Lela Rose, with dog Bobbin on her lap.
On any given day in Manhattan, one of the city’s most fashionable cyclists can be seen around town on a one-of-a-kind ride. “I call it a bicycle, but my husband calls it a tricycle,” says Lela Rose, of her custom-built bike. “It is truly like having a car in New York City and never having to pay for parking tickets.” Genius. Between a caged front basket (usually reserved for her Norwich terrier, Bobbin) and an aft wooden cart, she can fit up to “two kids and two dogs,” plus totes full of fresh greenmarket produce and bolts of fabric.
The New York City-based designer of her eponymous line bikes everywhere throughout the five boroughs and even upstate, uncovering new corners of what she calls her “suburban/urban” way of life and state of mind. “I think the streets are one of the best places to see art,” says Ms. Rose, when asked to where she turns for inspiration. “I see so many interesting people, the way that they’re dressed, new stores, artwork.”
When asked if she considers herself a New Yorker or a Texan, Ms. Rose hesitates and bites her lip before answering, “I’m a Texan.” But for Ms. Rose, who has called New York City home since she began her studies at Parsons in 1991, there is still much left to be uncovered and explored — by bike, in art, through design. That’s the beauty of New York for Ms. Rose: “[Though] the city was so different [when Ms. Rose first moved here] than it is today, I still think that the things I love about New York have been maintained: it attracts people that are dreamers, that have a goal in life that they want to achieve and they come here to do that. And I think that it really fosters a lot of creativity, and it’s so inspiring to live here.”
Every day, Ms. Rose bikes from her Tribeca home to her sunny studio in the Garment District, a small but defined neighborhood tucked between the colorful Flower District and bustling Times Square. Every piece clothing that bears the “Lela Rose” label is manufactured within a few blocks of Ms. Rose’s office (with the exception of some knits that are made overseas). Ms. Rose raves about the flexibility and immediacy of working in the Garment District: “We have such a better handle on quality, fit, and how our product is truly delivered by producing right here in New York.” Rose highlighted the significance of the Garment District, for her brand and all other designers alike. “There’s something really nice — and I think people are starting to realize it — that having a community and having a district that’s set out to the commerce that we do, is vital to making our lives easier.”
Her ideal client, perhaps reflective of her own lifestyle, or the bustle of New York and the diversity of its neighborhoods, is an independent and confident woman (who isn’t afraid to wear a little color). As Ms. Rose imagines it, “She’s definitely someone who is on the go: she needs to look prepared for the day but doesn’t want to look fussy and too overdone. And she needs to be able to go from day to evening and look fabulous. That’s the woman I really love to dress.”
Dating back to her first catwalk show (staged at Christie’s in 2005), each of her fashion collections has been inspired by a particular artist (of all nationalities and across various media, from Gerhard Richter to Man Ray). Her inspiration for her Spring 2014 Ready-to-Wear collection — which was lining the studio walls at the time of our interview, awaiting its New York Fashion Week debut several weeks hence — was found in “mid-century modern furniture by Arne Jacobsen, who I love, and I love his chairs, their lines and freeform, curved forms.” Though every collection is as unique as an artist’s portfolio, she always includes a hint of citrine, her absolute favorite color. “You will see it in different forms. Sometimes its more mustardy, sometimes it’s more neon — I dress my daughter in that color all the time).
Her upstate experiences are colorful, too. From her home in the Catskills, Ms. Rose forages for ramps in the spring. Throughout the year, she purchases smoked eel from Delaware Delicacies, the store of Ray Turner, a friend of Ms. Rose’s, who catches, smokes and cans eel from the Delaware River. “All of these towns [throughout the Catskills] are filled with the most amazing people, who are very creative, very interesting,” says Ms. Rose, noting that her explorations are “always fascinating.”
What keeps this designer — who first launched her own label in 1998, a Wedding collection in 2006, and a boutique in Dallas in 2011 — strong, successful and curious? Persistence. “If you’re really dedicated to doing something, and if you really believe that, “OK, I’m going to do it,” then just keep after it, and don’t let all of those other forces kind of overtake you. And it’s hard to do that! I can’t tell you how many ‘No’s’ and battles I had to fight when I was just starting out, just trying to keep putting one foot in front of the next. But I just think that persistence really goes a long way.”