blazers, they often use moleskin, and we like playing with that piece because it’s something that people don’t do very often.” A fitted jacket and relaxed dress from the duo’s fall 2011 collection Notched LapelsAja: “There are lots of variations in the notch size, so we like to experiment with them—exaggerating them, making them really narrow and sharp.”Anna: “One of the littler versions is called the fishmouth. There are so many types.” Double VentsAnna: “Most women’s blazers don’t have double vents—and a lot of women don’t even open their vents. We get so offended.”
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