Randi Rahm, couturier to the stars, is an artist in every sense of the word. A trained concert pianist and art historian, she applies those skills to her art of designing and making clothes. And after visiting her two-story midtown studio, it’s hard to argue that Rahm does anything but create bedazzled masterpieces.
“I consider what I do art and I surround myself with artists whether they be musicians or painters or photographers,” says Rahm. “I just express my art through fashion.”
A born and raised New Yorker, Rahm’s couture career had modest beginnings. While working towards her music degree at Hofstra University, Rahm happened to be shopping in Long Island with her son. The storeowner took notice of a quilt that Rahm had made on the baby carriage and asked her if she could make some to be sold in the shop. Rahm obliged and after noticing her eye for design, the store was soon asking her to make girls’ dresses as well. Initially, the owner complained that the dresses were beautiful but weren’t made well, so Rahm took one home and deconstructed it, intent on learning the ins and outs of dressmaking.
“I had made costumes for camp and school plays,” says Rahm. “But I’ve never taken a lesson, it’s always come naturally to me.” Soon, Rahm had her own section in the shop, making dresses by hand for young girls. She had hit upon a goldmine, designing for the ‘tween’ age that most designers steer clear of. Rahm became known in the business as the “Awkward Age Couturier” and grew her business based on that age group.
Rahm literally built her business from the ground up. “My bible was the Yellow Pages,” she says. “If I needed lace, I would go down the page and call up everyone that sold lace and look for the best price.” Rahm believes that it’s these New York street smarts that have helped her thrive in such a cutthroat industry. “Most designers don’t have to learn the business, they only care about the art of designing,” she says.
Rahm’s hard work paid off and her business continued to grow outside of the adolescent market. At a fitting with one of her young clients, Rahm was asked by the girl’s mother if she could make the same dress for her. Rahm agreed and was soon designing dresses for women of all ages in her signature style.
For many years, Rahm primarily did custom design work for her clients and sold pieces in luxury boutiques and upscale department stores like Bergdorf Goodman’s. “I’m by word of mouth only because if you’re good, people will seek you out,” says Rahm. And that’s exactly what people did.
Rahm first broke into the industry of dressing major celebrities in 2003 when she was invited by jeweler Stefan Hafner to set up shop in his Oscar suite where celebrities cruise before the big event in search of last minute jewels or accessories. Since the suites are generally made up of jewelers, Rahm’s dresses were a novelty among celebrities that passed through, including Sharon Stone who immediately started trying them on.
Inspired by all of the bling that surrounded her in the suites, Rahm decided to team up with the National Color Diamond Association to create dresses for the 76th Annual Academy Awards the following year. The end results were three gowns encrusted with over 38,000 diamonds. One dress, worth a reported $2.5 million, ended up on E! News host Maria Menunos making all the best-dressed lists the following day and creating some serious buzz.
Since then, Rahm’s dresses have made it on to celebrities from Catherine Zeta-Jones to Edie Falco at the 2007 Emmy Awards, to Carrie Underwood at the Country Music Awards to Vivica A. Fox the night she first stepped out with 50 Cent. Rahm also began designing a bridal line in what seemed like a natural progression of her talents given her knack for exquisite beadwork and flourishes.
Though Rahm has become famous for dressing celebrities, she still has a large number of clients that she creates custom pieces for, from Bat Mitzvah dresses to fur stoles to business suits. At a fitting, one particular client-who to date has ordered over 100 custom Randi Rahm pieces-is being dressed in a wool shift dress with laser cut flower details and a matching pinstripe jacket. “I’m 61 years old and I don’t want to look like my daughter,” she says. “Randi’s clothes make me look stylish and tailored but still young.”
In true couture form, all of Rahm’s dresses are still sewn and beaded by hand in her studio. And though couture is fashion’s highest art form, Rahm believes that her clothes can be worn by every woman. “Even my evening gowns can be worn X amount of times then cut down and worn again with a t-shirt,” says Rahm.
Each Randi Rahm piece is surely an investment but Rahm makes it worth the price, taking the time to maintain her clients’ clothes over time. So if a dress needs to be hemmed or a piece of beadwork redone, Rahm doesn’t hesitate. “Cemeteries and I have this in common: perpetual care,” she says.
Over the years, Rahm has become known for several styles of dresses that have had success time and time again including the flower power dress as seen on Edie Falco, the gypsy dress, a cross between patchwork and paisley done entirely in beads, and her diamond dress that has been redone in crystals for everyone from Mariah Carey to Beyonce. Rahm’s signature styles have proved that you don’t have to be a slave to fashion to have success in the industry. “People should be fashion conscious, not fashion victims,” says Rahm. “You can add trendy pieces to your wardrobe but it should always reflect who you are.”
Woman Around Town’s Six Questions
Favorite Place to Eat: I’m a foodie so it really depends on the day but my some of my favorites are my son’s restaurant, Boqueria, 171 Spring Street, in SoHo, for tapas, Scalinatella, 201 East 61st Street, for Italian and Norma’s, in the Le Parker Meridien Hotel, 119 West 56th Street, for breakfast.
Favorite Place to Shop: Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik, and Christian Louboutin.
Favorite New York Sight: When I’m coming home from out of town and driving into the tunnel, I see that New York skyline and think, “I’m home.”
Favorite New York Moment: My sister and I getting dressed up and going to Lincoln Center when it first opened.
What You Love About New York: The electricity that I feed off of. It’s that old cliché: the city that never sleeps.
What You Hate About New York: Nothing!