Award-winning designer Lauren Lein targets career women with her woolcentric creations.
This story first appeared in the October 9, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Lauren Lein and the clothing bearing her name possess an enviable location next to Anne Klein and across from DKNY at Chicago’s State Street Marshall Field’s.
It’s a space that Lein, who won Field’s Distinction in Design competition, said suits her fashions, which she describes as falling somewhere on the fashion spectrum between Eileen Fisher and DKNY. Her designs, she added, are more feminine than Fisher, but not quite as edgy as DKNY.
“She’s sophisticated,” Lein said of her client. “She’s dramatic. She doesn’t want to be boring but she doesn’t want to be in a costume.”
With that in mind, Lein focuses on what she does well — wool jersey with a twist.
“Everything’s based around merino-wool jersey,” she said. “We line the skirts so they’re not itchy. If you travel, they don’t need to be ironed, and you can build off it season after season.”
One such piece is a $568 rust, rose and taupe bouclé long sweater jacket with detachable quail and turkey feathers around the collar. A handwoven wool and rayon black jacket ($448) and skirt ($398) are ruffled at the sleeves and hem. Black metallic thread subtly woven through the pieces adds a touch of extra drama.
Another jersey grouping at Field’s includes a charcoal swing vest ($268), cowl neck sweater ($198) and long pencil skirt ($138), which can also coordinate with a hooded cape ($328).
During the Distinction in Design program, held twice a year in the fall and spring, a group of buyers meet with local designers and chose winners whose fashions will be sold the following season in Marshall Field’s.
Lein’s fashions caught their eye, most notably for their fabrics.
“There’s a demand for knits,” said Catherine Champion, Field’s contemporary sportswear buyer. “She filled a niche that was a void. We thought her items met a need.”
If Lein’s eponymous line, which Field’s introduced in September, sells well, the department store may reorder items for a different season. “We hope Lauren’s things work out,” Champion said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Lein has enjoyed success as a custom designer. “I’ve always had a steady business with that,” Lein said. “I’ve really tried to stay focused on who my customer is. She’s 40 and older and I’ve stayed true to that lady.”
For her custom client, she may create similar silhouettes as specialty or department store items but she never uses the same fabrics, she said.
“Usually there’s some twist to the design, some detail of the garment is different,” she explained.
Lein, who projects her annual sales this year at $500,000, said custom designs account for roughly half her business.
That’s partly because she’s maintained her initial client base. Lein, who majored in business administration and minored in fashion design from Central Michigan University, began selling her designs 16 years ago in the Detroit area, conducting trunk shows in women’s homes.
“I was like the Avon lady,” she laughed, noting that she continues to work with some of her original customers.
Lein, however, moved to Chicago in 1993 to increase her exposure and her audience.
“Here there are more working women, who have been my bread and butter,” said Lein, who has two children, Andreah, 7, and Andrew, 3. “I dress women who are busy and on the go, working women or high-profile community leaders.”
Lein’s designs, which are available through Lynn Fox Creations Inc. on the 13th floor of the Apparel Center, also can be found at Nordstrom, Giovanni in Chicago, Alberta Rose in Merrillville and Studio V in Indianapolis.