Laura Dawson is a perpetual traveler who draws her inspiration from life, architecture and environment. And it is this passion for the environment that initially drew me to her designs. Yet, it is her attention to detail and play with color that makes you notice something unique. Her love for architecture is reflected in the structure of all her designs (particularly the back of most every outfit). Just look at the V-back shirt, the apron dress, deco dress or the latest trench from the Spring collection. Laura got a great start working for Donna Karan’s Urban Zen. She stood out in a quick turn on the Bravo reality series The Fashion Show. She is no stranger to celebrity culture having created designs for Susan Sarandon, Cate Blanchett, Scissor Sisters and Yelle. I think it is her whimsy and use of sustainable materials that continue drawing interest in her career. Hopefully, it’s a long one.
I asked Laura Dawson a few questions about inspirations, life interests and the future of fashion in this interview.
How did you get started in fashion? And why did you choose fashion?
I went to the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning – DAAP. Fashion is such a great form of expression, of pop art, of narrative. I love impacting culture and playing an active part in shaping the way we perceive ourselves. Fashion is also a great form of escapism – You are who you pretend to be.
Where do you draw inspiration?
My best asset is a voracious curiosity, which tends to get me to draw inspiration from everything. Recurring themes are physics, nature, architecture and classic design principles.
Are you a big traveler? What’s your favorite destination?
I have travelled extensively, to Stockholm, Paris, London, Rio, Los Angeles, Mexico, Hawaii, Amsterdam, Brussells. In the end the best destination is where the best company is. I refuse to travel to Paris ever again unless I am in good company. Too many trips there without it. There is nothing worse than a beautiful destination filled with poor company. My favorite place that I have ever been is Stockholm in mid summer. It’s gorgeous, and people are at their best because the light hours are so long. (About 20 hours a day of sunlight). The usually reserved Swedish lose a bit of their veneer and it’s possible to make fast friends.
Have you ever created anything based on something you noticed in a particular location?
I designed my graduate thesis based on the Botanical Gardens in Amsterdam. I thought about doing a collection based on Swedish beaches but never did it. That’s the funny thing about inspiration, it comes in a flash and usually not when you are expecting it.
You moved from New York to London. What do you like better about London?
London is like New York but on a human scale. Driving over the Williamsburg bridge at night is a rush. The city sweeps out below you in millions of twinkling lights. It’s beautiful, but always seems a little too far out of reach for you to touch it. Going over the Thames the same way has a similar beauty, but the city has a human warmth.
What kind of woman are you designing for?
I’m every woman.
Are there any fabrics and patterns that excite you more than others? How important are organic materials?
The issue of caring for the environment is the mega issue that underscores and surrounds every other topic, every idea and every other venture that everyone in the world does every single day. Because all of our ideas and efforts are made with the assumption that we have a healthy planet on which to live our lives, and that we will continue to have that tomorrow and the next day. It’s issue number one that supercedes everything because without a healthy planet, we have nothing. At every given opportunity, the collection is intertwined with environmental responsibility. Organic materials are issue number one in this strategy – they take out pollutants at the beginning of the product life cycle rather than trying to make up for it afterwards.
What is the the most fun piece this Spring?
I’m obsessed with this cropped motorcycle jacket in a soft, supple cotton tweed.
Are there any trends for this Fall that you are particularly fond of?
Color! We have a range of organic shirt dresses that will be coming out in late summer. The shape is stunning in each of the dresses and the colors are so vibrant.
Is it any different designing for celebrities than an average person? Which celebrities would you like to see wearing your collection pieces?
Design for celebrities and for the public are two completely different games. For private clients, you are working to people’s very specific eccentricities very often, or going right for their quirks, getting into the cracks, discovering what makes them tick and creating something that suits only them and makes them extremely pleased with what they are getting. For a collection, you must do the opposite, and find the thing that will please more people, and make most people look and feel really good.
I’d like to work with actress Bonnie Wright, who plays Ginny in the Harry Potter films. I don’t work with actresses very often, but she seems like she would be a pleasure to work with.
Did you have a mentor? What was the best advice you’ve gotten so far?
Life can be a bit short of mentors at times. I am unsure if that’s really it, or if I have been blessed with so many that I don’t know which one to name. Mentoring and learning, I suppose, you take your learning where you can, regardless of whether the people you are learning from realize that they are teaching you. I worked for some people who were picture perfect lessons of what not to do, either in business or in life. I had the extreme privledge of being around a number of excellent people from whom it’s possible to learn a great deal even in a short time.
I think the best advice I ever heard was from a business executive, who was lecturing a class I was taking when I was about 9 years old. I don’t even remember his name. He said “Question everything.”
You’ve worked for Donna Karan’s Urban Zen. What was the best thing you got from this industry experience?
Being around great people like that, the best thing to do is to observe every little thing that you can. So many accomplished people have published autobiographies or there is enough public information about them to form their story. Matching up people’s personal habits with what else you know about their story is really the best education.
Do you have a favorite outfit? What would you wear on an average Monday?
I tend to wear the organic crop trouser pretty often during spring. I have a lavendar stocking that I wear under it, so that there is a little flash of color that peeks out the bottom, and I pair it with the singlet and cardi racerback.
The organic bubble short I get into quite often as well. Usually again with stockings and heels and a smart jacket – the moto one – that has a sharp shoulder so that it strikes a good balance between playful and smart.
What are you working on now? What’s next for you?
We are taking the collection around to buyers in Europe, and I am doing a couple of road trips to American buyers in the next few months. I am developing some great knits and coats for the holiday/resort line and sourcing some really cool new techniques for surface design for the Spring 2011 collection.
You can find more about Laura Dawson on her website: www.lauradawson.com/