The New York designer LaQuan Smith’s clothing is often described as a redefinition of sexy for the new age. The Queens native’s teeny hemlines, focus on bodycon silhouettes, and accentuation of a person’s natural body shape certainly do represent sensuality—but to leave a description of the LaQuan Smith brand at simply “sexy” would limit its wide-ranging approach to fashion. Over the years, Smith has translated his ethos into boardroom-ready office clothing (illustrated by tailored pencil skirts and boleros for fall 2021); preppy, Fresh Prince of Bel Air-esque looks (fall 2019), and playful eveningwear inspired by scammers and grifters (spring 2019).
It was this diverse methodology that ultimately inspired 11 Honoré’s design director Danielle Williams Eke to tap Smith for the plus-size e-commerce site’s latest initiative, which launches today. During the next three months, 11 Honoré will host the work of BIPOC designers on its website, starting with Smith and Greta Constantine. Shoppers will be able to purchase LaQuan Smith originals in sizes eight to 22. “One of the things I love about LaQuan Smith is his unique fabric selections,” Williams tells W. “Fabric is so important in the fit process, and because we were working with a fabric that is not widely used in the plus-size space, his team provided us a cutting so we could understand how to give measurement and grading direction to him and his team. Based on that direction we had a couple of rounds of fittings which is what lead us to finalize the collection.”
For Smith, the opportunity to widen his reach—which has already extended from runway to streetwear plates—in retail is just another aspect of his broadening business. “I’m building an American luxury brand, and I want to capitalize on what I already have,” he says. “Sure, there will be clubwear and eveningwear, but there will also be cotton and terry cloth. You might get a t-shirt from Hanes, but a t-shirt from LaQuan Smith? Baby! Something will be exciting about it.”
In his Style Notes interview below, the designer—who was one of the recipients of this year’s CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award and is currently at work on his spring 2022 collection—discussed fitting his pieces for a new customer, keeping his business thriving amid the pandemic, and why his mother is his biggest influence in fashion.
11 Honoré has been a stockist of the LaQuan Smith brand for some time now. How did you first meet the folks at the luxury shopping site?
It was at a talk in Oxfordshire, London—I have a vivid memory of it. We were on a panel together with Bethann Hardison and Kerby Jean-Raymond, talking about diversity and inclusion in fashion. The owner of 11 Honoré was also on the panel, and afterward, they approached me, like, “LaQuan, would you be interested in doing the offerings for plus-size?” It was overwhelming because at that time, and even now, I’m still new to wholesale—I’ve been selling to Saks Fifth Avenue and recently, Nordstrom. But seeing my retail flourish, even despite the pandemic, has been amazing.
11 Honoré's design director Danielle Williams Eke has said that with plus-size clothing, getting the sizing of the pieces just right is a months-long process. What was this fitting process like for you and Danielle, when it came to translating your clothes into a larger size bracket?
Fitting plus-size has definitely been a challenge, I’ll be completely transparent. My philosophy and my ideal on the way I design is all about the return of bodycon, and the celebration of the female form. I wanted to make a conscious effort to include and make sure the clothes fit bodies for all customers. Danielle is right—all women's bodies are different, some women are broader on top than on the bottom, some women have wider shoulders. What I’m contributing to 11 Honoré is curated, and everything is not for everyone. I wanted to make sure the pieces I am offering fit sizes 8 to 22. It really was about being selective when it came to the pieces on offer, and staying true to who I am as a designer, so when a women wears a blouse, or a maxi dress, or a skirt, she still feels that same sensibility of being unapologetically sexy.
What is on your mood board for your upcoming spring 2022 collection? What's inspiring you?
Getting back to society, and the reopening of the world, specifically in New York. We were hit hard by the pandemic here, and it’s crazy that we are actually doing better than a lot of other places. It’s that strength, and that power the city has; New York will never die. We’ve been through all these insane things and we always manage to come back. So my ultimate inspiration is that energy: the nightlife and glamour of New York City. Spring will be about more is more. There will always be room to celebrate anything.
Let’s get into the Style Notes questions. What’s your go-to outfit on a day off?
I’m usually pretty chill and easy on my day off. I’ll probably be in a slide and skinny jeans and a t-shirt. I don’t really dress up like that unless I have to go out out. It's usually flared jeans or black bell bottoms and sandals and a tee. But I love a good accessory.
What was the last thing you purchased?
A pair of black platform Prada penny loafers. They're very back-to-school, they look so collegiate—and black is my uniform. As a designer, I feel a little guilty shopping apparel because I can just make any piece of clothing that I see and like. So my escapism with buying other designers is through fragrances and handbags, boots and shoes. That’s where my splurge goes when it comes to fashion. I admire my peers and what they do, but I like to stick within a LaQuan Smith format when it comes to clothing.
What's the best fashion tip that you've picked up on set?
I already know off the top of my head: safety pins are essential. And double stick tape, for plunging necklines and fabrics that need to stay in place. They're essential on a photo shoot, on set, for a show. And that's something I could easily have in my bag every day, along with measuring tape. I always have measuring tape in my bag. Sometimes I'll pull it out at dinner with a few of my girlfriends, like, "Come here, girl, let me measure your waist." They're like, "LaQuan, what is your issue?" But I'm just always going from the factory to a fitting, so those are my essentials.
Speaking of what's in your bag, what do you always make sure you have with you, besides measuring tape?
Obviously my wallet, lip gloss, I always need lip gloss—that is so important to me. I hate talking to people with chapped lips. Hand sanitizer, that's been my thing. But keys, wallet, lip gloss and hand sanitizer, and I'm pretty much good to go.
What's your go-to lip gloss?
I love Dior's, it's pink with a little bit of glittery shimmer.
What was your style like as a teenager?
Oh my god, crazy, crazy, crazy. I don't even know if I want to talk about that! I have pictures of going to Greece in a neon green, leopard print catsuit. Then I went through this phase of, ‘I want to get my name out there. I want to get my clothes out there.’ I remember crashing New York Fashion Week parties in my own designs, my own 3-D leggings and catsuits. I was really fearless. I mean, more fearless than I feel like I am today. I had absolutely nothing to lose. I wanted to be photographed. I didn't care if you laughed at me because I knew what I had was special. My friends would be like, "LaQuan, that's hot," and people who didn't know me would be totally hating on me. But that's what you're supposed to do. And I encourage young kids to be creative and do whatever your heart desires, because that is part of the journey of finding yourself. You've got to go through a little chaos to get a sense of who you are.
What were the other kids wearing when you were growing up?
Whatever was in style. Everyone went through the phase of the True Religion jeans and the Pelle Pelle jeans, the Ecstasy jackets, but my mother wasn't buying any of that for me. And if you think of being a young teenager, you're probably still in school, you got a little side job and you make a little bit of money, but I was creating my own thing. I was cutting up denim jackets, bleaching them, shredding them up, and putting them in the washing machine. I would take some of my mother's old lace blouses, or her old leather skirts to create patchwork on my shirts’ shoulders.
Your mom sounds like a very stylish lady.
My mom has really shaped my taste and fashion. She had me at a very young age, so I know this sounds weird, but I felt like I grew up with her. I remember she used to work for Blue Cross Blue Shield at the World Trade Center back in the Nineties. I remember watching her get dressed for work before I had to go to school. She’d put on these boiled wool skirt suits that were red or blue, or camel-colored. And she would get on the train with her sneakers and pantyhose, and once she got to her building, she put her heels on. I saw my mom from professional life to nightlife, and that really shaped my taste and tailoring and in fashion. My mom loved to dress up—so I get my inspiration from her looks in the Nineties, because she was that era’s quintessential woman.
What's the most prized possession in your closet?
I don't really know the answer to that question, because I have a lot of pieces and each piece has a special storyline. Every piece in my closet has been well thought-out from both a design and purchasing perspective. I'm not a hoarder, so if something doesn't fit me anymore or I'm not feeling it, I like to give things away. I rarely donate—I mostly give things to friends who I know will appreciate them. Everything in my closet is so essential, and just because I wore it once does not mean I won't wear it again.
Describe your style in three words.
Currently: Seventies, chic, and clean.
Which friend or fellow designer's style do you most admire?
I'd say Tom Ford. I love the way that he looks in terms of his aesthetic. To see Tom always in a suit or some sort of blazer and open collared white top, that's his uniform—he looks the most fabulous in it. I don't think that I have reached the stage of wearing suits yet, but that's his signature, and I can really appreciate that.