In this exclusive interview with POP Style TV, Byron Earnest Lars highlights significant moments of his long career and about the formation of his latest collection In Earnest. Created in partnership with his long time colleague Sheila Grey, Byron yet again forges forward.
Hello everyone. I’m here with the American fashion designer, Byron Lars. Byron, welcome to POP Style TV.
Thank you Tijana. Thank you for having me. Hello everyone.
It is so good to have you and to chat with you because, um, uh, you started as a rookie of the year by WWD, uh, to just last year, New York Times title, Byron is still here 30 years later. Um, so I was wondering how does it feel looking back at those 30 years?
I seldom look back because while you know, fashion is about a reflection of the past and projecting that forward and, and carrying things forward, I think it’s probably, uh, it’s just more productive to keep one’s gaze forward looking. You know what I mean?
And to keep things relevant, but this latest In Earnest collection started from something from like beginnings, but in general, it’s about like, you know, seeing where, where she is and this moment where kind of projecting where she might be moving. And she, meaning our girl, our customer and you know, what things like she needs to fit in her closet and her life to keep pushing it.
What are some of the signature elements of your style that you’re always going to keep and that you don’t compromise on?
American sportswear. Um, it’s funny because it’s always referred to as having a European sensibility. And I never really see it that way because, you know, the roots of American sports wear was about invention and innovation and, and pragmatism. You know what I mean? And
I think that’s something that I always try and include in all the clothes it’s just like, you know, making it interesting and beautiful and functional, you know, but of course it’s an amplified with, uh, in this case. You know, bra cups and all that stuff. The white collar and cuff are removable speaking back to the pragmatism of American sportswear. So, you know, white collar and cuff is very susceptible to soiling.
So you formed your own label in 1991. Um, how did it work back then? How did you get in front of the right people?
You know, oddly enough, Um, it was certainly harder in terms of the in terms of the physical labor that it took to get in front of people.I mean, we didn’t have, we didn’t have a cell phone. There’s none of that stuff. No social media.
You couldn’t inbox anybody. I mean, if you want that message out there, you have to put it in a bag and put it on your back and get into an office and get in front of someone. That is if they had time to see you. Now, of course, no one has time to see you when they don’t know who you are. So a lot of it is like probably going against all your good breeding and getting a little rude and like, hey, I’m here, I’m here.
So there was, there was some of those, like for instance, um, you know, my first order came from Henri Bendel and they had a luxury department store that no longer exists, but it was amazing. That’s where Stephen Burrows had. They had a Steven Burrow’s world. I mean, they were like very pivotal and his, you know, meteoric rise to fame in this industry and they just had a kind of, uh, a legacy of supporting new talent. So, um, knowing all that, they were my first stop. With a bag over my back back.
How many pieces would you usually show?
There were like eight pieces and it was a really tight group of like a baseball jacket, kind of inspired dresses. And oddly enough, this is one thing that nobody really connects with that rookie of the year title. That is why they chose that language because of those baseball dresses at Bendel’s. It was like, okay.
I don’t get it, but that was why they used that language because of all that, that whole, um, at the time there was a big recession going on in that time. And a lot of the larger brands, of course, when there’s a recession and money gets tight, things get very safe looking, you know what I mean?
People, businesses don’t feel like they have the latitude to exercise flights of fancy. So that’s when this whole category at the time young designer came on the scene and people like myself and Todd Oldham and Anna Sui who was relatively new than, you know, really had an opportunity to, uh, be recognized in a serious way because we had something to offer that looks different and it wasn’t entirely safe.
It was just fun in what we felt and the market responded to it. And, and did ironically take us serious. That first group of baseball dresses that are delivered to Bendel’s topped Fifth Avenue windows. I didn’t know until I was walking by.
Really? Tell me about the moment when you saw your dresses in the windows
Well, I was just blown away! You know, I’m like walking by with a, another garment bag on my back, by the way, because, you know, after I got that order, that was probably about all I could afford to fulfill at the time. And then I thought, okay, well, the next stop is the magazines. And so I started slinging that bag over my back and made some new samples and have those samples in fact in there.
Which was great to say like, Hey, by the way, these things are in Bendel’s window right now. So that kind of helped, you know, some kind of like momentum or legitimacy for this guy who came out of nowhere. Whose at your desk side.
So before you made a name for yourself, uh, were you inspired by any other designers, models, architects, figures we would be familiar with?
Well, I did want to plan to be an architect all while I was in high school until I learned to saw. So that, that was something that I felt like incredibly sketchy when I decided to turn to fashion. And that, until you learned so many designers had an interest in architecture, not the least of which being crystal ball Balenciaga.
Like once I learned that I’m like, oh, okay, then this is perfectly okay. Um, when I was in high school and still making progress and all that stuff, and you know, I go around to the high end department stores. At that time, there was one Eye Magnet that exists. And in every one of those stores, there’s always a very chic, an older black lady in the department.
I don’t know why, but there always is. And there was one in Eye Magnet and her name was Bunkie. And she, you know, she came up to me, I guess she was like, well, I see this guy in the women’s, you know, couture department. And I’m like, what’s his deal? So she came to me and I told her that like, hey, I want to be a fashion designer and all this stuff.
And she , she’d just gotten in some new Valentino. And that was when shoulder pads were all the rage and she showed me. And it was a problem because, you know, you had a shoulder pad sweater, with a shoulder pad coat and by the time it was all set and done everybody had no neck whatsoever, but Mr. Valentino had these graded shoulder pads that were stackable of one another. So that when you had all those layers together, you didn’t loose your neck.
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You just looked very structured and chic and when the under-layers weren’t under there, there was some excess fabric, but it was all managed masterfully and thought about. And that was when I, I learned I’m like, oh, the big boys are figuring out all these problems. And it was really, uh, a great moment in my education of fashion is before I even went to fashion school. But that was a first really important lesson that like you’ve got to solve all the problems before they become problems.
That’s really what design is. Problem solving. So that was really amazing. So yes, Mr. Valentino was one, Claude Montana, of course, the great Thierry Mugler, because they just had all these amazing and I dare say architectural moments in fashion. So, you know, really did bridge those two interests in a very obvious way.
I was always drawn to like the, the pattern making and the building of the clothes. So that that’s where the, the synergy and fashion and architecture came from it and remains to this day.
Amazing. So, um, how was it designing for someone like Barbie? What were your challenges for Barbie dresses?
Uh, Barbie is my girl and definitely by far my most famous client, you know, I didn’t realize how important those dolls were to particularly black women who look like many of those dolls who had never seen themselves in Barbie. Um, you know, like for instance, one of my proudest moments was actually pushing the envelope to the point of them making the darkest shade Barbie that they had ever made to that point.
And it took some time, you know, it took some successes to even build up to that level of trust in and Mattel management even allow it to happen. And when it did, it was wildly successful. And, and very, I mean, more important than I realized, because, you know, I was just kind of on the surface yet. I’m like, hey, she’ll be fabulous.
You know, there’s elect whack was that color, you know, it was pretty surface until I started meeting women out there with tears in their eyes, thanking me for, I’m like, oh my gosh, it’s so much bigger than my little idea of it. And you know, and I’m really thankful, to have been a part of that since then they make that color Barbie all the time.
So, you know, you just need, you just need that door to be open.
You faced quite a lot of ups and downs. Uh, what are your thoughts on it? How did you always manage to get back up?
Michael Jordan said that like you miss a hundred percent of the shots you don’t take. You know, I guess there was like, kind of like really internalizing that and, and knowing that, like, to you know I don’t think fashion design is just like what I do. It’s kind of who I am. You know what I mean? So it’s just like, I think I’d be doing this because I always like fantasize about like, well, if I hit that like $300 million lottery I would take it. I’m out. And then my business partner lo is like, oh yeah, no like you’re not out.
And then I think I’m like, yeah, you’re right. But it’s so, um, I think that’s why you just keep getting up when you get knocked down and then you hear all everybody else’s story and you start seeing those documentaries about unsung and people in all kinds of industries. And documenting moments that you might remember in their histories, where you like, wow, they’re at the pinnacle of success.
And then you realize, wow, they were just scraping by, at that moment or, or ultimate tragedy, you know, they were overcoming something so much bigger than that moment that was, you know, publicly visible. And then you just realize that’s just what life is. It’s just a whole mixed bag of stuff. And you gotta just keep moving forward. I mean, it’s just, nobody really escapes that part. Yeah. Yeah. That is it. That’s just one, uh, keep telling our story about being there in it with her and for her.
Amazing. Thank you so much, Byron, and see you on the runaway. Thank you.
Interview by Tijana Ibrahimovic
Edited by Basile Sampson
Shop his collection In Earnest official
Byron’s FW22 Collection