New Orleans is very festive and artistic, so it’s only fitting for fashion to embrace the city. I didn’t have the opportunity to see all the beautiful collections from NOLA Fashion Week in person, but I did come across the designs of fashion brand Loretta Jane. Described as contemporary with a vintage twist and a touch of femininity, the wearable and fun line was created by Alabama native Kelli Cooper. The 33-year-old designer has been crafting pretty clothes for ten years, but started Loretta Jane just three years ago. Kelli uses leftover fabrics from jobbers in New York and keeps the production process to the South in the US, to uphold the ethical element of her line. I had the opportunity to interview her to learn about her inspiration and love for fabrics.
Krystle: Can you share your journey to becoming a designer?
Kelli: I have always loved clothing and anything to do with fashion. In high school, I ripped out pages from Vogue and Bazaar and tacked them all over my bedroom walls. My mom hated it! It wasn’t until I started college that I decided it was something I wanted to do for a living. I had never even considered it a career choice before that. In my first semester at Middle Tennessee State, I chose Apparel Merchandising and Design as my major and I completely fell in love with it! I had so much fun learning clothing construction and patternmaking. I was completely consumed by it. I would stay home all day on the weekends and make my own clothes. By the end of my second semester, my closet was full of things I made. Granted, most of them were pretty bad, but hey, you’ve got to start somewhere! Even though I loved design I only dreamed of opening a store, not having my own line. After I graduated I started working for a designer in Nashville, where I did custom work for bridal and ball gowns. I learned so much about construction and fabrics from her. She had so many amazing French laces, Italian wools, and Swiss cottons. I had never seen textiles like those and I was so inspired just being around them everyday. It was while I was working for her that I decided I really wanted to start my own line.
Krystle: Where did the name for your brand, Loretta Jane, come from?
Kelli: The name comes from my grandmothers. Jane is my dad’s mother and Loretta is my mom’s. I thought it sounded southern and feminine.
Krystle: You were definitely one of the most talented designers at NOLA Fashion Week. How was the show for you?
Kelli: Aw thanks! The show was great. I always love doing them, it’s so rewarding when you finish all of your samples for a season to get to show them off like that. It’s like “hey guys, this is why you haven’t seen me for a few months!” Andi and Nick do such a great job with the whole production. I really love their style and the way they work with all of us. They are very creative, hardworking and most importantly, patient people.
Krystle: Do you showcase at fashion events often?
Kelli: I try to show every season, but it is new to me. I've had the line for around 6 seasons and I’ve shown it at fashion week twice. Of course, they did just start doing them in smaller cities and I jumped on as soon as they did!
Krystle: What inspires you overall, and where does the inspiration for your latest collection come from?
Kelli: Textiles are always the main impetus for my line. It’s not until I pick what fabrics I’m working with for a season that the ball really gets rolling. I love vintage clothes and costumes from old movies, too. I know this is going to sound overly saccharine coming from me, and maybe it comes from years of working retail, but I get really inspired when I think about the special occasions that people get dressed up for. Anything from a holiday or wedding shower to a first date or a cocktail party is an excuse to get decked out and have fun with what you’re wearing. I love that in a small way I get to be a part of that.
Krystle: On your website, you claim to be a fabric snob (which I love). What are some of your favorite fabrics to work with, and why?
Kelli: I have a very strong aversion to anything synthetic. Yes, I’ve used polyester in my linings or maybe a blend, but overall I just like the drape and hand of silk, wool and cotton. I don’t know that I have a favorite fabric, but I’ve never seen a washed silk charmeuse I didn’t want to be completely swaddled in! Usually, charmeuse is too shiny for my taste, I always end up using the wrong side of it so it’s matte, but the wash takes out that gloss. And it’s a nightmare to work with but it feels like suede. It’s kind of heavy but still incredibly soft, which makes it hang so beautifully.
Krystle: Are there any other must-dos for you as a designer besides using fantastic fabrics?
Kelli: I’ve seen clothes made out of really nice fabrics that are sewn incorrectly, which makes them look cheap or they don’t fit well, so construction and fit are equally important. And, fashion is supposed to be fun! I try not to take it too seriously or overthink the details of what I’m working on. To be quite honest, I usually fail at the latter, but I do try not to stress. Sometimes when a project is giving you a hard time, you just need to know when to walk away, take a breath, and you will figure it out eventually. Either that or it’s trash and you just start all over again!
Krystle: What challenges do you face as a young designer?
Kelli: There is so much competition in this industry! Every time I turn around there’s some amazing new designer I’ve never heard of selling at Barney’s or showing at New York Fashion Week. I think it’s hard to put yourself out there because the possibility of not being liked or even noticed is heartbreaking when you put so much work into something you truly love doing.
Krystle: Do you have plans for your creative direction this year?
Kelli: Well I’m just wrapping up fall ‘12 and I’ve just started looking at fabrics and sketching for spring ‘13. It hasn’t really shaped into much just yet, but I always get so excited at this point. It’s a fresh new start … and who wouldn’t love to have one of those!
All photos by Kyle Petrozza at NOLA Fashion Week
Browse through the Loretta Jane website: http://lorettajane.com/