Baton Rouge native Martha Gottwald is no stranger to taking chances. If the looks she posts on Instagram and puts out through her brand, Neubyrne, are any indication, her life is filled with risks that she seems more than willing to take. Whether it be dozens of sequined layers for a casual Saturday tailgating or an evening gown paired with a branded trucker hat for an afternoon in the French Quarter, Gottwald embodies the “why not” attitude we all wish we had.
That’s why it comes as no shock to us to hear that the designer, entrepreneur and mother of two didn’t bat an eye when she was contacted by producers for Amazon Prime’s new fashion competition show, Making the Cut. Jumping eagerly into the recruiting process–despite having just given birth to her son–Gottwald landed a spot on the star-studded series, which premiers tomorrow, March 27, and features hosts Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, in addition to celebrity judges including Naomi Campbell, Nicole Richie and Chiara Ferragni.
Before we plant ourselves on our couches for a weekend of fashion-induced binging, we caught up with Gottwald to learn about her experience, her brand and the secret behind her fearless neon looks.
1. How did you get connected with Amazon Prime’s Making the Cut?
It’s funny, I would never have applied to anything like this. I had just had my son, Gibbs, and was back at work when I got this call from a producer in LA who had just seen Kameron Westcott post wearing her Neubyrne bow blouse on Instagram. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, and totally thought after talking to me he would say, “Oh well, so great chatting with you but that’s not exactly what we are looking for,” but he didn’t.
He loved that I was so energetic and was back at work already–Gibbs was two weeks old when the call happened. At this point, the only thing he could tell me was he was working on a new fashion competition series with Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn and that they were looking for designers with their own brands.
I chatted with him and it turns out we have a mutual friend from when I lived in Singapore. Before calling me, he asked her about me and she said I was “perfect for TV,” haha! After that call, he wanted me to talk to an executive producer and do a Skype interview and show her pieces of my collection. At this point, they had gone through thousands of applicants for this series and already had the cast pretty set; they were just missing a few people. I did the interview and was totally myself, showed her some fun pieces and just kept thinking, “Wow, I’m so flattered but surely this will end soon,” but OMG it did not.
A week later, I got an email saying they would be flying me out to LA for final casting. I brought the best of the best Neubyrne and did this insane casting call where we couldn’t leave our hotel room and had to be “camera ready and waiting by the phone” all day in a room. We couldn’t talk to any other person there, and no one was allowed to know our real names, so I was M.G. for those four days in LA.
It just kept going and going, and I was brutally honest about what I do for Neubyrne–like hey, I do NOT sew. I do the design. I custom make the fabric prints and work very closely with my pattern maker and factory in NYC, but if you’re looking for another Project Runway, you’ve got the wrong girl! Somehow they loved it and a week later, I got an email saying, “You have been selected for Untitled Fashion Project. Pack your bags. Bring your passport because there is a possibility for travel outside the U.S.,” and that is really all the information I had.
At this point, Gibbs was six weeks old, and my husband and I had just bought a house and were moving boxes in two weeks. It could literally not have been a worse time, but my whole family was so cute and so extremely supportive and said, “Go. You have to go. This is the chance of a lifetime.” So off I went.
2. What was it like being alongside other designers and, of course, Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn? How did your creative process change in a competitive environment?
That really was the absolute coolest part. I have never been around people like myself since I never went to fashion design school. I will never forget Tim Gunn walking into the room and saying that they had 12 of the best fashion designers in the world in that room. I think the world of every designer who was there, and I honestly have made some of the best friends from this experience.
My creative process changed in that the time limits and constraints were insane but also I have never ever been so inspired or could create for so long. I couldn’t turn my mind off at some points and wanted to do everything but then had to be like, “Nope, you can’t do that because you do not know how to sew that sleeve and you also cannot translate that into French for your seamstress to know how to do it either.” I really had to think about how I could communicate my designs and do what I could by myself to create the looks that I was hoping to create for the runways.
I absolutely loved the rush of it all, though. I would 100% do a challenge like this again because I love seeing what I can do with all that pressure. It’s wild what you can create when you are pushed up against the wall.
3. What do you think you’ve gained from the experience?
So many things that it’s hard to pinpoint just one, but definitely a realization that Neubyrne is doing all the right things. It was so cool to see all the other designers see my work and think that it was so unique and that they knew my style and aesthetic immediately. Same with the judges. They all said that too, which is huge to me as a designer to know that my clothing is uniquely my own and my own point of view.
I think I have gained much thicker skin and also a confidence in my design and product that some of the biggest names in the fashion industry have seen my vision and understand it and appreciate it. That is huge and gives me the confidence, inspiration and drive to take this global and never stop being me and doing what I love!
4. How has your style evolved over the last two years?
It has definitely been interesting to watch it evolve. I have always loved bright and bold colors and interesting shapes, but I really have honed in on my color palette of pinks and blues. Each season, I have a standout new color that is representative of that collection. 2019 had this beautiful neon citrus yellow infused in a bunch of my styles, and Autumn/Winter 2020–which drops on March 27 for preorder on my site–has this fab hunter green color that plays with the pinks and sparkles that are carried throughout every collection.
It has been really cool to see my style work toward a commercial aspect because when I first started designing, everything was INSANE. Like completely unwearable and eccentric. My pattern maker is always like, “Martha, remember someone other than you has to wear this.” So we take the initial design and scale it back a bit and sometimes a few times more–which kills me, haha. But it’s so fun to create bodies and styles that are just that: super fun and playful, but also wearable. My stuff might at first seem crazy, but really there is a piece for everyone. It’s all about styling. Dress it up or dress it down, but it works!
5. What is next for Neubyrne? How has the company grown, and where do you see it going?
GLOBAL, BABY! So the Autumn/Winter 2020 collection drops tomorrow, March 27–many months later than usual designer AW20 collections–but I have never played by the rules, haha! Especially with everything going on right now, I have pieces that are stuck in the factory in NYC and won’t make it down here in time or won’t be finished in time, and that is totally OK. That’s what I love about Neubyrne. I am not stuck to any guidelines because this is completely my own. The fashion world says I should have shown already, but I don’t really care! This is my collection and my life and it unfolds in the time that it is ready.
Life happens and you can’t plan a lot of things. That’s what’s so beautiful about it because it is so real and personal to me and my pattern maker and my factory. We all work together. We call this “The Skeleton Crew” because somehow, in this crazy little world, we have all come together and I’m lucky to have found people who truly understand my vision and want to make Neubyrne the next global fashion brand.
My pattern maker has worked for everyone big in the industry doing their patterns and fitting their styles, making them impeccable. I happened upon her by chance and we work so well together. We are both mothers and our kids are the same ages. We both understand that it’s family first, Neubyrne second, but that doesn’t mean we don’t grind to get things done when need be.
My factory in NYC is the best of the best. They do all the big names’ collections and sampling and they are very hard to get in with. I was lucky enough to have a designer friend, Jules Reid, who was working on her own collection and introduced me to them to get me in the door. They have now become my sole factory that produces Neubyrne and they love it! It’s so lovely and I’m so lucky.
So currently it is just me, my pattern maker and the factory. We do it all and, for now, that really works. I am on my fourth collection right now and about to start designing my fifth, which is so crazy. I see it in stores all over the U.S. in the next two years–we’re already in five states–and boutiques worldwide in the next five for sure.
6. How can we get our hands on some of your pieces?
You can always order straight from neubyrne.com or from any of the five stores that currently carry the brand:
Louisiana: Chatta Box Boutique
Alabama: The Mix Boutique
Virginia: Nellie George
Minnesota: Roe Wolfe Boutique
Florida: The Grove
7. Your personal looks are fearless. What is your advice for putting together looks that redefine the rules?
Thank you! I love fearless. I think fashion should be just that. No rules. No worries about mixing too many prints, wearing white before Labor Day, etc. Rules were meant to be broken! Some of my favorite outfits ever have been the ones where I have “broken” the rules. If you like it, rock it! And rock it unapologetically. Because why not? Life is far too short to be like, “Hmm, you know this is a little too crazy, a little too bold. I don’t have anywhere to wear this.” Do you go to the grocery store? Yes! Does it make you happy wearing this? YES. So wear it to the grocery store. Wear it to pick up your kids from preschool. You don’t need a gala to wear something fabulous. And I wear yoga pants and sweatshirts most days, truly, as much as Instagram might show otherwise. But when I have just had enough of feeling mundane, I dress up and I do not need a reason. People always ask, “Oh, where are you going?” and I say, “Nowhere!” And that makes me so happy. So love what you wear and love who you are and everything else will take care of itself!
8. What is your advice to hopeful young designers?
I think the best advice I could give is if you really love fashion and want to be in the industry in any capacity, GO FOR IT! I think it is really hard to get past all of the hurdles of what people expect you to have done on your resume to be able to do something. The hardest part is just starting and taking it from there. You will discover so much about yourself and your passion and it will all unfold in the way it should.
You might want to do X, start pursuing X, and end up loving Y. And I think that is so important and exciting. I knew I was going to be a fashion designer, and the way it all unfolded for me is something I could have never expected or planned. I just kept following my heart and my passion and my dream, and I am still not done with where I want to be.
I know I am meant to be in fashion, but I have always said that I think fashion is the vehicle to get me to where I am truly meant to make a difference. Whether that is this show putting me on the map and opening up the doors to partnerships that were not available before, etc. Given everything that is going on right now, I find myself really struggling with trying to promote the show or my next collection because fashion is frivolous, and in a pandemic, no one is thinking about expensive clothes nor should they be. But I do think it is important to keep creativity and the beauty and passion of it all alive because maybe people need a little distraction, a little crazy, a little bit of beauty in these times. I’m not asking anyone to buy. I’m just inviting people to look and watch and love it like I do. If for nothing else than for entertainment and inspiration.
Want to know more about Martha Gottwald and Neubyrne? Check out this story from the inRegister archives.