DESIGNER: Lizzie Owens
LOCATION: New York City
Lizzie Owens seems a little uncomfortable in her shoes when she enters Roberta’s, an out of the way restaurant in Brooklyn. A slender, six-foot sandy-blonde, her brand new Prada wedges, a rare big-ticket indulgence, push her up to a willowy six feet five inches. Alternately sure-footed and nervous, Owens is slowly coming into womanhood, confessing that at age 30, she’s just learning how to cook more than a salad, and only recently began dressing like a lady. A reserved tomboy from Salt Lake City, Owens is, oddly enough, finding a feminine balance at the same moment she’s stepping into her own, designing a line of men’s clothing called Highland.
Before Highland, she spent four years sketching expensive knitwear for TSE after graduating from RISD with a degree in women’s apparel. But true to her art school roots, she quit TSE to couch surf across Los Angeles and create costumes for MGMT. After two years in LA, Owens was approached by her cousin Cramer Tolboe and family friend Mike Franks to design a menswear line. Tolboe and Franks had business experience in fashion wholesaling, but needed creative talent. With few full-time job prospects, Owens jumped at the opportunity.
As a woman working with two guys and making men’s clothes, Owens grapples with her fair share of doubts. “Is my perspective valid as a woman?” she asks. “I question myself because I’m ultimately not the person wearing it.” Highland’s growing pains have occasionally led to creative disagreements with her business partners, the trio’s vaguely delineated roles initially leading to ego-driven head butting. “It was about isolating who I am as a designer,” Owens says. “Over time, I’ve just realized how much an idea gets weakened by three people coming to one conclusion.” Owens has started to put her foot down, asserting her role as the head designer, and Highland has grown around her vision.
In just three seasons of designing the collection, Owens has covered much ground. The first was a bright re-imagining of her parent’s old Patagonia camping gear. Then she channeled the outsized fantasy world of MGMT into separates printed with Aztec imagery and shirts patterned with old maps. And finally, this season, she gets at something a little closer to her utilitarian ideal with button-downs, corduroy parkas and loose trousers—unfussy staples that retain a sophomoric charm. Each collection further distills Owens’ notion of the “Highland guy,” someone unafraid to wear color, unconcerned with trends and willing to invest in a durable wardrobe. In short, it’s how she would dress if she were a boy. “I’m not trying to sell to just whoever I can, I’m trying to find the right fit. It feels more like me.” Before she heads back to work, a waitress pops over to compliment Owens’ new shoes that she spotted across the room. Owens, still fighting sheepishness, stretches out her foot and accepts the praise.