Go inside the worlds of art, fashion, design, and lifestyle.
One evening at a Metropolitan Club event, textile expert Rachel Hearn came to the rescue of Laura Day Webb, whose vintage dress had torn and needed mending. The next thing they knew, the pair were working together on designing a series of dresses for Laura’s own wedding. Fast forward to April 2018, when together Hearn and Day Webb released the debut collection for their newly founded label, La Doyenne.
A demi-couture brand focusing on fashion for the contemporary woman, La Doyenne aims to design highly functional and seriously stylish pieces that can keep up with the pace of their wearer. To learn more about their creative process and where they find inspiration, Whitewall spoke with founders Hearn and Day Webb.
WHITEWALL: You decided to start your own label after a very positive outcome to working together on Laura’s wedding. Tell us about that.
LAURA DAY WEBB & RACHEL HEARN: We knew instinctively very early on during the work on the wedding gowns that there could be more to our partnership. It was kismet, really. There was a symbiosis to our working relationship. We were struck by how easily we shared ideas and how in tune we were with one another. It felt like it was something we could not ignore.
Both of us had toyed with the idea of starting something in the fashion space prior but it was more a pipe dream than a reality. Having a true partner with whom you can share the joys and stresses of starting a business can be extremely rewarding, if it is the right person. We feel fortunate to have a rapport that has remained intact and blossomed because of a mutual love for what we create together.
WW: What is your process when starting a new collection?
LDW & RH: Oftentimes we are first struck by a texture on, say, the facade of a building; or sometimes it is a particular shade of color that makes us stop in our tracks. Typically, one will text a photo to the other and it can be something which on the surface seems mundane—like chipped paint, but the texture or the way it peels is striking in its own way, and for us, the excitement builds from there.
We usually begin with a baseline color and texture combination that serves as the building block for the rest of the collection. For example, the wool from our Spring Collection was what spoke to us first. We envisioned marbles scattered across the fabric as though thrown onto it. This morphed into the beading across the opera coats in a myriad of colors.
We love prints, so we use water color, oil on canvas, and even crayon rubbings to design our linings and external custom prints, again building from our baseline color.
We are not sticklers for the standard mood board approach. We talk through our ideas aloud, weaving a web until the silhouette, the colors and the prints are all meshed together, and we hit upon a combination that gives us goose bumps.
WW: Your garments are designed with the contemporary woman in mind. What does this mean to you, and why are functionality and wearability priorities for La Doyenne?
LDW & RH: Women’s lives are multi-faceted and we do not believe high fashion should have to fall to the wayside just because we have a school run in the morning, followed by a board meeting in the afternoon. Clothing that can keep up and transition with a woman across the course of her day and furthermore her lifetime seems like a perfectly natural request to us.
It is incredibly time consuming to constantly be searching for the right thing to wear, much less to find a free moment for an outfit change. Women have more important things to worry about but that does not mean they cannot look and feel great. We want our pieces to imbue them with that sense of confidence and ease.
WW: How would you say art has played a part in your work for La Doyenne?
LDW & RH: Our influence is wide ranging from Yayoi Kusama to Mary Cassatt. Each of the pieces in our two current collections is named after a female artist who has come before us and whom we look up to. Art is truly at the core of the brand and we view fashion as the medium through which we have chosen to express it.
In our case, our work goes through several iterations from oil or watercolor on canvas, to being photographed and then ultimately laid out on the fabric. It is the movement of the garment when it is worn however that truly brings it to life, as it changes the way the print and even the texture look to the eye. We see our pieces as wearable art that one can collect and cherish across the course of a lifetime.
WW: If you could only ever pick one La Doyenne piece to keep for yourself, which would it be and why?
LDW: The gold coat from our Transitional Collection is a runaway choice for me. The shawl collar and slight hint of a shoulder make it feel powerful and yet softly feminine at the same time. The texture is incredibly smooth, and the sheen is subtly sleek. I feel glamorous and elegant the moment I slip it on.
RH: The white opera coat from our Spring Collection would be mine. The luxurious details, like the velvet lined pockets, Japanese Peter sham grosgrain ribbon ties, and the hand sewn glass beads make my style feel instantly elevated.
WW: Do you have any upcoming collaborations or collections you can tell us about?
LDW & RH: We are currently working on a collaboration in London with contemporary art specialist/curator Emie Diamond and multidisciplinary artist Lauren Baker. The exhibition is slated for later this year, showcasing the collection in conjunction with the works which inspired the fashion pieces.
We are also in the midst of finalizing our upcoming collection, which is slated for a March debut. It features a new oil on canvas work in rich purples and mauves, with hints of floral throughout. Additionally, we will be introducing a new silhouette with this collection that will continue our focus on transitional women’s wear.