BY RACHEL MORTEN. PHOTO BY COLIN WAY.
Thirty years ago, when then-10-year-old Lara Presber was unhappy with the prepackaged outfits her dolls were sporting, she got to work creating a line of her very own. The resulting couture collection doesn’t bear much resemblance to the sleek, structured apparel she produces today, but, even back then, the Calgary native had an eye for design. “I liked building things,” she says, “whether they were from wood or fabric.” In fact, wood was her material of choice for a while—she chose architecture over fashion after graduating with her first degree (“It seemed more practical”), and worked steadily designing warm, welcoming retail and commercial interior spaces. A decade into her career, Presber craved a new challenge and so headed for Milan to study fashion.
Along the way, she found a way to combine both passions and, in 2005, she returned to Calgary to establish Studio Presber, a line of architecturally inspired womenswear. “For me, a good garment and a good building are all about structure,” says Presber. Her latest collection mixes dark greys with hints of patterned silk, elements inspired by the University of Calgary’s downtown campus. Her pieces are innovative, but her sales system is even more so: Presber’s website offers crowd-pricing (the more people who pre-order, the lower the cost) on limited-edition designs ranging from silk cowl-neck dresses to smartly cut chiffon tops.
The designer (along with other Calgary multitaskers like designer and artist Paul Stady) just launched Tallboy Studio, a multidisciplinary studio created to tackle urban projects of all scales. “It’s taken me all this time to collect my experiences,” laughs Presber. “But, looking back now, it all makes sense.” WL
Published on the NEAT blog Friday May 2, 2014
The Heart Truth is a volunteer based charity and a glowing attempt by the Heart and Stroke Foundation to raise awareness and increase understanding about heart disease and strokes amongst Canadian women. The campaign aims to educate the public, decrease the number of women at risk as well as encourage women to take preventative actions. The Heart Truth Fashion Show is a major event in select cities across Canada which fashionably raises money for the cause. The high-end event ‘dresses’ Canadian celebrities and public figures in custom made red gowns by some of the country’s most sought-after fashion designers. Event guests not only get to enjoy viewing the beautiful tailor made outfits and a night of fun, but also learn about the importance of heart health through educated guest speakers and honorees’ personal stories. The event is said to represent “women’s courage and passion and their power for change as they share the truth with others and raise awareness about the importance of heart health”.
Heart Truth Calgary was started in 2012 by Jacqueline Tyler and Shahr Savizi. The event this year was held at 8th Avenue Place and was seamlessly beautiful. The assortment of businesses and individuals who came out to support the cause and empower women was overwhelming. The organizers, Tyler and her magnificent team, were poised, composed and truly professional as they put together, led and managed one of Calgary’s most successful, and classiest, fundraiser events.
Not only did I get to attend the gala, but I had the rare opportunity to shadow and document the making of local fashion designer Lara Presber’s gown contribution for the Fashion Show! Disclaimer: Lara is an extremely accomplished, Italian-educated fashion designer whose understated, classic style got put on hold for the making of this dress. I love a good story, I love a good narrative, and that’s precisely what Miss Presber (yes, she’s single – men form a line) set out to do.
We caught up with the designer, and by caught up with I mean hovered over her desk, and asked her to describe in her own words the concept and inspiration behind the dress.
LP: My inspiration started with the black blips created on EKG paper by a healthy heartbeat. I thought it would be interesting to make the printout life-sized and turn it 90 degrees to create some interesting and abstract geometries that would be unique, but still figure flattering.
The pattern is made from Lara’s stature, which is quite similar to Erin’s, and throughout the entire process Lara spoke about getting the right fit; seams falling at the right place and clothing tailored to actually fit your body, what a concept! Most people either wear too large or too small of clothing for their figure and completely ignore tailoring altogether (I’m even guilty of this!). Throughout this process you will see a sheath transform into a figure flattering dress! It is truly is quite amazing.
At this stage you can see that the dress has very little shape to it. We are at the sheath stage, which can be a charming look, but this is neither the time or the place. One final fitting with Erin will confirm the amount to take in at the hips and pull up at the shoulder. But what you can see is the sideways EKG symbol finally come to life.
Let the paper experimentation begin!! Lara and the Tallboy Studio team (army of architectural misfits aka my workmates) played with different paper folding, crinkling and layering techniques in order to uniquely incorporate the EKG design into the dress. After a few different iterations Lara was really happy with the technique of weaving . . . Making fabric out of paper: genius.
At her final fitting, Erin was grateful that there was lining in the dress. Come on, who does she think we are?!
The next step was to experiment and design the mesh outer layer of the dress. The mesh is meant to follow the overarching EKG symbol on the top half of the dress and connect to form the right hand side shoulder of the dress.
Setting and affixing the EKG paper were the last, but most important, details of the dress. In the designers words:
LP: The EKG paper became an integral part of the dress from both an inspiration standpoint as well as fabrication. The strips were woven to become almost fabric-like and then inserted between the 2 layers of the dress. I left the ends free at the top and bottom to help it to confirm to the silhouette and also add some dynamicism and movement.
Flash forward to the Heart Truth Fashion Show. Because I had been ‘helping’ Lara, I got to go up with her to the fitting room where all the models’ makeup and hair was being done. It was insane. The treats and drinks they were giving out was out of control! But in all seriousness, there were people flying around lip sticking lips, hair spraying hair, painting nails and powdering noses, then someone yells at the top of their lungs, ‘anyone else need hair?!’ Ahem, right here, I could use a touch up. Pffffffft! Not a chance.
Four final images photo credit Crimson Art Photography.
The dress was so whimsical, it flowed and swayed down the runway to Erin’s confident strut. This ended up being Lara’s favorite aspect of the dress, as well as everyone else’s I’m sure.
LP: My favourite aspect of the dress was seeing it come to life on the runway with all of the paper strips swishing and fluttering with each step that my model took; it became so much more animated than I could have predicted and brought an element of fun to a very serious topic.
This dress had a story, it had a true narrative from the beginning and stayed true to Lara’s original intention. A story just like the ladies who wore the dress, and made the dress and those who came out to see the dresses. Nothing gathers people than the narrative that seeks to empower and save women.
Special thanks goes out to all those who made this post and night possible: Lara Presber, Erin Strate, Jacqueline Tyler, Crimson Art Photography, Owen Craig, Paul Stady and the entire Heart Truth Calgary team.
Aired February 26, 2014
Designer Lara Presber talks about her involvement in this years Heart Truth Fashion show and her plans to create a dress for go! Calgary host Erin Strate to wear on the runway.
When Lara Presber was a child, she spent afternoons in the garage building go-karts with her engineer dad, while sewing creations with her artist mom.
It’s no surprise, then, that she did not choose one career, but two.
The Boston-trained architect and Italian-trained fashion designer says, for her, the mixture of the two is simply a way of life — “I don’t think about the breakdown of art and science.”
The 40-year-old Calgarian, now with a studio in Victoria Park, is a clear example of what movement co-founders Jay Ingram and Mary Ann Moser were looking to highlight during the inaugural five-day Beakerhead event, which starts Wednesday.
Science journalist Ingram (a former host of CBC Radio’s Quirks and Quarks and Discovery Channel’s Daily Planet) says the pair had grown tired of all the talk about innovation and the melding of art, science and engineering.
“It was time for no more talk — show, don’t tell.”
Beakerhead, billed as “the most amazing convergence of art, science and engineering,” will do exactly that. While there will be a giant spider, graffiti-drawing robots, art cars, an engineering competition with teams from around the world, astronauts, i-Robot theatre, the Raygun gothic rocket, networking, an art walk — and more — there will also be people such as Presber, who live the creative mix of science and art every day.
“Architecture is simply art with rules. It is not a big shift to go into fashion design — especially when you realize there is a very technical side to creating clothing,” she says.
A building goes from a flat two-dimensional drawing into a three-dimensional creation. In sewing, there are scientific transfers of measurements onto paper and then to three-dimensional clothing pieces.
“Clothes are very much ‘engineered,’ ” said Presber, who will present Speakerhead on Building Fashion, Thursday at noon at the downtown public library as part of Beakerhead.
And just as buildings are all about structure, so, she says, is clothing — “That is what makes a woman look great in an outfit, no matter her size: the proper structure of the garment.”
Inaugural Beakerhead events start in Calgary on Wednesday (many are free), partly because both Ingram and Moser are based here, but also because the city is the centre of engineering in Canada, and could handle another top-notch event on its calendar.
And while any mention of science seems to scare some people off, Ingram emphasizes that Beakerhead is all about entertainment and “you don’t need third-year calculus” to enjoy it.
Events around Beakerhead are geared to every demographic: the Telus Spark Adult night (Thursday); a rock/opera performance featuring Chris Hadfield, the former commander of the International Space Station, who played his guitar in space, Ingram’s band The Famous Scientists, an opera singer/physicist and drummers all performing in the Tremendous and Curious World of Beakerhead (Friday night); and a catapult competition (Catharsis Catapults), which will see “love or hate” items hurtle through the air in a test of tension release (Sunday).
And there are opportunities to give young people an idea of what science, engineering and art can offer them as careers.
Native American and former NASA astronaut John Bennett Herrington will speak to Aboriginal youth in Calgary and at surrounding reserves about his time in space; engineering students from around the world will compete in the Shell International Engineering Competition; and students will be demonstrating their own art car and art bike designs.
We caught up with Calgary-based architect and fashion designer Lara Presber who designs her professional womenswear collections around the theme of ‘Building your Wardrobe one piece at a time.’ Inspired by the recent peaked interest in crowd-funding and pricing sites, savvy entrepreneur Lara has recently introduced crowd-pricing strategy with her women’s collection and on top of her regular collection, launches one limited edition piece from the collection online every month. Having trained as an architect first because Lara didn’t feel fashion design was a practical career path, she now shares her time across both her creative passions; architecture and fashion design. We asked Lara a few questions.
Tell us about your background? I was always interested in designing and making things when I was a child, which typically involved sewing or building things in the garage. When it came time to choose a career path architecture seemed like the more ‘practical’ option. Fashion came along later in life after 10 years of working on mostly large-scale institutional projects and yearning for a more intimate design experience.
Tell us about Studio Presber. What inspired you to launch it? Studio Presber evolved organically with wanting to collaborate on design projects with friends and colleagues who are immensely talented and experts in their own fields. It seemed to make a lot of sense after spending years in top-heavy organizations to strip away all of the bloat to provide clients with direct access to the designers who are also small business owners themselves. Design after all is an investment in your business and who better to advise than another business owner; it changes the perspective of the deliverable.
What inspired you to launch your fashion brand Lara Presber? The Lara Presber line was essentially born out of the frustration of the lack of options available for professional womenswear for myself and my colleagues. Our choices were limited to either very formal suits or pieces that were either too casual or were too revealing for the workplace. The line evolved over time to incorporate elements of architecture with a different building inspiring each collection. The result are pieces that can be worn to work, but also transition easily to evening or weekend. I’ve tried to create some options that are still feminine and could be considered as a suit alternative without the overly formal feeling that a suit sometimes gives.
What has been the most exciting part of launching your business so far? The most exciting part of launching both the fashion line and my architecture practice is seeing them come together in once project. We were recently awarded a commission for a cafe where we will be designing the interior, advising on furniture, collaborating with the branding and graphics component, providing the soundtrack and designing the uniforms for the staff. It’s really fulfilling to see so many facets of design coming together in one project and can’t wait to see the result.
What has been the most challenging part? And how did you overcome it? One of the greatest challenges is being based in a city that is just beginning to find their ‘design legs’. There is so much potential here, but it’s been somewhat of a slow start to convince people that, for example, clothing that is designed and made in Canada is worth the extra cost or that small independent designers who band together to form a larger design team are as reliable and stable as the larger, more traditional firms.
What advice would you give for someone starting out in the fashion industry today? The best piece of advice that I could give to someone starting out in fashion is to do as much interning with established companies as possible before striking out on your own. I had spent some time with an accessory designer in Milan before returning to Canada to launch my own line, but was not prepared for the challenges I encountered. It’s still a relatively new industry here so finding support and mentorship was almost impossible and I made a lot of very expensive mistakes before getting it right.
Who or what has been your biggest inspiration? My biggest inspiration has been my thesis mentor while completing my graduate studies in fashion in Milan. She had started her career in architecture and then transitioned into lighting design before becoming the art director for Christian Dior accessories. She gave so much of herself and really wanted to see me succeed without wanting anything in return. I liked that we had similar backgrounds and that she really understood where I was coming from as a fellow architect; she’s the only person that I’ve met in my adult life that I wanted to be like ‘when I grew up’!
What are your plans for the future? My plans for the future are to continue with Studio Presber and let it grow organically to see where it takes us. Some of the results of the turns we’ve taken have been so much better than anything we could have planned for so will continue along the lines of collaborating with people we enjoy and hopefully making some memorable projects and experiences along the way.
When you look back on life, what would you like to be remembered for? I would like to be remembered for having a full and diverse life. We live in a time where everyone is constantly ‘busy’ and seem to compete with each other on how much we can put on our plates at one time. I am trying to find a balance between creating beautiful spaces and objects and then also having the time to enjoy them with the people in my life that are important to me.
If you could be stuck in an elevator with anybody, who would it be? I think I would choose Coco Chanel. She was such a pioneer in the fashion world, but also culturally with redefining how women saw themselves in society.
I was recently fortunate enough to pop by my friend Lara Presber’s new studio in Calgary to check out this fabulous new space being used both for architectural work as well as housing and creating the designer’s latest collections.
Lucky to have enough time for a glass of Prosecco and to see Lara off before embarking on a solo six-week El Camino de Santiago adventure through Spain, I was also able to sneak in a few questions about her latest work and inspiration.
KC: As a young professional working in an artistic field, why choose to live and work in Calgary?
LP: The choice to live and work in Calgary happened quite coincidentally. I had never intended to stay after moving back from Europe, but I met so many inspiring people and realized that the city has so much potential for design. We have a completely untapped and unsaturated design market partnered with a robust economy. The designers that are here now (in all disciplines) are laying the foundation for and shaping the future of our city. That’s pretty rare for an urban centre that’s already reached a critical mass of 1 million people.
KC: What about Calgary inspires you the most as a fashion designer and architect?
LP: I’m inspired by the openness in both fields of clients who are willing to try something different. People are starting to recognize the value of having something that has been designed by a professional where detail is paramount. That makes me really excited and is so different from where we were when I first came back.
KC: You feature one piece from your collection each month on shop.larapresber.com, stating ‘Building your wardrobe one piece at time’. How did this concept formulate?
LP: ‘Building your wardrobe one piece at a time’ of course is a play on architecture, but also the tendency that I saw in my retail store of women who really coveted one beautiful and unique piece every few months combined with the service of being fitted personally by the designer. It creates a nice memory around the piece and an anticipation that we don’t experience much any more in our instant world. The price break component was inspired by the premise behind Kickstarter; it’s a great way to encourage buyers to share the piece with a friend, which in turn benefits everyone.
KC: Your architectural background tends to inspire your collections. Can you give us a hint of what might be inspiring the next season’s collection?
LP: My Spain trip is going to play a huge part in the inspiration behind the next collection. I have no idea what it will be yet, but feel optimistic that after spending six weeks on an open road wandering from town to town, I’ll discover something spectacular!
KC: Where can people check out your collection?
The current collection can be found (one piece at a time) on larapresber.com, as well as some pieces from previous seasons at fabulous savings.
Photo by Curtis Dez Photography