The parallel between fast cars and high fashion is self-evident. Both modes operate in a luxury world that is sometimes unattainable, always aspirational, and downright sexy. LaQuan Smith lives in this world. But it wasn’t always like that.
“Nothing was given to me on a silver platter,” Smith, 31, told ELLE. “I had hustle to get where I am today.” The self-made designer went from sneaking into New York Fashion Week to being the toast of the town. Since his debut collection in 2011, he’s slowly built his empire with a client list that leaves no celebrity stone unturned. Everyone from Beyoncé to Selena Gomez to Rihanna has taken his micro dresses and catsuits to the ‘grid. With a smoldering design aesthetic that makes prudes blush and a finesse for fabric that rivals couturiers, his talent is redefining modern luxury, ushering in a new and exciting breed of designers that NYFW is desperately lacking.
Born and raised in Queens, the native New Yorker is living proof of the resiliency of the city and the type of people it propagates. His business survived the pandemic (though not without its own hardships), with hopes to recreate the magic of NYFW in its heyday. “The high energy of New York and music, fashion, hip hop, cars, and luxury and champagne and all of these fabulous things intertwining into one space,” Smith reminisced.
The current season, once again presented amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic, looks a lot different from that aforementioned energy. That isn’t stopping Smith from getting a leg up with a partnership with BMW, the official automotive partner of New York Fashion Week: The Shows for the fall-winter 2021 season. In a custom content series that premieres today, February 11, the campaign features Smith drawing the innate connection between cars and clothes.
We spoke to Smith on why his humble beginnings matter, designing for the unapologetically sexy, and what we can expect from his upcoming collection, here.
On the past and future of NYFW
I remember sneaking into fashion week in Bryant Park when I was younger having no business being there. I remember Fashion’s Night Out. It was lit, New York was on fire and that kind of energy was just so fresh and rejuvenating and inspiring. It’s important to me to revive the heyday of Alaia or Gianni Versace. Those were the sexy, exciting shows that people were just waiting and fighting to get in to. To be able to continue that kind of legacy is important to me. There has to be some sort of way where we can figure out how to recreate the hype. Laquan Smith is truly an experience and I want to be able to bring that same kind of energy.
What luxury means in 2021
People are investing in this idea of modern luxury because it’s about the storytelling: We’re made and created in the city of New York. I don’t imagine that the pieces I’m creating will be passed off to Buffalo Exchange in the next three years. These are pieces that you’re going to keep in your closet forever. It’s sort of like what you would do with a Chanel bag— You pass it on to your daughter or your niece. It’s special.
Struggling through 2020
My business was doing well. It was always on the uprise, but 2020 really did put a dent in a lot of other different businesses, particularly with my peers. Success was knocking on my door, but at the same time, manufacturers that have been in business for over thirty years were closing our business because they couldn’t afford to produce anymore. It was a crazy, crazy experience to go through as a designer when you are at the mercy of these manufacturers
On partnering with BMW
People are going to see a black kid from Queens, New York posted up on a luxury car, which just happens to be a BMW. And that image within itself is just going to speak volumes. I think it’s going to inspire other creatives to push the limits. Just because you’re a designer doesn’t mean that you have to always do things in a fashion space.
Being inspired by film and music videos, luxury cars have always been at the forefront of fashion and Hollywood films. It is a part of my inspiration when creating a collection to be thinking about the kind of woman that I’m inspired by. The questions that I ask—what kind of car she drives, where does she go on the weekend, what is she doing—all these different things are part of the design process. How BMW aligns itself in the luxury automobile space and how I align myself in the fashion luxury space really felt organic and it felt like it was really authentic in terms of the partnership and me. I mean, there’s nothing more glamorous than a woman driving a BMW car wearing Laquan Smith.
On staying true to his vision
When I was starting my business, I definitely felt like people didn’t understand my company. The clothes were too overtly sexy or I didn’t put linings in my skirts, and all these silly things that are just subjective opinions. But then I would see bigger brands knocking me off and doing the same exact thing, so I came to the realization that I have to stay the course. I have to continue to be unapologetic about what it is that I’m designing and just focus on catering to an audience that wants to hear what I have to say, as opposed to me compromising or trying to change who I am as a designer.
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On designing for the unapologetically sexy
I think that this world is very uptight. When you have risk-takers and people who are not apologizing for their sensuality, I think that it can be uncomfortable for people to really grasp and cope with. When you think of the woman that I dress, like Beyoncé, these women just so happen to be pop stars. I think that even if you’re a woman who works a nine to five, if you’re a woman who owns your own business, or you own your own art gallery, or whatever it is that you do in your professional life, Laquan Smith is a celebration. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do for a living.
Smith’s dream clients
I think in the music world, there’s no one that I haven’t dressed. But we haven’t quite tapped into Hollywood as of yet. So I’ve been in talks with like Halle Berry. I know she is a huge fan of my work.
Teasing his upcoming fall-winter 2021 collection
I’m trying to give people something to hope and wish for again. I guarantee you: once everyone’s all vaccinated and the world is opening up again, people are going to be storming. They’re going to be ready to party. They’re going to be ready to function, going to dinner, and being photographed. I want to give people a reason to go out, even if you can’t right now. And that’s really what I’m working on with the collection. For beautiful people, it’s beautiful pieces that you can feel unapologetically sexy in.
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