David Ferron is back in the Saddle again
By Richard L. Gaw
To David Ferron, who returned to Chester County to open David Ferron Unionville Saddle this past spring after seven years in the New York fashion industry, the love story that connects a woman to a garment she adores should be a personal one.
Too often, however, the process of finding that connection takes women through the shopper's jungle of high-end department stores, thrusting them into the temporary maze of strewn-about fabrics, fast-talking salespeople, the hollow realization that everything available on the racks have been tailored to fit the torso of a 12-year-old girl, the drowning in the swirl of the concept-driven design, and beyond that, being told the seven ugly words that no woman ever wants to hear.
We don't have it in your size.
Juxtaposed against this marketplace hurricane, David Ferron Unionville Saddle is the calming eye.
“Women are frustrated by how they are being treated,” Ferron said recently from his studio in the heart of Unionville. “There's an entire demographic of women who feel ignored when they visit a store. It's off-the-rack and it doesn't address a woman's fit issues and proportions.
“My concept of designing custom clothing for women – as well as made-to-measure tailored shirts for men – is inspired by people and their stories. I am creating a one-on-one, warm experience for people. It's hands-on, and it's about spending time getting to know my clients. They're also going to know that what we make just for them is going to fit them, and that it will be made specifically for what they, the client, wants.”
To fully engage the arc of life and work experience that led Ferron to open David Ferron Unionville Saddle is to begin here, in Chester County, where he was born 29 years ago. The gift that he has as a dressmaker and clothing designer was likely ignited by a boyhood spent watching his parents work; his father Dave is a carpenter and his mother Ann, an artist, is also an art teacher at Patton Middle School. From an early age, the young Ferron's artistic portfolio grew, with a focus on watercolors and oil paintings, but by the time he entered Unionville High School, the paintings were joined by the portraits he was making of fashion models in art classes.
Somewhere between the early sketches and the full-fledged work that would take him to one of the most prestigious schools of fashion design in the world, Ferron played football. Joining his brother, Chris, Ferron was a two-way fullback and middle linebacker for head coach Pat Clark's Indian teams of the mid-2000s. In his junior year, he chipped the back quarter of a bone in his shoulder, and later had surgery that required the insertion of two screws into his shoulder.
“They gave me the ball after months of muscle rehab, because they wanted four yards on the ground, and I gave it to them,” Ferron said. “By the end of the game, I was in so much pain that when I got back home that night, I went upstairs in my parents' house and just started crying. The next week the MRI came back, and it revealed a bone fracture, so all of the rehabbing had nothing to do at all with getting me healthy again.”
Ferron rehabbed his shoulder the summer before his senior year, but during a two-a-day practice before the season, he broke his arm during a tackling drill. The thought of sitting on the sidelines in a cast and not being able to participate was torturous for Ferron. His parents and coaches intervened, and encouraged him to give up football and instead, concentrate on developing his talents as an artist.
Ferron agreed that it was the right decision, so while his former teammates were hitting tackling dummies and doing endless drills and wind sprints, Ferron and his friend Amelia met at her home, where one of his skills met what would become his life's direction.
“We began to drape clothes on an old dress form, using cheap fabric, and a lot of the designs we were making weren't really any good, but it showed me how to work with material and fabric around the body,” he said. “Those experiences inspired me to consider to look into schools that offered fashion design.”
Ferron, who graduated from Unionville High School in 2007, was accepted at all of the finest fashion and design schools in the nation – the Rhode Island School of Design, The Art Institute of Boston and Savannah College of Art & Design, among them – but ultimately, he chose to attend Parsons the New School of Art and Design, in New York City.
“I didn't go into design because I liked to shop for clothes,” he said. “I went into design because I liked to make things, and it really worked in my favor, because whatever the class at Parsons was, I took it very seriously and focused on the craft of the class I was taking.
“I wanted to be Number One the entire time. It goes back to having a competitive side through athletics. I wanted to get 'As' at a school where they only gave out 'Cs.'”
At Parsons, Ferron became obsessed with the meticulous nature of designing clothes that were both experimental and wearable. In between classes, he absorbed everything he could about the industry; he worked for fashion designers; created hand sketches for new styles; organized collections; and attended fabric trade shows. During a summer internship, Ferron spent most of it at a copy machine, duplicating images that would be sent to designers who were in need of fresh ideas. As he watched the copies slide out from the machine, Ferron came to the realization that the entire direction of the fashion industry was modeled on what came before it – making copies from copies.
Ferron called his senior thesis at Parsons “Copy Me,” in a creative nod to his summer internship experience.
“Its concept was based on asking what happens if the copier begins to run out of ink, or what colors would come out if you put a garment or a person in the machine,” Ferron said.
His teachers encouraged him to keep pushing himself on “Copy Me.” He went through three rounds of judging, and on the last round, Ferron sat across some of the largest names in the New York fashion industry – buyers, editors, and entire panel of experts – who closely examined his project.
At the school's end-of-the-year gala at Chelsea Piers in New York City in 2011, Ferron was selected as Parsons' Womenswear Designer of the Year
“I sat between two of my professors, and along side some of my best friends,” Ferron said. “It was beauty queen moment, and my professor and best friends told me to stop crying and get up to the podium. It was live streamed so my family was watching from home.”
It led to a seven-year career in the New York City fashion industry, which included a position as assistant designer at Bibhu Mohapatra, and nearly three years as a design assistant with Thomas Maier, a luxury clothing designer, who is the creative director at Bottega Veneta in Italy.
“What I learned from Thomas Maier is that the clothes should speak for themselves,” Ferron said. “There is so much in the idea of the celebrity fashion designer, and how people are buying clothes based on celebrity endorsement, and that was the exact opposite of Mr. Maier. He taught me that it doesn't necessarily need to be done that way.”
During Christmas vacation last year, Ferron and his mother drove through Unionville to admire the renovation work that Ferron's father had done to the interior of the building. The place, he noticed, was for rent, and within a month, Ferron had left New York City and come back home, with an idea to open his own dressmaking and tailoring business in the abandoned building – and working from one single principle.
“One of the things I had when I started this concept is that the body is not the problem – it's the clothes,” he said. “Clothes can be made and tailored, but bodies are bodies. People are so used to clothes not fitting them well, that they assume that they're the problem. I tell my clients, 'We are going to fit this garment three times before we make it.' It allows us to address all of these issues every step of the way, and at each step, it gets better.
“It's establishing that trust in believing that we're going to make something beautiful, together, in a completely different type of experience.”
For Ferron, the steps to a finished product begin with consultation with the client and early sketches. They advance to a selection of the fabric, then to the selection of drape, pattern and fitting and finally, the creation of the final garment.
“I like to think that I am bringing a level of craftsmanship and attention to detail that's not necessarily being seen in this area – silhouettes and cuts that you can't find anywhere else. If I had this exact shop in Brooklyn, it wouldn't work, because the market is over saturated. But here, it's a different concept.”
Ferron accepts photographs as a starting point, but he prefers to work from the energy of ideas that is shared between client and designer.
“My clients often ask for things they've already seen, and then I steer them in another direction,” he said. “I have clients that have brought in photographs, and I say, 'We can do something much better than that.' It doesn't make sense for me to work on a custom piece if I know the client can just buy what's in the photograph. I like to create clothing that is one of a kind.”
Recently, a woman worked with Ferron to create a personalized top and pants for her to wear to the upcoming wedding of her grandson.
“Before her first fitting, she told me that could not sleep the night before,” Ferron said. “I told her, 'Me, too. ' I was a wreck. If I miscalculate, then it's on me. Luckily, the first fitting went well, and each time we fit, it got better and better, and when she walked out with the finished pieces, she was over the moon.
“It comes down to working through the process with someone, and it's allowing me to tell that grandmother that I want to make something cool for her. It has allowed me to tell her, 'You may be the grandmother of the groom, but I want to make you the coolest woman in the room.'”