In 2009 I found myself in a moral dilemma – the fancy apron company that had been sponsoring me (via giveaways and lots of free fancy aprons) up and fired the designer responsible for what I still consider their cutest aprons. That designer also happened to be a friend of mine and I had to sever ties with that company – which left me without a dealer for my sick, sick apron addiction. So I did what any girl would do – I launched an Apron Deathmatch.
I met lots of fantastic apron designers via the deathmatch – and the one who took over the role of “official apron designer for Bake and Destroy” was Cynthia from Cupcake Provocateur. Not only are her designs sweet and sexy, but Cynthia herself is an inspiration. Influenced by her mother, she built a successful cupcake and apron business that continues to thrive and grow despite all the competition out there. I’m thrilled to share her story with my readers – because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all the emails you guys send me, it’s that I attract an entrepreneurial crowd. I hope Cynthia’s story inspires those of you who are considering going into business for yourselves and I hope I’ve helped you find your new favorite apron shop! Check out the end of the Q&A for details on how you can win a sampler of Cynthia’s products!
So how did you get into the cupcake and fancy apron business? What was your inspiration?
It all happened by chance. I always had a creative flair for food and design since I was a wee cupcake, but started to turn into something more in college. I would bake cookies and cupcakes and bring them to class/work, then the orders started coming in so I decided to make a cute apron to wear while I baked and delivered them…. and then to my surprise the orders started coming in for the aprons as well and that is how the website was born.
Did you launch Cupcake Provocateur as a cupcakes and aprons business – or did one product come before the other?
The cupcakes came first and have always been a constant, and the heart of Cupcake Provocateur. The aprons evolved out of a personal necessity for cuteness both in and out of the kitchen.
Your patterns are unlike any other aprons out there – do you design them yourself, or have a secret stash?
Good question! They are all designed and sketched by hand but of course are inspired after the classic vintage styles of the 1940’s & 1950’s with a modern twist, the modern twist being the prints used for the aprons which I think helps set us apart in the apron world.
Where did you learn to bake and sew?
My mama! She was definitely my idol. She really taught me everything and encouraged all creativity in all aspects of life. When I was a kid I would watch her in the kitchen and just study what she did. However Sundays I always woke up to Jiffy muffins, which is still my guilty pleasure today! When it came to sewing she taught me how to sew by hand and little by little my interest just grew.
Where did the name Cupcake Provocateur come from?
Right before I started professionally, I was in my kitchen at my apartment making red velvet cupcakes, thinking about what name would I wanted to represent both the cupcakes and aprons. I really liked Cupcake Couture but it has been used quite a bit and wasn’t very original anymore, and then I started thinking about word association and the word “provocative” came into my head and I was trying to figure out how to make if flow. That’s when I had the “light bulb” moment and I blurted Cupcake Provocateur and tah-dah!
Starting a business is no joke – tell us about some of the challenges you faced early on. Creating a budget? Coming up with the funds to launch?
It is definitely a challenging decision to make and not an easy one to implement. I think if you have the passion and drive it can take you a long way. But there is a certain amount of investing involved. In the beginning I had an idea and a product I wanted to produce and market which I choose to do on my own. I cut costs in my personal life (i.e. lots of ramen noodles for dinner) to help attain my goal.
The key is to start small and slowly progress to keep up with costs and always put a percent away for supplies as well as savings for personal and business. Test the waters first and see if there is a need/interest for your product and then market the business accordingly, there are so many networking resources out there now that makes it easier for start up business to gain exposure while keeping costs down. My words of wisdom in all things is “look before you leap” and once you know what you want – jump in!
Tell us a bit about production – do you have people helping you bake, sew, pack and ship?
Up until fairly recently I was doing everything as a one-woman show but, to keep up with production and my sanity, I now have in-house help with production/shipping of both the cupcakes and aprons. It is important to me to maintain a close-knit business without out-sourcing to other locations.
What’s it like to own a small business in a scary economy? Have you noticed a dip in sales, or are you still picking up new customers pretty regularly?
I think everyone has been effected in one way or another with the recent downfall in the economy but I have seen a rise in sales from woman that email me, a lot more families are choosing to stay home for dinner rather than going out to dinner all the time, so instead of the little black dress they wear their stylish little aprons instead. And yes, it is scary – but the key is to try and adjust as best you can and just ride the tide and know at some point it will get better.
How do you find your models? You have some hot stuff pin ups on your site (and no I am NOT talking about me.)
Ha ha….don’t lie!!! I am really proud of our models and have become close friends with a lot of them. Models usually contact me with their portfolio and I also sometimes find them through networking sites such as Model Mayhem.
Do you find that sexy girls in sexy aprons sell themselves, or do you advertise as well?
Definitely! What hot-blooded man wouldn’t want his significant other cooking (or not cooking) in a sexy little apron? I think they fall in the same category as the Naughty School Girl or the Sexy Secretary but for foodies. But I do occasionally advertise as well, it can never hurt to advertise.
About the cupcakes – before you started cupcakes in a jar you were selling locally, right? Where? And do you still sell there?
Yes, I used to wholesale my cupcakes in NYC for the Sugar Cafe in the fashion district when I first started. I now work from a bakery kitchen on Long Island and specialize in custom and special occasion orders as well as local deliveries for the NYC and Long Island areas. I hope to one day soon have a brick and mortar storefront in the near future as well. You can also find my cupcakes (and me) in the fall and winter starting this year as a vendor at the historic Williamsburg Federal Savings Bank for the famous Brooklyn Flea, which we are super ,excited about!
How do you make flavor decisions – do you get special requests, or do you mainly make things you’d want to eat?
Secrets, secrets he he! I try to think of different combinations of flavors that mimic my favorite foods – like our s’mores cupcakes or the Italian rainbow cookie cupcakes and such. I am also working on an arsenal of new flavors coming out in the summer. I have gotten a request to make a couple of interesting custom flavors. One that I really loved and will be adding to the menu as per one of our customers is a chai tea cupcake but one of the most interesting flavors I have been asked to make was liver pate mini cupcakes for a puppy party in NYC not to long ago.
Ok time to get personal – is there a Mr. Provocateur? Any pets?
I was wondering when I would get asked this question, lol. Yes there is a Mr. Provocateur my hubby Charlie. Ok, and this is where I get cheesy…. he is not only my best friend he is one of my biggest inspirations. He was the one that really encouraged me to make the first step to start my own business, and he is always my voice of reason in al ot of the personal and business decisions I make even though he knows most of the time I will end up doing my own thing anyway. No pets at the moment because there is no time but I do have a fondness for beagles and iguanas… weird combo, I know. And my husband and I look forward to having a little Cupcake of our own within the not-too-distant future.
What’s on your “in the kitchen” play list?
I like listening to my old school stuff while in the kitchen – really anything from Depeche Mode, The Cure, The Clash and also more recent bands like The Bravery (which are pretty awesome live) and the Muse.
What are some of your favorite small businesses to shop from? Any Etsy shops or other sites we should know about?
OHHHHHHH yes!!! I absolutely love the little hats made by Blu Zombie and Vintage Lucy’s I also love local Long Island shops such as Rockville Centre’s The Cook’s Fancy and Farmingdale’s The Chocolate Duck – and if you want a really artsy and yummy coffee shop to lounge at W. Hempstead’s Witches Brew is the place to go!
Other than Cupcake Provocateur creations, what’s the best cupcake you’ve ever had?
Hmmmmmmm I would have to say The Buttercup Bake Shop in NYC makes a really yummy Lady Baltimore cupcake!
How do you decide where to go next with your designs – do you get inspired by certain fabrics, or does your mood take you places?
My mind is always going a mile a minute with ideas, I usually have phases or moods I get in when thinking of designs and they influence allot of the design process. Right now I am really into the vaudeville musicals of the 1930’s which makes me think of bright colors and fancy fabrics that flow really well which has been inspiring a lot of more couture designs for a current line I am working on. I hope to have out by summertime or early fall.
What can we expect next from Cupcake Provocateur?
Aside from the couture line, I am working on finishing up a men’s line and expanding the children’s line. I am also working on a line of tea towels to match the aprons as well. The cupcakes are expanding as well with the addition of the Traveling Cupcake, which is our fresh baked cupcakes with frosting – all in a cute pint sized mason jar that we now offer to all our customers outside of NYC.
What an inspiration – I am completely floored by everything Cynthia has accomplished and I’m so grateful to her for taking the time to share her story with me (and you guys!) And now it’s your turn to be floored because Cynthia wants to send one of my readers a package of Cupcake Provocateur goodies (including a Traveling Cupcake sampler!) Because the prize package includes edibles, we have to limit it to those with a US shipping address only. To enter, visit Cupcake Provocateur and check out Cynthia’s sassy styles. Then leave a comment on this post about your favorite – or describe your dream vintage-inspired apron! I’ll choose a random winner on May 2nd.
I’ve just emailed our winner – thanks to everyone who commented!
Wow! What a great place for super cute aprons! I’ve been trying to find the perfect one for months and these are so super affordable. I hope to win! My favorite would be the Camo Cutie, since I’m an Army Wife. I cook/bake every night so I’d wear it like crazy! Thanks for this great giveaway!
Great interview and sooo many cute aprons! It was hard to choose one, but my favorite is the Cupcake Cutie Betty Apron.
All of Cupcake Provocateur’s aprons are adorable, this is also a great interview and makes me want to open up my own business all the more!
I already own the Cindy Apron – Leopard lounge and we have seen a many cupcake batter spills together, i’m surprised the batter doesn’t cook on the apron it’s so hott. haha but seriously my boyfriend enjoys the home cooked meals I provide in my sassy apron 🙂
I’m going to school for small business and considering open a diner in a few years, and I think all of the waitresses would look adorable in the Susie Homewrecker – Cherry Cobbler or any of the half aprons! They’re all so damn cute! I can’t stop dreaming about this diner! So in a few years Cynthia may have a massive order of half aprons 🙂
Great interview. Very inspirational. The Too Cute To Cook apron is my favorite.
i love the Cindy Apron – Mexican Sugar Skull!! i have yards and yards of that fabric hoarded away!
Oooohhh…I want everything! The Sexy Skull apron is too cool. Thanks for the giveaway.
I’m in love with the Mexican Sugar Skull, as well as the Pretty Bird! What an incredible talent! 😀
The Betty Apron in Cupcake Sorbet is just adorable! I also love the Lucy Apron in Pink and White Polka Doll. Just so many lovely things! And such a wonderful interview– I love hearing from the inspiration behind these gorgeous creations.
I totally dig on that vintage apple one but it’s out of stock. Bummer. Second choice– cupcake sorbet. Pretty colors!!
And she’s cool as hell and so are all of her things!! Go Cynthia!!
I totally love the Cindy in Mexican Skulls. I should really just buy one, because I’ve had that same apron cut out and sitting for THREE YEARS because I can’t bring myself to do all that bias binding! But the Bella in Atomic Cherry is also really cool. Or, ooh, the Batty Betty. Who could pick just one?
I adore the cupcake sorbet better apron! 🙂
I love the sous chef apron, but Im a plus sized gal, so I dont think the dainty aprons would fit me. 😉 She makes beautiful aprons though! If I were skinny, Id be all about it.
I love her aprons, but money has been tight lately so I havnt been able to save up for one yet! But in my head, the cutest apron would have top shape of the Too Cute to Cook, but the bottom part would be slightly pleated… apron in black (or black with white polka dots, with BRIGHT pink lace at the bottom, and bright pink ribbon as accent, and of course, a bright pink belt/tie….with an extra wide ribbon so the bow in the back would be huge!
So fun! What an inspiration! :] Since I am an aspiring chef/baker in Ft. Worth, I LOVE the chef aprons… specifically the Artisan Chef 4 Pocket Apron – Lemon Meringue. SO cute! :]
Great interview! I love the b&w zebra chef apron. Too cute!
This was a great interview! As for the aprons, they’re all pretty rad but I l-o-v-e the cherry blossom Betty apron!
Wow! What a great story and such amazing aprons–one for every mood or party theme! My pick tonight is the Aqua Damask Sue Chef apron. I hope I win. I just starting to set up housekeeping, again! I sure could use a cute apron and the other goodies!
The Cindy Apron – Aqua Mod is beautiful!
Cindy Apron- yankee doodle diva is perfect for us Texans!! You both rock my socks!! XOXO
love this Natalie…and this lady is from Long Island? I lived right next to Rockville Center and used to hang out at “The Witches Brew” I am laughing seeing these places in my Chicago gals blog!
I love the Teal Cupcake Chef’s Apron. It’s too cute!
Your interview skills and questions kick the ass of all other food “writers”! Keep it up, your blog is my coffeebreak reading between icing cakes and throwing cupcakes!
I love all of the artisan chef aprons (but I’m bias because that’s what I consider myself). They’re practical and freakin’ adorable!
I just found your site and I love it! Plus I checked out Cupcake Provocateur and I must say her aprons (and cupcakes) are divine. My favorite so far is the cupcake cutie in pink!
so exciting to read about successful women doing their thing! i love the cupcake/apron combination – it makes perfect sense. the “dolly get your gun” apron is so ridiculously cute, i’d be beside myself with joy to own that little number…
OH MY GOD CYNTHIA WHERE DO I START ? THAT WAS A GREAT GREAT INTERVIEW.. <3 AND AS FOR YOUR APRONS, WELL THERE ARE NO WORDS TO DESCRIBE WHAT YOU OFFER, ONE PRETTIER THAT THE OTHER..<3 BEAUTIFUL STYLES AND PATTERNS TO PICK FROM .. <3 AND YOUR CUPCAKES OH MY GOOD GOD ALL DIFFERENT FLAVORS TO CHOOSE FROM .. HOW CAN ONE PICK ??? GUESS THAT IS WHY YOU HAVE A SAMPLER … LOL .. WISHING YOU CONTINUED LUCK IN YOUR FUTURE .. AND I PERSONALLY THINK EVERY BAKER SHOULD HAVE A SPECIAL APRON ..<3<3<3 ORDER PEOPLE DON'T JUST LOOK ! THEY ARE WORTH IT !
great interview! how inspiring! It’s a toss up between the Betty apron – Too Cute to Cook, and the Aqua Mod Cindy Apron. They’re all so cute but those are my favorites!
I love love love the Sugar Hearts chef apron!
It’s a toss up…..Artisan Chef wild cherry and the Zebra.
My favorites are the “Batty Betty” and “The Haunting Hostess”. I wish I could afford these aprons, I’ve been looking for one, I always ruin my nice shirts in the kitchen haha.
I love “Too Cute to Cook” and “Cherry Blossom.” I love the idea that you can be sexy AND cook at the same time! I’m betting my hubby would love to come home to find me baking wearing nothing but one of these cute aprons!
i love love love the artisan chef pretty bird apron. next to cupcakes birds are my absolute favorite design motif (just got my first tattoo, its a chickadee!). that one is out of stock but as soon as its back i will be ordering. great interview, congrats and continued success!!
i love your stuff! my favorite is the cupcake sorbet apron. you make cooking look so sexy.
I like the Cindy apron in pink chocolate!
LOVE the too cute to cook aprons!
I love the aqua damask chef apron. So cute!!
I love the sugar skull aprons! they are all too adorable. i really love them all though 🙂
I love the strawberry patch valerie apron! Thanks for posting the interview.
I have to to say for me it is a tie between the Bettie Apron in Cupcake Cutie Pink and The Bettie Apron CP Ink, they are both so adorable and perfect for my different baking moods! Sometimes I am baking to The Stray Cats and Mad Marge and the Stonecutters or The Distillers and Lykke Li, its a crazy pastry world out there! I would love to see a black apron done in the shape of the Bettie CP Ink only with super smokin’ zombie chics, devouring cupcakes or maybe just an all black apron with one large zombie chic surrounded by half-eaten cupcakes holding a red velvet that she is munching on . . . yum. This was long, sorry!
My favorite is style the Betty Apron in Cupcake Cutie Pink, or even better.. in a cute-colored houndstooth or muted floral. The apron I use now is so utilitarian, so I love the girly silhouette this has. So fun.
I love these aprons! I think my favorite is the “Betty” in cupcake sorbet. Darling!
Speaking as a full-fledged cupcake junkie, her site is fantastic!
Dream vintage apron? Firetrucks!
These aprons are so friggin’ adorable! It’s so hard to choose one that I love the most…but I do like-like-like the the Betty in Wonderland Apron! It has my name written all over it! I hope I win 😀
How do I not have one of her aprons? I want the Leopard one, of course!
The Artisan teal cupcake apron is sweet. Ba-dum.
Loving the Betty aprons! Particularly the Zebra Retro Ruffle. Fun!
Those Betty aprons are super fun! I like the Zebra Retro Ruffle one a lot.
Ok, I’m terribly smitten with “Betty Apron – To Cute to cook”! It’s soooooooooooooooo ridiculously cute and I’ve convinced myself I need it! (which wasn’t very hard) Love me some Cupcake Provocateur!!!
I absolutely LOVE the batty apron! They are all awesome though. I’m already making a wishlist!
i’ve never been an apron wear-er…although i should be. but this Artisan Chef 4 Pocket Apron in Teal Cupcake, might just change that…
My favorite is the Perfect Pair! So cute
My favorite is the Dolly Get Your Gun or the Harlow Apron – Homemade Cupcakes
Oh my god…those aprons are so well designed and beautiful. I have admired them since you first did your Apron Deathmatch. The Argyle Effect Cindy Apron was my fave…but I just noticed it’s out of stock! I hope more are coming!
Def. the Betty Apron in hot pink and lime… I die. thanks Natalie- great interview
Thanks for posting the Q&A–I love the inspiring story! Everything at Cupcake Provacateur is pretty awesome, but I gotta say, I’m really digging the Betty in Wonderland apron.
So much great stuff! But my favorite is the Argyle Effect Cindy apron.
Wow, they are all super cute! I need to buy so many if them. My favourite one is definitely the Susie Homewrecker Cherry Cobbler.
Betty Apron….Betty in Wonderland!
I LOVE the Country Cherry Chef’s Apron. Something about Cherries on aprons I think, is adorable. BUT if I could only order one? I’d order the Hedy cupcake Children’s apron for my daughter. She loooves her aprons and as soon as she sees me in the kitchen she grabs hers and follows me in.
Can I just have everything? I’m totally in love with the Cupcake Cutie Pink or the Cupcake Sorbet. to die for cute. I so want the cupcake hair clips. IN LOVE.
Inspirational interview, Ms. Natalie and Ms. Cynthia! Thanks a bunch. Loving the Betty Apron in Cupcake Sorbet. 😉
All of the styles are cute and flirty. I love that. I’d choose the sugar skulls since my son was born on All Saints Day. But I’d also like Rag Doll one. That one is probably my favorite. Great colors and pattern.
I’d love to see one with 50s style ducks. Like out of the old childrens books. I know that’s random, but I love how those books were illustrated and I love the ducks the most.
Lovely interview!!! I am now salivating all over myself browsing her shop I need an apron to be presentable. I have been scouring EVERYWHERE to find a sexy apron in a vintage cherry blossom print. That fabric fashioned into Cynthia’s Betty Apron would make me explode. Absolutely love adoring everything in her shop!
Love the Betty Too Cute to Cook and the Cindy Homemade Cupcakes…but my favorite is the one I have: the Mexican Sugar Skulls! It was a Christmas gift from my hubby and is the BEST thing in my kitchen. (Okay, maybe it ties with the bright red KitchenAid.) Great interview!!
Too many to choose from! I love the Betty Aprons the most, in Cupcake Cutie and Cupcake Sorbet!
I love the Sue Chef apron in aqua damask. Okay, I love them all!
I’m torn!!!! Can’t decide between the Cindy Apron in Camo Cutie- I have two boys who love everything camo, and the Sue Chef apron in Aqua Damask. Tomorrow is my birthday, so I am going back to the site to place an order for my birthday present. Thanks for sharing the site!
I’m absolutely IN LOVE with the Betty in Wonderland apron, the cut, the print, the RUFFLES. I might just be irresponsible and order it for myself.
I would adore something in the same style with some sort of toile or some kind of Steinlen black cat motif.
How do I even decide? In general, I am a fan of all of her aprons. But, if I had to chose the one I would buy, it would most likely be the to Cute to Cook Betty Apron…or maybe the Zebra Safari…too hard to decide!!
Well my fav has to be the Mexican Sugar Skull Cindy apron or the Sue Chef Apron-Whisk Me. So cute! Great interview by the way! You rock as always! 🙂
Can I have them all? Really though, I love the cupcake Betty aprons.
great post as usual!