When the pandemic upended everything in March 2020, designer Alvin Valley rode shock waves of shutdowns and canceled orders before leaving Manhattan to regroup at his Long Island home. For a moment, it was a difficult time to be the “King of Pants,” a moniker that evolved from the title “Lord of the Pants,” which he earned in 2001 when his Classic 111 pant became the must-have piece in every stylish woman’s wardrobe. But last spring, as people spent more time nesting than socializing, joggers and yoga pants seemed to become de rigueur.
Or were they?
Valley started thinking about who his customer truly is, coming to the conclusion that she is “a hypersocial woman who needs that constant entertainment of being in front of people.” She would not be an athleisure-wearing hermit forever. If anything, she would change the way she entertained—and she’d still need something great to wear.
“I went to the Hamptons and signed a lease right away on a store,” Valley says. “I built it up in two or three weeks, and clients started coming around. It was word of mouth, just quietly done, and it was a success. We started getting data from our clients about where they’d be going next, and they told us Miami and Palm Beach. I knew we needed to go there too, because when they got there, they were not going to shop at a big store or a mall.”
By anticipating his clients’ future wants and addressing them in a graceful, nimble manner, Valley has earned the love and loyalty of the women he has dressed. Where Valley once worked behind the scenes, he’s now more public-facing, with well-located storefronts that cater to his clients’ new dressing needs. In the Hamptons, in Palm Beach, and at a pop-up at The Ritz-Carlton, South Beach, Valley is navigating the new normal by providing his clientele with softer looks that reflect the moment.
“He is the pure essence of creativity,” says Maria Buccellati, a personal friend and the chief executive officer of Faith Connexion. “He has such good energy and great taste, and his pieces are really feminine and beautiful.”
Valley says he developed this flair as a teenager, when he would sketch clothes for himself and his sisters, then bring them to a seamstress who turned his concepts into reality. “Some of these designs were outrageous,” he recalls. “I’d make them during the summer and then go back to school and tell people that I spent the summer in London and this was what they were wearing. It wasn’t true, but it seemed that people would accept that story more than if I told them that the ideas came from my own head.”
Though some of Valley’s early designs showed creative promise, he pursued an architecture degree before recognizing that fashion was where he really belonged. An architect’s life, he says, was just too monk-like for his tastes; designers “need more attention and spotlight and company from their clients, who amuse them and push them to create.”
After raising money from family and friends, Valley opened a store in Coconut Grove, aiming to dress private school teenagers, evolving with them and their changing tastes. He hired a patternmaker who was especially skilled at pants, gleaning many of his own ideas about how to design them from her.
But a cotton Lycra tank top with an adjustable bra—called the Tie Top—was his first big hit because it could work for a lot of girls, regardless of their size.
“I put my label on the outside, so you could read my name on the back of the top where you tied the strap,” he explains. “I sold that top night and day, and it was literally paying all my expenses for the shop and the employees. One time I was on a date at the movies, and while we stood in line to buy tickets, there was an ocean of girls in front of us, all wearing that top in different colors. It was a total ‘Oh my God’ moment.”
Ultimately, Valley set his sights on New York and moved there in 2000 to launch his first full collection.
“A buyer from Saks saw the collection, and she said to me, ‘Let me give you a piece of advice. This collection is amazing, but I will buy all the pants. If you just show the pants, you will have a hit.’ I had no ego at the time, so I did just that and everyone bought the pants. The deliveries went out before September 11. Two weeks after that happened, there were 100 messages from stores wanting more pants, even though New York had just been through this tragedy.”
Valley believes he has been driven by moments like this, when, despite an upheaval, he realizes what his clients need most and delivers. He loves when he has a hit, and that hit becomes a trend. But pants are what put him on the map, and while he won’t reveal his secrets, he says it all comes down to how he views a woman’s leg.
“It’s about paying attention to the inner thigh and buttocks and giving that lift and push that creates a smaller bum. I tweak that depending on the client, because it’s all about proportion. If I ever lost my eyesight, it’d be over.”
Alexandra von Furstenberg has been a loyal Valley customer, in large part because of his great eye. “Finding a good-fitting pant is not so easy,” she says. “His fit so well. So [when you buy from him] you stay consistent.”
Buccellati says she prefers his lace dresses and loves his sense of color.
Valley appreciates the trust he has from clients like these, who allow him to push them into new shapes and proportions. He creates for all bodies, he notes, because he wants everyone to wear something that makes them feel good.
So, as it turns out, the Alvin Valley woman is not a monolith. Yes, she’s social, but she also has other interests. “She’s a woman with ideas and ambition, a woman like Sharon Stone, who is amazing and has something to say. I love dressing her,” says Valley. “She’s like Angela Bassett, who is nonstop and knows how to wear clothes well. Or she’s like Jill Biden, who I love seeing in the White House now, and I love being able to help her dress the part.”
As the world reopens and Valley looks into his crystal ball, he sees his clients traveling for extended periods of time, donning “resort-like things that you can wear easily as you go from the beach to your temporary home.” He’ll be opening additional pop-up shops to meet that need, in El Dorado, Puerto Rico, and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and undoubtedly in any locale where a gaggle of his girls stay for any period of time.
“In these closer and more intimate situations, it’s a great opportunity in a creative sense, but also to see where the clothes I create go,” he says. “I always want to be sure the kitty goes to a good home.”
Hair and makeup: Deborah Koepper, Deborah Koepper Beauty, Palm Beach
Photographed on location at the Kips Bay Decorator Show House Palm Beach