Friday, November 6, 2015

An Interview with Erika Neumayer of Rare Dirndl

Special post today, readers! As you know, I can back from Europe with a bit of a dirndl bug. I wrote about the obsession, the boning, the trim, the wearability, and more. (As a side note, I'm still planning my own dirndl project, but I'm a but intimidated to get started!) Through my posts, I became acquainted with the work of Erika Neumayer, who owns the company Rare Dirndl. The unique thing about this company is that it's based right here in the USA, and all the dirndls are made in Chicago. I was so intrigued by all this that I had to ask Erika some questions! All photos are courtesy of Erika and you can learn more about the pieces at Rare Dirndl. 

Tell us a little about what you do and how you got into it. 
I am the owner and designer of Rare Dirndl, which is a line of traditional German style clothing and accessories that are fresh, modern and edgy. On a weekly basis I do everything from sewing the first samples to advertising, social media, shipping online orders and finding/sourcing new products and fabrics that my customer would love!  
I grew up in the German community in Chicago, dancing with the American Aid Society of German Descendants since the age of 4 and when I graduated from Dominican University with my degree in Apparel Design, I was underwhelmed with the dirndl selection available in the US. At the time I was seeing German designers creating new and modern designs and the american market was stale to say the least. So in 2010, I decided to do something about it! I started Rare Dirndl (in my parents dining room and living room... now I have my own space).

How did you learn to make dirndls? Do you consider your construction techniques to be very traditional? 

I pretty much taught myself. In 2007, the dance group traveled to Europe and while I was there I picked up a couple pattern books and bought myself a high end dirndl. With those two things as a base, I started to make pattern edits and tried to mimic the construction of my Kr├╝ger dirndl. Rare Dirndls come in the traditional midi length (approximately 26" from the waist to the hem) as well as a mini (20"). The side seams are also exposed which is very common in dirndl construction to make them easy to alter for that perfect fit. Another thing that is "traditional dirndl" about the construction is the use of piping, which I also utilize.

Your line is produced in Chicago. Do you work with a factory? How did you learn how to navigate the world of fashion production? Was it difficult to find a place that could make the pieces you designed? 
I work with a pattern-maker, digitizer & grader, cutter, small manufacturer, and seamstress... all different people. It is tricky to keep track of everything, but this process allows me to make the garments in small quantities, (4-10 pieces per style) and add the subtle and important details to the dirndls. There are a few places in the city that can help with the production process, but I learned about all my sources through word of mouth. It took about 3 years to get everything coordinated and working smoothly.

We had a big discussion here about dirndls and wearability. Do you have customers who wear dirndls on an everyday basis or is it for Octoberfest/special occasions? How often do you wear a dirndl? 
Most of my customers have more than 1 dirndl and have a lot of places to wear their dirndls, but they are usually for special occasions. For example a picnic for their german club or wedding would be a place they'd wear their dirndl too in addition to Oktoberfests. Or if they're going to a German restaurant they might wear their dirndl, but I don't know anyone that wears a dirndl on an everyday basis. I would say that I wear a dirndl once a week May-September and then sporadically throughout the rest of the year... so much more than your average person!
What do you think the most important construction features are on a dirndl? 
I think the most important thing is bodice structure/fit and the detailing is also very important. But that could be anything from a ribbon lace up front to hand pleated trimming, to spikes and fur (in my case ;-). The attention to detail is what makes a dirndl so extraordinary! 

What do you use provide structure to the bodice? Interfacing? Boning? Please share! 
Most dirndls have a layer of woven fusible interfacing to give the bodice more strength (the suede and heavier fabrics don't need it). All bridal dirndls have a layer fusible interfacing. I also use Rigiline boning sewn into the center front seam, over the zipper. This has proven to be a very important detail that helps tremendously with fit. These are some of the reasons well made dirndls are so expensive (the bargain one on amazon won't have these kind of details). 

Any upcoming projects or lines you'd like to tell us about? 

I'm launching my first holiday collection this year and I'm very excited about it. It's a very high-end mini collection inspired by legend of Krampus. I utilize very unusual textiles like alligator skin vinyl, fur with spikes, suede, and woven ribbon lace. We just had the photo shoot a few weeks ago and the pieces are in production right now! I'm also working on new accessories for the holiday season like a hoodie, scarf, hat, gloves etc. These are more for everyday. My customers love the idea of showing off their heritage all year long even when they can't wear their dirndl. 

Forthcoming Krampus collection look
A big thank you to Erika of Rare Dirndl for agreeing to this interview! I hope you've enjoyed this little glimpse into a small American dirndl company.


  1. These are some of the cutest designs. Although, of course, they would not be something I'd wear... I just enjoy looking at them. Great post.

  2. I own one of Erika's designs: the incredibly versatile In Bloom dirndl. It's my favorite outfit. I can change the look by changing the apron and ribbon. As far as wearability goes, well I wore it last night out to an oyster bar to hear a friend's band play. Life's too short to care what others think, but the vast majority of comments I get are positive. I love my Rare Dirndl so much, I just bought another one. :)


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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