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NEW YORK — First Lady Michelle Obama rocketed Laura Smalls’ name into the national news by wearing two dresses from the little-known designer during last week’s Democratic National Convention.
This story first appeared in the September 11, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Having sold her collection to only three stores for the past year, Smalls is trying to get used to the overnight interest in her life. In a phone interview Monday, Smalls said she was groggy from working until 4 a.m. preparing for her first runway show tonight at the Andaz hotel. The designer said of the 90-person guest list, “There is more press coming because people are like, ‘Who is this person?’”
A graduate of Parsons The New School for Design, Smalls spent years designing outerwear for Amerex and raising three children before she ventured out on her own in 2009. She runs her label from the family’s East 60th Street apartment, with her only other full-time employee being her husband, Willis, who worked in finance at CBS and later as a restaurant consultant.
Smalls first introduced Michelle Obama to her designs via the First Lady’s former go-to stylist, Ikram Goldman. “Ikram is not handling Mrs. Obama’s clothes right now. Someone on staff in the White House is,” said Smalls, declining to provide further details. When “Inside Edition” came calling last week, she said, “I answered some questions. But I didn’t want to go on air because I don’t want to trade on the First Lady’s name.”
Two other women whose voices carry — opera singer Kathleen Battle and Valerie Simpson (of Ashford & Simpson) — are also showing off Smalls’ skills as clients. Those less familiar with her work will check out the 28-piece line, which wholesales between $195 and $425, tonight.