On the way out of Carolina Herrera’s runway show last season, Bergdorf Goodman’s Linda Fargo stopped Lorry Newhouse to find out whose dress she was wearing. “Mine,” Newhouse replied with a laugh.
That burnt taffeta navy dress is now one of the statement pieces in her debut signature ready-to-wear collection. Classically trained as a painter at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Newhouse studied filmmaking at Yale University. While she has continued to paint over the years, the pursuit has been shelved for the time being since this new venture consumes all her time. Meant to evoke a sense of luxury that has been languishing, the elongated silhouettes were inspired in part by Norman Norell’s creations and Thirties films, especially ones by director Ernst Lubitsch starring Jean Harlow.
“The fabrics are what I am really about — so they are glamorous, beautiful, textured fabrics such as French brocades and Italian brocades,” said Newhouse, noting that most of the fabrics are sourced from New York-based resources and all of the items are made in Garment Center factories. “I want to support local manufacturing and I want to keep the district alive. That was my inspiration after all. That is what started me in this business.”
Initially, Newhouse designed translucent tops meant to be layered under or over eveningwear by women who shied away from bare arms. That concept evolved into day-into-evening pieces, cocktail dresses and other types of eveningwear. “All of a sudden the shirt became a dress,” she said.
In addition to sequined evening gowns, the 35-style line includes pencil skirts, short jackets and the day-into-evening dresses. Newhouse is already at work on outerwear for next season. Tops (which can also be worn under dresses) retail from $295 to $495, and dresses and separates range in price from $595 to $1,000.
During an interview in her expansive, well-appointed Upper East Side apartment, Newhouse said becoming a fashion designer was not part of her grand plan, and it was certainly not something she envisioned as a Yale undergrad. But with two children that flew the coop years ago — her daughter Charlotte is a comedic actress at The Groundlings Theatre & School in Los Angeles and son Jesse works at Condé Nast — Newhouse is focused on launching her collection with 15 better specialty stores this fall. Her Web site is getting an overhaul and will be relaunched in two weeks, with e-commerce expected to be added in a month or so.
Well entrenched in the fashion industry, such as the Newhouse family is given its publishing interests (which include WWD), the self-described “fledgling designer” is not trading on that. “I don’t have any expectations from my relationship to the business. Most people think I just get invited to shows just because my last name is Newhouse. I am not really connected to the.…My husband [Mark], he’s on the newspaper side of the business. It’s his brother [Jonathan] who is involved with the fashion magazines,” she said.
As for her favorites on the fashion front, Newhouse cited Norell, vintage Balenciaga, Balmain and “people like Adrian, who designed for films and really changed the fashion industry. All of a sudden you weren’t just seeing fashion in a magazine, but you were seeing it in film. It was lit so beautifully and it was part of a story,” she said. “I would love to see more of that happening — not just fashion on the red carpet.”
But as far as her talents go, she knows where to draw the line. “After studying patternmaking, I know I could never do it. To be able to go down to 38th Street and get a pattern made, that’s wonderful,” she said.
In fact, it is the development of a collection that intrigues Newhouse more so than the commercial potential. “I approach it as an artist approaches a painting or a film.…Am I going into this because I think it’s a great business model and I’m going to make a lot of money? No. If I can at least do this and break even, I will feel fine,” she said. “I would help support the Garment District and the garment industry, and be a part of it. I love being a part of it. I’m really into manufacturing and not so much the business side of it.”
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