The riders/entrepreneurs behind Free x Rein are storming the paddock and taking equestrian clothes where they’ve never gone before.
By Karen Fragala Smith
“We wanted to create a chic, polished uniform suitable for riding and competing that would appeal even to non-riders.”
Andrea Hippeau Vogel and Dana Schwartz, the founders of Free x Rein, were both lifelong equestrians who moved to New York City after college to pursue their careers. Dana worked in film and Andrea in finance. They boarded at the Ox Ridge Hunt Club in Darien, Connecticut, and competed on the amateur owner-jumpers circuit. One day, they recognized each other on the commuter train and soon realized that they were not just fellow equestrians and barn mates, but they also lived in the same building in Manhattan. They became fast friends, sharing the commute and commiserating over the challenges of living between the show ring and the big city.
“We were embarrassed by our riding clothes,” recalls Andrea as she recounted tales of wardrobe changes in sordid gas station bathrooms on the way to and from equestrian competitions. “We couldn’t show up in the city in our low-rise pants and fitted shirts. They looked so unflattering.”
“In a sport where you have to control a 1,000-pound animal, I couldn’t worry about my pants sliding down or my shirt coming untucked,” adds Dana. So one day, they decided to do something about it. “We went on a journey to see if this was something we could do.” They began sourcing fabrics and testing designs in 2016 and launched Free x Rein in December 2017. “We wanted to create a chic, polished uniform suitable for riding and competing that would appeal even to non-riders.”
Fashion designers have taken inspiration from the equestrian world since the earliest days of ready-to-wear clothing. Hermès was founded in 1837 by a saddle maker and began producing jodhpurs and equestrian-themed silk scarves in the 1900s. Meanwhile, on the via del Parione in Florence, Guccio Gucci’s handmade leather boots and bags for riders came with a signature barand-bit, which appears on the company’s footwear and handbags to this day.
But the equestrian world has been relatively impervious to advances in tailoring and fabrics coming from the fashion industry. Andrea and Dana wanted to create an equestrian body suit in a breathable, durable fabric with a snapped closure that was suitable for riding. They designed and tested dozens of prototypes before establishing the optimal equestrian bodysuit. They recently added a tuckable shirt for women who are averse to bodysuits.
But the Grand Prix winner in Free x Rein’s stable is their Ponte Riding Pant. Made of a viscose blend, the slacks have a slim silhouette with four-way stretch that allows for a full range of motion without losing shape. Suede patches add durability and style, and a fitted calf accommodates riding boots. All of these key riding features are lost on most New York women—who tend to ride taxis, not ponies—but have nevertheless christened Free x Rein’s breeches as the heir apparent to Lululemons. Not only are they more comfortable and flattering than yoga pants, but they are also more versatile. Dress them up with a blazer or dress them down with designer sneakers and a tank.
Andrea and Dana have both worked full-time on developing Free x Rein since its launch last December. They are regularly adding new products, including a leather hip bag that accommodates your essentials without getting in the way of your jumps. The Free x Rein line is available on the company’s website and at pop-ups during equestrian season. Andrea and Dana run their retail counter in between running their horses at competitions, such as Old Salem in the spring, the Hampton Classic in the summer, and Wellington in the winter. Regardless of each show’s results, Andrea and Dana—who have found a way to successfully combine avocation and career—experience no faults or penalties, only wins.