In honour of Women’s Day, I had the immense pleasure to interview Laura Day Webb as part of my women empowerment campaign. She is the co-founder of the New York-based brand La Doyenne that she established with Rachel Hearn. The name sounds familiar? Yes, I have talked about the brand before in my article “Give a woman the right coat, and she will conquer the world“. With iconic female creatives serving as muse to the founders, La Doyenne aims to maximize wearability, by creating highly functional styles that keep pace with women’s lives and are designed for the contemporary woman who moves effortlessly from board room to black tie. Laura and Rachel aim to empower women through clothing and for me they represent the ultimate strong women with drive, ambition and purpose.
Photo credit: BFA, courtesy of Max Lakner
Can you tell me about yourself? When did you become interested in fashion and decided to pursue a career in this field?
Rachel and I have had the opportunity to live in different cities and countries, but it is New York that we both feel is truly where we belong. The creative energy here is unique and there is always something new to see or experience, which provides an endless source of inspiration. Fashion was something we both appreciated from an early age but making the leap to creating it ourselves really was brought on by a series of happy coincidences, culminating in a professional partnership. Having someone with whom you share a clear vision makes the dream a reality and we are fortunate to have one another on this adventure.
When and how did you decide to start your company? What are the challenges of having your own business?
There are so many different facets to having your own business that it is impossible to fathom them all before you begin. In our case, our strengths are distinctly different and together they make us more well-rounded. My background is business and Rachel’s is textiles. We are fortunate that our skill sets mesh well together and we are able to upskill each other to a certain degree but by no means do we know enough on our own. It is a process of constant learning and that in itself is incredibly enjoyable, but admittedly can also be daunting. The tremendous support we have received from fellow entrepreneurs and creatives, as we continue to grow La Doyenne has been invaluable. Surrounding yourself with a community of smart, driven people whom you can turn to, helps to mitigate some of the challenges that come with the unknown.
Photo credit: Irma Refashion Gallery
Best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten and what advice would you give to young women who want to start their own business?
The best advice I think I have received is that failure is an option. Overcoming the fear of failure, rather than letting it hold you hostage can empower you in ways you never fathomed. If you truly believe in your business idea, give it your all so that regardless the outcome, you can look back and be satisfied with your efforts. There are things you will not get right the first time no matter how well executed you think your idea is and arguably, you may derive more from the experience of having not succeeded. Learn from what did not go right and you can plunge ahead better equipped with the knowledge gleaned.
Photo credit: Casey Kohlberg
What are three things that you should keep in mind when starting a business in the fashion industry?
It takes time to build something and patience is key. You will make mistakes or do something inefficiently because creating something new is a learning process. Perseverance and a sense of humor certainly make a difference, so does the belief that what you are creating matters.
Can you tell us how you met your business partner and how did you start working together?
Rachel and I met at the Metropolitan Club in New York City during a charity event that I was hosting. I had a tear in my gown and was searching everywhere for a needle and thread and she came to my rescue. While sewing, we got to talking and discovered we had mutual interests and a friendship blossomed from that serendipitous meeting. When it came time for my wedding, I turned to Rachel to help me see my vision through. Together, we collaborated on a series of bespoke dresses for the week and were struck with how symbiotic working together was and how easily we shared ideas. We enjoyed the experience so much, it only seemed natural to see where we could take our partnership and so we decided to launch La Doyenne.
Photo credit: Rachel Hearn
What are the inspirations behind your collections?
We are inspired by the female artists across genre who came before us. Our collections are named after women like Yayoi Kusama and Josephine Baker. Without them forging fearlessly ahead, there would not be an opportunity for us to do what we love. All of La Doyenne’s art is done in house from watercolors, to oils. Fashion is our medium of expression and allows the work to come to life when the wearer slips it on.
What motivates you? How do you cultivate your creativity?
The beautiful thing about NYC is that you do not have to go far to be inspired. We have buildings from different eras on a single block, textures, sounds, smells, all converging at once. It can be sensory overload and also incredibly exciting. Just stepping out in the city is sometimes enough to get us re-energized or help finalize the details of a piece we have been mulling over. I also have a wanderlust that means I often stumble upon something on my travels that strikes me. Rather than mood boards, we frequently communicate via text, taking photos of something as simple as the texture of a wrought iron gate for inspiration. We are both visual and tactile, so the way the fabric of a piece moves coupled with the way it feels, matter. A silk wool blend can conjure up the sheen and strength of wrought iron for example. Words are our brush strokes and oftentimes we work through an idea aloud until it clicks. Then there is a buzz of excitement in the air and we know we have it.
Photo credit: Rachel Hearn
How do you want women to feel when they wear your designs? Who is the woman wearing the House of Doyenne designs?
The La Doyenne woman is comfortable in her own skin and that confidence translates into her clothing. Our pieces are bold, vibrant and full of life. We want the woman wearing them to feel at ease but also powerful. We see our work as wearable art that a woman can use to express herself. We aim for silhouettes that can be worn across not only a day but a lifetime. We want our pieces to be collected and cherished, to beautifully transition with the woman wearing them through every facet of her life.
Have you collaborated with women that have inspired you?
We are in the midst of a project right now with the London based artist, Lauren Baker. Her work is gripping in its boldness and her use of LED, diamond dust and kinetic elements resonated with us, so we reached out to her and asked if we could work together. She is such an amazing woman and we cannot wait to share the results later this year!
Photo credit: Rachel Hearn
Where do you see yourself and your brand in 10 years?
Ten years feels a lifetime away now but time moves so quickly! Our goal is to expand our presence globally and to be available via more retailers, while expanding our collections to include additional pieces. We want to remain true to our brand identity and that means meticulously crafted silhouettes that are beautiful in their wearability.