New York Fashion Week: Five Questions with Rachel Roy

From fashion intern to fashion mogul, designer Rachel Roy has set herself apart with her brand of polished, uptown chic. Here, she opens up to TIME about pattern mixing, politics and guilty pleasures

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You were at the Democratic National Convention last week. Who do you think throws a better party—the political crowd or the fashion crowd?
Ooh, I like both! A very close friend of mine actually works for the Obama campaign, and I dress her all the time. I’ve been to the headquarters in Chicago with, actually, the fashion crowd—I went with [Vogue editor in chief] Anna Wintour and other Council of Fashion Designers of America designers. We toured the headquarters in Chicago, so it was fashion meets politics. It’s one and the same; it’s just, where is your passion? But I feel that politics and fashion really go hand in hand.

What inspired you when you were creating this collection?
Spring 2013 really started from the idea of mixing things that were quite different. There’s a print that is a combination of birds in flight and skulls, which really interested me, and the idea that you can take things that are so different and combine them and mix them in a very beautiful way.

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Your brother is also a film curator at MoMA. Were you raised in a very creative environment?
My mother has worked the same job for almost 40 years, as a computer programmer. She’s not a dresser, she’s not into fashion—I think the first time she’s ever gotten a manicure was a few years ago when I made her. My father has three jobs: he is a professor of sociology at a college, he’s a carpenter and he’s also a nurse in a psych ward. So mentally, he’s quite creative. But it’s interesting—he’s an Indian immigrant, so we were both pushed to work.

You started your career as an intern at Rocawear. What advice would you give to other young aspiring designers?
Definitely intern, because learning what you don’t like is really, really vital, and knowing eventually what you do like. If you want to be a designer, you should take classes in merchandising. You should take classes in the business of it. Or, if you don’t want to do that, you have to partner with someone that can balance that side of you. You can’t have one without the other, unless you just want to have a hobby. I would also say, be the first to arrive and the last to leave. Know your limits—we’re not all great at everything. So if your talent is sketching, it’s okay if you don’t know how to sew. Or if you’re a really good seamstress and you don’t know how to cut a pattern.

You’ve previously been a guest judge on Project Runway. Are you a fan of reality television? Do you have any guilty pleasure shows?
I am! Because I work such long hours, there are many different ways I like to mind-meld. One of them is reality T.V., and I do have favorites. I have a 12-year-old, so she might want to watch Honey Boo Boo, which she introduced me to this weekend. A compromise would be Hollywood Exes.

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