With her new ready-to-wear collection, Chesley McLaren intends to bring to life the fashion illustration for which she is widely known.
McLaren has designed huge murals, stand-alone fixtures and packaging for retailers such as Bloomingdale's and Henri Bendel for 16 years. And on Sept. 6 and 7, she will raise the curtain on Demoiselle by Chesley McLaren through private appointments at the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan.
Her career began in design. In 1980, after graduating from the School of The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, her friend Nan Goldin, who was then an aspiring photographer, agreed to shoot her Chesley collection in exchange for one of the designer's skirts. After selling that label to specialty stores for two years, McLaren relocated to New York from Boston and started a run on Seventh Avenue. Among her employers were Jones New York's licensed Christian Dior suit line, Elie Tahari, Geoffrey Beene's licensed sportswear and Albert Nipon.
"I got a great, great education but it was not what I set out to do,'' she said. "I needed something a little more arty."
At the urging of friends, she agreed to show the illustrations she used for her designs to potential employers, and Bloomingdale's hired her right away. "I didn't know there was such a job,'' she said. "It was as if Bloomingdale's was my gallery."
From there, McLaren joined Bendel's, post-Geraldine Stutz, to help with its new Fifth Avenue address. She continued to periodically design apparel pieces and check out potential factories. About a year ago, she lined up one in New York to create Demoiselle by Chesley McLaren. The 20-piece collection consists of detailed, tailored coats, dresses and skirts with wholesale prices from $400 to $3,000.
The designer, who works out of her West 79th Street art studio in Manhattan, is targeting high-end specialty stores. McLaren will continue to do some fashion illustration, and her launch's location serves as a reminder of the power of illustration. The Carlyle's Bemelmans Bar houses a mural by "Madeleine" creator Ludwig Bemelmans, who lived in the hotel.
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