At first glance Lela Rose appears to be like so many of the prim and proper ladies-who-lunch that worship her ladylike designs, but this polished exterior only becomes that much more impressive after she shows us a gnarly scar from a snowboarding accident, talks about her necessary extravagance- tequila, and tells us that she avoids the stress of NYC traffic by riding a bike anywhere and everywhere. We recently caught up with the Texas sweetheart turned world famous fashion designer at Neiman Marcus as she celebrated her Spring collection on the Magnificent Mile.
Talk to us about the inspiration behind your spring collection. It seems like your designs are just meant for the season!
They are! We always love spring! I’m from Texas originally so I grew up where black was never the new black, I’ve always loved color. In Texas, I’ve always been around women who have worn color, and I’ve always worn color, I wear it constantly. Really the inspiration for the collection was my lifestyle. I entertain a ton and I also work full time, so I’m always needing to go from work to a luncheon and from there to dinner or some event, so I always need clothes that work really well at going from daytime to evening, that I can do a different shoe or change my jewelery, but that can really take me through dinner everyday. The pieces that we do always look very put together and special during the day, but then they really work for going out in the evening. We all lead such busy lives that I think that’s what really keeps this collection going.
Was fashion design always the plan? What did you want to be growing up?
I was always an artistic and creative child, I didn’t always know it would be fashion, but I knew I always wanted to work and do something creative with my hands. I learned how to sew in college, and then started making tons of one of a kind pieces. I grew to love fashion, and for me it’s really all about the craft of making things. I launched the line about 15 years ago.
You’ve famously done some wonderful collaborations to make your high end designs more accessible and affordable- is that something that continues to be important to you?
I think it’s a real opportunity whenever you can do that! We’ve worked with Payless and Target to democratize fashion, and it’s just amazing when you can bring your product to a less sharp price point. So I always think it’s so much fun to get to do that, and it’s something I thoroughly enjoy.
We recently interviewed Jason Wu and talked about dressing Michelle Obama for the Inaugurations, so now we’re excited to hear about your experience dressing the Bush twins- what was that like?
Yes, we did their inaugural outfits for both inaugurations, and we did all the bridesmaids dresses for Jenna’s wedding, really we’ve dressed those girls for years. They’re adorable! They’re both truly adorable!
How did you find out you being tapped for their inaugural outfits?
They called me up, and asked if I was willing to do some custom pieces for them, and of course I was thrilled. That was a long time ago, but that was a really fun, special moment. It’s something that will live historically for a long time.
Those outfits will be a part of history forever! Perhaps on the other end of the spectrum- what is your take on trends?
You know, I’m not someone who cares a lot about trends. Trends are not great for the design market. I think trends are too ephemeral. They’re not something I really think about when I’m designing, and in the way I dress. I always want pieces that have some great detail or modern twist to them. Something that makes them special, but something I’ll have for a long time and pair with different things. I like things that look fresh and new, but trends don’t really work for me. I’m so much about making sure everything looks pretty, and feminine and flattering, and feminine, that’s what our customer is really looking for rather than a trend driven piece that unfortunately might not look so of-the-moment two weeks from now.
Word on the street is that you absolutely love to entertain… What’s the best party you’ve ever hosted?
I can’t even begin to tell you how many parties I’ve thrown! I just had a dinner a few months ago that was one of my favorites I’ve ever had. It was a dinner in honor of Ferran Adria who is considered to be the most amazing chef of our lifetime, he owned El Bulli in Spain, and is considered the father of molecular gastronomy. So I did a dinner in honor of him and we had 5 of the top chefs in the world, we had Thomas Keller, Mario Batali, Daniel Boulud, and Dan Barber and Dominique Ansel and each did one course. We had 65 people seated at one long table that runs through my house. But when I design and entertain, I always think I need to have this type of party, so I can wear this, and serve that. I love to do things like match my drink to whatever I’m wearing and set the table to reflect that. So that’s where all of this comes from.
Will you tell us more about the style and design of your home?
Well, it’s pretty funky! My home [in NYC] is basically designed to be able to entertain, I have these crazy tables that descend from the ceiling and raise from the floor, meeting in the middle, so you can seat 68 people at one long table, or you can just eat with 4 people and it feels very comfortable and normal. My home sensibility is very fun. It’s got blocks of color, and it’s very tactile- I’ve got one room that’s all felt so that whole room is wrapped in felt. You’ll see a lot of the embroideries we’ve done over the years, I have one that’s covering chairs, I have an old fabric that’s now a sofa, you can have many Scarlett O’Hara moments in our apartment.
What’s your favorite thing to cook?
I cook everything! I do all different kinds of food- I’ll do Indian, I’ll do Vietnamese, Korean. I cook all the time and I’m constantly having people over.
What about your two children, will they eat all your exotic cuisine? How old are they now?
The kids are 12 and 7. They are amazing! I’m very lucky, they are experienced eaters.
Any advice for other moms out there trying to juggle it all?
Well it’s not all that glamorous! I just really try to do the things I love doing, for example for me that’s coming home and cooking, spending time with the kids, we all eat together… Those are the things that I find very important but I also love, I’m very good at balancing my time when it’s things that I love, and I’m very bad at balancing my time when it comes to doing things I don’t like. Fortunately the things I love are very fun at the same time! I bike all over New York City, and I know that sounds crazy, but it means I’m not so late getting places, because I don’t have to deal with the stress of traffic, and for me that keeps me from getting mentally and physically exhausted.
Favorite Movie: Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Steal Magnolias | Travel Destination: Jackson Hole, Wyoming | Color: Citrine | Food: Everything! Good food. | Beauty Product: A fabulous cream called Macrene Alexiades 37, it’s by my dermatologist | Restaurant: El Bulli and ABC Kitchen, but here in Chicago- Alinea and Blackbird | Necessary Extravagance: Ice Cream and Tequila- Separately! | Hotel: The Rambagh Palace in Jaipur, India
[Photos By Hallie Duesenberg]