By Doris Degner-Foster
Portraits by Michael Paniccia
Kendel Neidermyer has successfully fused couture fashion design with active sports clothing, including riding apparel. Although she doesn’t ride, she considers herself a part of the horse community.
“I had this moment in the first recognized show that I attended — it was the Longines Masters in New York City in 2017,” Kendel remembered. “I literally cried because I was so proud, honored and humbled to be dressing women who performed in this sport. I knew in that moment that I would always create equestrian apparel that would be as effortless as my clients’ riding looked. There was no turning back; at that point, I became a horse girl.”
While riding is not currently a part of her fitness routine, Kendel is a former nationally competitive gymnast and maintains an active lifestyle. She enjoys jogging with her husband and Dalmatian while at home in New York City, and indulging her passion for downhill snow skiing — which gives her a small taste of some aspects of riding.
“Although I practice and work hard, doing everything humanly possible to be the best I can be, there’s another component, which is out of my control,” Kendel said. “When I ski, I know the mountain is always in control no matter how good I am or how much I practice. So I can imagine what it feels like to be a rider where another being is involved and to not have complete control.”
Growing up in Connecticut, Kendel was a gymnast from the age of 2, with her mother as her number-one fan, always cheering for her on the sidelines. “My mother was very influential in my life as well as the gymnastics coaching I received,” Kendel said. “The training was very tough but it’s definitely the reason I’m the driven person that I am today. I cannot say enough good things about how being a gymnast gave me lifelong skills — in my rare spare time I even designed my performance leotards. Gymnastics has made me disciplined, ambitious and a team player but also able to focus on individuality.”
That focus was so overpowering that Kendel felt burned out with gymnastics after high school and decided to step away. She had planned to attend college on a gymnastics scholarship and pursue a career in physical therapy, or to operate her own gym and training facility. Without those plans she felt adrift.
“It was a pivotal moment for me because I identified as a gymnast so I had to do immense soul searching and I asked myself, ‘What else do I love?’” Kendel said. “Then it came to me and I thought, Oh my gosh! Of course! I’ve been designing leotards in my sleep! and at 18, I’d become inspired by elegant evening wear.”
Kendel was always drawn to glamorous clothes, which started when her family was in Philadelphia to visit her grandparents when she was only 8 years old. At a high-end store there, she found a little girl’s glittering, gold lamé dress that she fell in love with. She was so disappointed that her parents didn’t buy it for her then and there, but she admits it was not an appropriate dress for school and with nowhere else to wear it, it was just not a practical purchase. But the memory stayed with her and was a springboard to another career.
FITing Into the Fashion World
Kendel used the skills of perseverance, tenacity and focus that she gained from gymnastics to begin her new career in clothing design. Moving from Connecticut to New York City, she was able to pursue her passion and dream to become a couture fashion designer. She enrolled in the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in Manhattan, New York.
“When I graduated from FIT, it was still in the day that you would read classifieds looking for a job, the internet was not yet there,” Kendel laughed. “I knew I wanted to take the time to do some networking in order to be someplace where I really wanted to be. So I created a little press kit on myself and just showed up at the corporate offices of the designers I wanted to work for and told them that my specialties were special occasion and embroidery. One conversation led to another and from there I started work at a small embroidery house. We had clients in Europe as much as in the U.S. and I learned so much about the business.”
Utilizing her contacts, Kendel moved on to the design house of Reem Acra, the renowned international designer known for her breathtaking collections in ready-to-wear and bridal. Kendel credits Reem with encouraging her talents and giving her the opportunity to organize and lead her creative teams. “It was a blessed opportunity to be able to work for the founder and owner and have her take me under her wing like that,” Kendel said. “I really learned about the creative process and couture craftsmanship there.”
With her new-found skills of team leadership, Kendel moved on to Halston design house as a studio director and then to J. Mendel. There, she pitched her idea of how to organize the creative team for a ready-to-wear line and worked her way up to being vice president of ready-to-wear development and production.
Kendel always wanted to be an entrepreneur and with her years of experience in various aspects of the fashion industry, she felt ready to do that in 2016. But it took over a year for it to become a reality.
On to FWORDS
Kendel began formulating the idea for her company in April 2016 but didn’t launch until July 2017. She spent the time researching the best technical fabrics available, and the best ways to construct the clothing.
“When it came time for me to do my own thing, I knew that I wanted to fuse my worlds of couture craftsmanship with being an athlete,” Kendel said, “and that’s how the concept of couture performance apparel came about.”
Kendel named her company FWORDS for four things that her apparel has that is sometimes missing in athletic wear: fit, fashion, function and flexibility. The quality couture craftsmanship is evident in the details. Kendel took her time in developing fabrics and techniques to assemble her foundation product that she calls the Frisky Legging.
“There were all of these seams that were being presented to me with my factories and none of which met my standards,” Kendel explained. “I tried various seams but they never were good enough for me. They left lines in my leg and were irritating where the seams were so I kept pushing the boundaries. That’s something I’ve taken from my years of working in couture, thinking, This can be better.”
Kendel created a machine with an American machine manufacturer that stood up to her tests so that the seams are virtually undetectable and ideal for active wear. The FWORDS equestrian wear has that quality of couture fashion and functionality that make it perfect to wear for a morning hack yet still look great for lunch in a trendy restaurant. Her breeches all have details such as discrete side pockets perfect for phones. Kendel laughed, “After all, we feel naked without our phones, right?”
All garments are handmade in New York City by skilled artisans resulting in the highest quality yet the breeches are not prohibitively expensive.
Kendel summed up her company’s philosophy when she said, “One of my values from the concept stages that’s going to carry through no matter how big FWORDS gets is ‘think big, act small.’”
For more information, visit www.fwordsgear.com.
Photos by Michael Paniccia, michaelpaniccia.com,@Michael_Paniccia