ALL POSTS Interviews

Past, Present and Future Tense with Lafayette 148 New York Creative Director Emily Smith

Back in ’96—a time that, fashion-wise, didn’t look wildly different from where we are now in ’16—Lafayette 148 New York opened up shop in the heart of SoHo. Today, they’re delving into the archives and retooling iconic styles from years past into a special 20th-anniversary collection.

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All images courtesy of Emily Smith and Lafayette 148 New York

That’s two decades of chic, elevated staples, and two decades dedicated to ensuring women—of all ages and all shapes—look and feel like their ideal versions of themselves.

headshot2To mark the occasion, we traded missives with the brand’s world-traveling creative director Emily Smith—who spends four months out of the year working alongside the company’s skilled artisans in Shantou, China—to talk history, favorite new pieces and inspiration found along the eastern edges of the Himalayas.

THE THREAD: What did you know about the brand’s personality when you started?

Emily Smith: Actually, I’d never heard of the brand before I started to work here; in 2002, it was still very new in the industry. I remember coming to the office the first day and seeing a big antique Chinese table in the back of the showroom with a beautiful red bowl—there was this minimal/zen mood that I really loved and connected with.

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Today, we’re going back to the roots—staying minimal, architectural and graphic. There’s a certain level of feng shui represented in our combinations of fabrics, trims and finishings. We’re looking for that balance of organic texture against sleekness, soft with hard, old and new, sexy yet smart.

Who is the L148NY woman, and how similar is she to you?

As someone who travels, I appreciate modern basics that you can combine with incredible statement pieces. Our customer is strong, successful and busy—she knows what she wants and is not apologetic about it, so she needs versatile pieces each season that integrate seamlessly into her existing wardrobe. If you have to think too much, it’s not a good idea.

Speaking of incredible pieces, what are a few silhouettes from the current collection that feel especially connected to the early days of L148NY?

The full inspiration for fall ’16 was the ’90s—given the company launched in 1996, it was perfect. My team and I spent a lot of time diving into the archives.

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‘Aiden’ jersey & stretch-cotton blouse | ‘Odetta’ stretch-cotton blouse

In the beginning, we used to run a French-cuff blouse and a wrap blouse every season, but the silhouette eventually lost steam. The exaggerated cuffs and waistlines we’re seeing today, though, feel so new. We updated the cut, collar, wrap and the cuff itself!

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‘Murphy’ lambskin leather jacket | ‘Makayla’ double-face coat with calf-hair trim

Our reinterpreted leather jackets from the Iconic Collection have a modern edge—our finishing technology has become a signature, and the lightweight construction is incredible. And then there’s what I like to call our fortune cookie cape—the shape is pure origami. It was inspired by a piece we did several years ago, but it’s reimagined with clean, minimalist lines.

And a silhouette that feels like the new way forward?

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‘Hayes’ ombré cashmere coat

The Hayes coat. It’s the shape that makes this coat—it just looks smart. The colors are rich and sophisticated, the double-faced cashmere is extra-luxe and it’s a Nordstrom exclusive!

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This summer you spent a considerable amount of time in China, a place where one really feels history and tradition. With the L148NY anniversary happening and this trip in mind, where are your thoughts in terms of time and experience? Our culture loves to value the new; what do you love about the past and the old ways?

Being able to visit places that make you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time is unlike anything else. It’s as humbling as it is insightful and inspiring.

I recently traveled to Bhutan, where the people are so naturally beautiful. They still respect and wear their traditional clothes daily.

In today’s world, where everything is instant and disposable, I find we forget to cherish quality and detail. It seems that in the past, women would buy clothes that would last them years. Now we buy and discard. It’s a vicious cycle. Trends change so quickly—who can keep up? We believe in making timeless pieces that truly last.

No doubt you were inspired by so many things, but what’s an example of something you saw or experienced on your trip that we might catch a glimpse of in an upcoming collection?

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Bhutan was beyond inspiring. And you will absolutely see its influence in the fall ’17 collection—the colors and all-natural dyes especially.

We’re in such an era of the Lady Boss. How does that play into how and what you design? How do you make clothes for women who live and work in a world with a female presidential candidate? Could the founders of the brand have imagined this happening when they started the line?

I like to think that the personality of the brand is silently powerful, like the woman who walks into a room full of confidence. She’s not overdone and doesn’t need gimmicks to be noticed. Lafayette 148 New York helps women create an effortless sense of style—one that’s both intelligent and luxurious—without trying too hard. The fact that we have a female presidential candidate is not a surprise to our founders. As a company of women, for women, it was just a matter of time; we always knew it was never a question of if, but rather, when!

SHOP: Lafayette 148 New York