Retail Therapy Guest Blogger: Architect turned fashion designer, Lara Presber

The National Post, Posted: January 19, 2010, 9:30 AM by Karen Hawthorne

Lara Presber, Calgary architect and fashion designer, begins a two-week guest spot, blogging about her “sustainable” approach to her women’s wear line: designing for a sustained period of use, not a throwaway one-season garment. Her collection is available in stores across Canada and next month at her Flagship Store and Studio space in downtown Calgary.

Lara Presber for National Post

“Architecture and fashion?” a lot of people ask. For me, they coexist in the languages of design, but I think it can be a stretch from the outside looking in. I used to be very open with all of my clients about the two professions, but I frequently got looks of hesitancy that made me rethink sharing my alter ego —  if I’m taking on other creative endeavours, how could I possibly be giving them 100% of my effort and enthusiasm? So it remained a secret until just recently.

I didn’t always live a double life; in fact I spent 10 years solely practicing architecture before segueing into fashion. I still clearly remember the moment when I knew that it was time for a change. There had been several arduous meetings to review how many hundreds of thousands of pounds of ductwork we needed for a building’s mechanical system and I suddenly realized that I didn’t care about ductwork. In fact, I wanted to be as far away from those types of conversations as I could possibly get. That week, I applied to fashion schools and a couple of months later was on my way to Italy to start my new, duct-free adventure.

I had had the idea of “inhabitable inspiring wearable” in my head for more than 10 years, but never really understood what it meant to me until the past year. I finally realized that I could be excited about buildings again by taking one that inspired me and translating it into a collection of garments. All of the foundation I had in dealing with building materials gave me a unique perspective on what could be done with wearable fabrics and the idea for the application of truly structured garments took hold. As an added bonus, I’ve been able to find enjoyment in architectural practice again through the clothing, but in a much different capacity. My focus is now on interior renovations where the scale is much smaller, projects move quickly, and I get to play with materials and colour completing the circle between the two worlds.

For my current season, my building of inspiration is Jean Nouvel’s Arab World Institute in Paris. I love all of the tectonics in the moving apertures of the front facade. I used the idea of these blades (shown above in the photo detail) to accentuate different parts of the garments, and, as shown in this grey knit dress (in the photo above left), use them to not only reinforce the softness of the knit, but to add some tone-on-tone vertical lines to elongate the silhouette.

For my upcoming spring collection, I again used a building for inspiration, but also exploited the structure inspired by the specific textile as well. This spring dress (at right, in the photo above) uses a lightweight, but fairly stiff bamboo voile cut into contours on the bias and stitched down. Normally a bias-cut garment is really difficult to wear as it is merciless for figure flaws. But because of the stiffness of the textile, it actually has its own internal structure and maintains its shape while merely skimming the surface of the body, hiding all of those things you’d rather not have anyone know about.

I know that I sound very nerdy with all of the excitement about this but, at the end of the day, I’m still a woman who worries about this or that imperfection — so this is a great discovery for me, personally, as well.

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