Despite having no previous design experience, Laura Siegel, 23, decided to pursue fashion as a career because she knew she had to follow her intuition.
Before starting her formal training at Parsons the New School for Design in New York, she took a year off to travel the world and gather ideas and inspiration. During that time, Siegel developed her uniquely global esthetic.
“Time travelling and the people I have met along the way really drive everything the brand is in terms of esthetic, customers and the way the clothes function,” Siegel said.
“I would approach artisans on the side of the road, practising their craft in the open – whether it be a knitter, leathersmith or silversmith.
“Often, they would offer to teach me a bit about what they do over the following days. It was these encounters that gave me a strong appreciation for crafts and a desire to somehow be able to work to sustain traditional crafts and build long-lasting relationships with the artisans themselves.”
While studying fashion in New York, Siegel tried to keep every element of her design process sustainable and natural.
Since she sourced accessory supplies in Cambodia and Vietnam, her apartment soon filled with strands of colourful wooden beads that hung next to dried flowers and shells. She even took a craft class to create rings specific to engravings she had sketched on her trip.
Having won a number of prestigious scholarships while at school – including a Gap Inc. design award – Siegel was clearly a talent on the rise at a very young age. She has even interned with Canadian designer Arthur Mendonca, New York’s Luca Luca, Israeli-American Yigal Azrouel, and Melbourne’s Megan Park.
After graduation, Siegel took a few months off and studied French and African art at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. She said she always knew travel and culture would influence her work.
She was then sponsored to present her thesis collection from Parsons at Vancouver Fashion Week, where she won the Rising Star Award for her eco-chic collection of plush knit separates and soft jersey dresses.
Following her receipt of the award, Siegel received funding for a four-month research trip to Asia, where she worked with local artisans in India, Bali and Hong Kong.
She made connections with woodblock printers, hand-embroiderers and shabori dyers – all of whom produced materials for her spring 2012 collection.
Siegel has since gained recognition as a designer in Vogue Italia and Flare magazine. She is now at the forefront of the fashion industry, creating pieces for “women with a sense of social awareness.”
Her latest collection, which was recently featured at Toronto’s LG Fashion Week, reflects her beliefs in sustainable fashion. Made of all-natural dyes and materials, including silk, cotton, bamboo and Japanese gima, each garment has a unique character. Edges are intended to fray over time and natural dyes will fade and transform with continual wear.
“Spring ’12 was heavily influenced by my time spent in Bali. The colours, the fabric treatments, the energy of the clothes are a reflection of what I loved most about the environment and time spent with other travellers. It’s very soft, airy, raw, textural, versatile and deconstructed.”
Siegel, likely to join the ranks of successful Jewish fashion designers such as Calvin Klein, Kenneth Cole, Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors, just to name a few, said every garment in her collection is handmade.
“Prints are all developed by hand – the dye work, the knitting, the embroidery, which together combine to create layers of texture. By crafting each aspect by hand and using natural dyes and techniques, the clothes have a rich history to them.”
Siegel said comfort and versatility are important design elements in her collection. She describes her ideal customer as a woman “who doesn’t arrange her wardrobe based on where she’s going. Whether she’s at work or out with friends, these designs are adaptable to every aspect of her lifestyle.”
LG Fashion Week was a “great platform to launch on,” Siegel said.
“Canada is a huge support to its own talent. As an emerging designer, it was a privilege to be part of the event.”
Siegel added that “holding a strong point of view and coming from an authentic place have been very important” in her career thus far. She advises aspiring designers to “always remember why you are doing what you do, and why you love it. Also, think big, beyond the realm of your knowledge and always continue to learn more.”
As for the future, Siegel said she hopes to continue expanding the network of artisans she collaborates with and to bring awareness of cultures and crafts through her designs.
“I am looking forward to the day I can begin branching out and doing home design, working more in-depth with accessories and collaborating further with other industries.”