News & Runway

Behind the Seams at Carlos Miele: Closed Set with Julie Bensman

Ana Carolina Coelho

I recently found myself at the most romantic, magical wedding at a chateau 20 minutes outside of Paris. The reception was filled with well-dressed guests (half of which were French, natch) but there was one lady in particular who stole the show – and the dance floor. Slicked back hair, ruby red lips, sky-high heels, and the most gorgeous black fringe flapper dress with beaded embellished neckline.

Meet Ana Carolina Coelho, Head Designer at Carlos Miele (and one of my roommates that evening, as three danced-out wedding guests crashed into a tiny hotel room at the end of the evening). Carol, to whom friends refer her, had made quite the trek to Villiers, France, all the way from São Paulo where she lives and works. We had plenty of time to catch up while abroad where she indulged me with stories of Brazil and Carlos Miele designs.

Julie Bensman: Describe the career path to your current position.

Ana Carolina Coelho: I was born and grew up in Brazil. Right after high school, wanting to study abroad at a big college with a campus experience, I decided to go to Indiana University. I graduated with a Bachelors in Fashion Design, a second in Apparel Merchandising and an Associates degree in Costume Design. During my junior and senior years, I participated in two competitions for design students sponsored by the Bill Blass Foundation. I won both years, which then gave me an internship after graduation at the house of Bill Blass in New York.

So there I went, moved alone to NYC and after three months interning at Bill Blass, I was hired as a design assistant. I saw the doors revolve and worked there from 2005 to 2008, when the house was closing down. I swapped my Manhattan apartment with a French girl and moved to Paris, not sure what I was going to do. I registered myself in a language course and interned at an atelier of fabric manipulation where they did all sorts of things from laser cutting to hot fix machines, pleating to smocking.

When I came back to NYC in January of 2009, I got a call from someone at Isaac Mizrahi who was looking for a Textile R&D Manager. Even though it wasn't a design position, I took the job – after all, it was Isaac! It was great — he was so inspiring, amazing and, of course, demanding but every day I learned something new. I got promoted to Director and stayed until October 2010.

With the market and economy in Brazil exploding, I found an opportunity to come work in Brazil, learn more about the Brazilian market and its fashion industry. So I decided to quit all of it — the job, the apartment, and I packed my stuff and moved to São Paulo. I was hired right away to work for Carlos Miele. I've been here for about 20 months now.

Carlos Miele designs

JB: And what does your typical day look like at Carlos Miele?

ACC: Every day is a bit different! We have an in-house sample room and so I spend a lot of my day there with the patternmakers and seamstresses, working on draping and new developments. I come in the morning, check what they are working on, have fittings for about an hour and go upstairs to the office to do the rest of "desk work" — discussing issues with finished styles, presenting new samples for the commercial and planning committees, choosing and approving prints or trims, talking to overseas suppliers, and researching. That takes up the rest of my day. I work for about 12 hours almost every day; time flies and there are not enough hours in the day to finish it all.

JB: What would we be surprised to learn about working for a designer?

ACC: Everyone that works in the fashion industry knows this — the importance and the beauty of collective creative work. There is so much backstage work that most people are not aware of — you might be the greatest designer, but you need an awesome team to make it happen for you. A challenge for me is combining my ideas and skills and putting it in practice according to the face of the brand and what people will want to wear. My biggest triumph is that people like what I make and that they want to wear it. 

JB: Where do you find inspiration?

ACC: I have to admit I look at a lot of vintage clothing! When I lived in NYC, just walking around did so much for me. Especially now, I love searching for cool street shots — the hunt is exciting!

JB: who is the Carlos Miele customer?

ACC: She is a body-conscious, feminine, sensual, and confident woman who wants and can very well take bright vibrant colors and strong prints.

JB: How would you describe your own sense of style?

ACC: The way I dress depends a lot on the mood I’m in. Some people even describe me as a different character each day. However, I would say I tend towards a more conservative, grown-up style with a touch of masculine. Perhaps I could see myself in a lot of YSL, especially the late Pilatti stuff. I wear a lot of pants, pencil skirts, and blazers.

JB: Where do you see yourself professionally in five years?

Acc: Back in NYC, working on my own label, designing evening and bridal wear.