Emily’s Style Notes: Derek Lam On Going Back To Design Basics For Spring 2013

Expanding our sense of fashion and the creative minds behind the clothes we love, Lam shares his inspired designs.

In her new weekly column, Emily Ramshaw, Assistant Fashion News Editor, starts a conversation inspired by the insiders and newsmakers shaping the fashion world now.

Photo Courtesy of George Pimentel

It’s a new year and 2013 feels like a big deal. Although I’m loath to submit myself to resolutions (self improvement isn’t my strong suit), there’s something about a change in the calendar and a return to the office that makes this month feel fresh. Fashion, in its endless seasonal and bi-seasonal cycle, is constantly refreshing and, in reality, one year means nothing to the next. (For those of us who work in the industry, it’s been “Spring 2013” for four months now.) Fashion is, however, happily full of fresh starts, and though we often tend to forget it, caught up as we are in the product – the clothes, the shoes, the bags, etc. – it’s important to recognize that it all comes from somewhere and, in its high fashion iterations, someone.

Derek Lam was the one to remind me of this when I spoke to him a few months ago – back in 2012 – about his spring collection. It was presented in Toronto at the second annual Lunch with Margaret and George – a luncheon hosted by Lisa and George Corbo that benefits the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. Because of the Northeaster that threatened New York at the beginning of November, Lam himself didn’t actually make it to the city (lucky for us his designs did), but he was kind enough to call me a few days later to discuss his collection and design philosophy.

Photo by George Pimentel

This particular collection was inspired by the art of Barkley L. Hendricks and the portraits he drew of urban, black Philadelphians in the late 1970s and ‘80s. Lam’s bread and butter, however, is classic American sportswear done in luxurious fabrics through clever design savvy. While the streetwear evident in the portraits bleeds through to the collection, “it was more the colours and the textures and the attitude,” Lam told me, or a feeling that is more intrinsic than formulaic.

With a designer like Lam, who consistently makes such great collections that are also always wearable from the first, it’s often easy to forget the craftsmanship and thought that goes into, say, a leather skirt or one of those macramé suit sets. “The primary thing is to really believe in design,” he proclaimed as though imparting such a statement would in turn give me the depths of creativity that he obviously possesses, “Always having a constant appreciation for design as not only a business, but also a challenge and an occupation.”

Photo by George Pimentel

Ah yes, the challenge of design. It is so easy to forget these first conceptions of clothing when we dress in the morning, a concept with which Lam is apparently familiar. When I ask about the influence of the customers – the women who actually buy and wear his clothes – he is forthright. “There’s definitely the sense that to be relevant means having communication with how women live and how they want fashion and clothing to be part of their lives.” Thus, the clothes straddle this fine line between the inspiration – in this case the paintings of Barley L. Hendricks – and the desires of Lam’s loyal customers.

And are they ever loyal. One of the most is Lisa Corbo herself who stocks the collection in the couple’s Yorkville boutique, George C, and who, on the day of the lunch, wore a show stopping sequined number by the designer. “It’s always amazing to have these incredible women who are like ambassadors to what I do…” Lam says. Something tells me they’re more than happy to fill that role, especially a woman such as Corbo, who, I’m sure, has more than a passing appreciation for the art behind the design. If we’re in the spirit of resolutions, mine might be to do exactly that: appreciate the mind and the eye behind the fashion I love so much.

Lisa and George Corbo; Photo by George Pimentel