Interview with Laura Siegel

From the moment I saw one of Laura Siegel’s graduate collection pieces posted on Bobbin Talk, I knew I needed to see more. And then, a couple of weeks later when Laura was nominated along with nine fellow graduating students to be the 2010 Womenswear Designer of the Year at Parsons, I was absolutely delighted to see a little bit more of her work. The glimpse, however, was just a profile shot of a rack full of clothes, and so my curiosity was not satiated in the least. Eventually my online inquiries were answered and I got in touch with Laura herself. Now, I know that I usually post something about a designer before doing an interview with them. But with a limited amount of photos and such incredible designs, I decided to hit you with a 1-2 Laura Siegel punch. A zen punch, that is. Oh, and did I mention that this gal is originally from Toronto?

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How did you get into fashion design?
In high school I usually pushed academic homework into a more creative route.  I wasn’t skilled in drawing at all, but loved creating things in my mind and 3-dimensionally.  Designing clothes in my conscience was a constant passion, but never considered it a career option until I was applying for Universities.  I ruled out fashion because one of the requirements was a portfolio, which of course I didn’t have.  I decided I would start taking art classes.  4 months later I put every drawing, painting and sculpture I had done in that time into a portfolio and sent it off to Parsons.

What is the first piece you remember designing?
A fake-furred cow printed skirt—made it with a friend before either of us really knew how to sew – I was 8.

What is your most treasured piece of clothing, either bought or handmade?
I can’t pick just one! But I do have a piece of jewelry that tops them all.  It is silver with tiny decorative incisions and impressions.  I got that from my Grandma when I turned 20.  She got it when she was 20 from her father with family engravings inside.  The Spanish hand that made it is very good at their craft with an eye for beauty.

What was the inspiration for your graduate collection? Why did you choose to use natural materials and dyes?
My inspiration came about after travel around the world for a year and having that constant change of surrounding, which made me want to create a home for the body.  I took that by implementing comfortable fabrics, materials and soft textures.  There are a lot of knits and down pieces throughout the collection.  I stuck to using natural fibers and dyes simply because our skin and bodies are natural, so it is simply second nature to want to be touching and wearing the same.  With the harmful affects evolving technology seems to be posing on our lives these days, it is nice to be able to surround our bodies and wear clothes that are one with our skin.

Do you wear your own designs?
Definitely.  I design for a woman very similar to myself, and because most of the collection, if not all, is one size fits all, I wear pieces all the time.

What is your favorite piece from your graduate collection?
I have a few favorites.  One would be the batik-tee.  This is just because the illustrations are all stories from the memories of my travels – it’s very sentimental.  The leather jacket is another favorite (below right).  From the shape and seaming, it turns into a bag, which was fun to figure out. 

Do you listen to music while you design, and what is your favorite?
Music helps me disconnect myself from the distractions of life.  Depending on my mood, I might put on some Jason Mraz, TV on the Radio, or the xx (and sometimes I might throw in a little hip-hop-Jay-Z).

Would you want to put your graduate collection into production if given the opportunity, or are you ready to move on to something else?
I would love to put anything I make into production.  A lot of what I do is one-of-a-kind, so every piece will be different from the first, however with the same heart and hand involved.

I am excited and have started designing other concepts, but will be expanding this collection over the next couple of months.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned while studying at Parsons?
The most important thing I have learned is to always have a strong validated opinion.  Design can mean so many different things, what is special about an individual’s design is not defined by the number of people praising the work, but the designers ability to step away from what the individual has seen in the past with strong research and corroboration for what his or her unique vision is. 

Something else I think is vital to the design process that I have learned at school is to be authentic and thoughtful.  Despite design being a visual presentation, it is the thought process that results in amazing work.  Some of my peers constantly amaze me with how creative different minds can be, and being surrounded by these talents is really inspiring.  I’ll definitely miss it!

If you could design an outfit for anyone, who would it be?
I would love to dress all those who dream to live a relaxing, zen life, as though on travels, no matter where they are.

What do you have planned after graduation?
My current plans are to stay in New York.  However, one of my strong interests is to work one on one with the craftsmen of communities around the world and help sustain their talents.  My ideals would be to design here in New York for a company that shares similar values.

In terms of expanding the collection, I want to start something new, but don’t think I am ready to just yet.  Currently, I am knitting some pieces to expand, but sometimes I surprise myself and take a different route in the process of experimentation, so who knows.

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With such a solid collection under her belt and quite a good head on her shoulders, I think it goes without saying that Laura Siegel is one to watch. By the way, for all of you lucky enough to be in New York, Laura’s pieces will be sold at the Debut boutique this month. Sigh.

Photos by Federico Peltretti

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