Lara is a Cape Town-based fashion designer and founder of Lara Klawikowski, (@lara_klawikowski) a label with a focus on avant-garde as well as ready to wear designs. Her non-conformist work focuses on experimenting with fabrics and unusual materials, and showcases a deep appreciation for art and historical fashion, as well as the endless influence of the couture archives, art journals, artists, photographers and writers that she encounters. Her remarkable success is probably down to the fact that she is willing to stretch the boundaries and exactly knows what she wants while always staying true to her strong brand identity. Read on as Lara sheds some light on her career as a fashion designer and gives us her best advice on how to make it in the industry:
Tell us a little bit about your background, where you grew up, what your family life was like and where you lived.
I was born and raised in Worcester, a town an hour away from Cape Town. Our family is a mix of Polish, German and Russian ancestry but we grew up speaking English, which made us a minority in the Afrikaans town. Our family is Catholic, also a minority in Worcester. With the wide range of European families at the church and all the foreign languages, I always felt being Catholic was kind of cool, more internationaI. I have two sisters and we are a very close-knit family. We spent our childhood swimming in my granddad’s pool with all our cousins. He had the largest privately owned swimming pool in Worcester! I spent the rest of my time reading, watching movies or dressing up in my mom’s clothes, or anything that I could drape and pin on myself.
Tell us more about your career so far. Have you always wanted to be a fashion designer? What was the dream?
I remember seeing a fashion show on the news on TV when I was little and I was enthralled by it. Since then, it was always a dream at the back of my mind to be a fashion designer. I was a straight A student so the expectation was that I would do something extremely academic. In high school, I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do. My parents suggested I take a break and study fashion design while I decided. My mom joked that I would learn how to sew clothes properly and this would at least remedy all the holes in my clothes from safety pins. I ended up loving fashion design and it turned out to be the most exciting and challenging career path. I don’t think another career would stimulate me as much creatively or intellectually.
How did you get into the business? What was your big break?
In my final year at Cape Town College of Fashion design, I won a condom dress design competition and the prize was money to start a business in fashion. I set up a studio a few months after graduating and started designing avant garde garments, wedding dresses and some ready-to-wear. I was 22. It was a leap of faith.
What is the favorite part of being a fashion designer?
The entire design process. I love drawing, pattern-making, draping, fitting and tailoring designs. The most rewarding part is seeing an idea materialise exactly the way I imagined it and seeing someone wearing it.
How has your work evolved since you began your own label?
My work has become slightly less avant garde, and more wearable and accessible to a broader spectrum of body types. Designing made-to-measure bridal wear and custom pieces has given me experience in adapting my imaginative runway ideas to fit and flatter the diverse range of body shapes and proportions of my clients.
What are some of your daily inspirations, challenges and rewards as a fashion designer?
I’m inspired by fabric and textures, how you can fabricate and manipulate materials to create new, thought-provoking shapes and styles. The challenge is taking all of this and turning it into a wearable, functional item of clothing, that’s flattering on the body. It’s a constant experiment. The reward is when it works.
What have been your biggest achievements so far?
Winning design competitions, participating in local fashion weeks and having my work featured in local and international magazines have all been great confidence boosters but I think my biggest achievement has been creating and sustaining a fashion brand, and succeeding in sharing a unique perspective, an authentic voice and direction in fashion in South Africa. More importantly and recently, living a balanced lifestyle.
What advise(s) would you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
– Make sure you have a support system – family and friends you can count on. Being a fashion designer can be extremely difficult, draining and lonely at times.
– Work hard but don’t forget to take care of yourself.
– Follow your gut instinct with new ideas. The wildest ones usually end up being the ones everyone loves.
What are the next season style must-haves?
It gets hot in Cape Town in summer so anything light, cool, fresh and comfortable is a must-have. My latest collection features pieces that are perfect for this weather.
Is it harder to be a female in the industry? What do you feel could be done to support women in the industry?
Yes, I think it’s much harder to be taken seriously and respected equally as a professional when you’re a female designer. Your career as a female designer is often viewed as just being a hobby and considered ‘cute’ that you’re keeping busy and ‘nice’ that you ‘make’ clothes – the word ‘design’ is often omitted in conversation, even though that’s what you do. There’s a feeling that your work as a female is viewed as less – less important than what a male designer is doing.
Historically, men were the designers, the face of a design house, and women were the seamstresses working behind the scenes. This created a hierarchy and even though woman are given more career opportunities nowadays, their work is still viewed as less important and they are rewarded less, even when they have the same capabilities, job descriptions and roles as men. Women have to work much harder for the same level of respect.
More women need to be included in leading roles in the work place or choose to start and lead their own businesses. The conversation around women in careers needs to change – the words used to describe work done by women needs to change.
Who has served as your fashion inspiration?
There are many international designers whose work I admire but fashion photography has always inspired me the most. Tim Walker is my all-time favourite photographer – his work is beautiful, whimsical and strange. I’m fascinated by how the same garment can be translated into infinite stories, moods and dreams, and how whatever I design will end up in someone’s life and who knows what life that will be.
Your style in 3 words?
Imaginative, unexpected, detail-orientated.
What is a must have piece of clothing every woman should own and why?
A favourite dress that makes you feel happy, beautiful and confident, and resonates with who you are as a person. It’s a tough brief, especially since many women fixate on what everyone else thinks they should or shouldn’t wear but there’s an almost transformative glow about a woman who chooses to wear exactly what she loves without external interference.
What do you find is the hardest challenge balancing your work and personal life?
The glorification of busy and the guilt that follows if you are not working or thinking about work all the time. I used to struggle with this and felt the only way to succeed was to work extremely hard. It’s easy to say, “Take a break” but shifting from this kind of thinking is much easier said than done. I realised I needed to set personal limits because working too late too often, not eating and sleeping properly is unhealthy and basically, a lack of self-respect. Self-sacrifice for work may help you succeed now but you’ll lose out long-term personally.
What is your self-care philosophy?
I put as much effort into eating and living healthily as I put into my work. The 5, 10 or 30 minutes I take for self-care doesn’t impact my work schedule that drastically and I feel better overall.
Take us through an average day in the life, the first thing you do in the morning through to the last thing you do at night.
I do 20 minutes of yoga as soon as I wake up, in my pyjamas, in my bedroom. I saved a class from Yoga with Adrienne to my phone. It’s become an automatic part of my routine and has eliminated the stress and time involved in getting up earlier to get to a yoga class in traffic.
I go for a 45-60 minute walk/run around the neighbourhood and listen to music. Being outside early energises me.
Shower, get dressed. I make a point of blow-drying my hair. I used to think the 20 minutes spent drying my hair was a waste of life but that’s changed.
Eat breakfast in 15 minutes. I put effort into breakfast and sit down while I eat. I usually have a bowl of fresh fruit with yoghurt, nuts and seeds, or make a smoothie. I love watching Aljazeera while I eat breakfast.
15 minute drive to work.
Check emails, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.
The mornings and afternoons are a combination of drawing, pattern-making, draping, cutting, sewing, client meetings, fittings and tailoring each day, with lunch in the middle.
I like to eat out for lunch, so I tend to plan fabric store visits and meetings around new lunch spots I want to try. I think it’s important to be in new spaces and around different people every day. I find it inspiring as it’s a kind of research. Also, there are so many new cafes popping up in Cape Town and the FOMO is real. I have to schedule lunch with myself at 1 pm or I tend to forget to eat.
I sip herbal tea throughout the day. I’ve always loved it and once even gave a speech about herbal tea in an orator’s competition at school.
I generally finish work around 5 – 6 pm, unless preparing for fashion week.
A few of my friends live nearby my studio. I love popping by after work to skip the traffic. Some of these short visits and casual chats about work have sparked ideas for the coolest projects.
Supper is usually something light like tapas/cheese board. I like watching series or a movie while I eat supper.
Now that’s the drought in Cape Town is over, I’ve been taking baths again around 9 – 10 pm.
I have a bad habit of drinking coffee at night and then I stay up reading until I finally fall asleep around 12 – 1 am.
What does your perfect day look like?
My perfect day is as above! Perhaps with an art show opening in the evening at one of the galleries near my studio.
Chewing my nails. I think chipped nail polish looks far worse than chewed nails, so keeping them painted is an effective deterrent.
Something you can’t live without?
Brushing my teeth. Yoga! It’s sounds like such a cliché and perhaps a bit loopy but yoga changed my life. I’ve been doing it daily for the past 4 years and the benefits have been magical.
What is next for you?
A holiday in Poland with my sisters in August! I’m looking forward to travelling and exploring. When I return to Cape Town, I’ll be starting production of my new Spring/Summer 2020 collection.
Sweet or Savoury? Sweet
Hot or cold? Hot
Lips or Eyes? Eyes
Smoothie or Juice? Smoothie
Yoga or Pilates? Yoga
Coffee or Tea? Tea
Favorite movie ever? A Little Princess.
Describe yourself as a person in 3 words Creative, kind, enthusiastic
Your favourite thing in your closet right now? One of the dresses from my new Spring/Summer collection. I’ve already claimed the first sample for my own wardrobe.
What’s on your cell phone playlist at the moment (3-5 favourites)?
I have a lot of classical piano for ballet..
Nick Urata’s playlist for Ruby Sparks.
One book you read that positively shaped you? I love reading biographies. I really enjoyed by An Unfashionable Life by Jane Mulvagh – Vivienne Westwood’s biography, also Wild by Cheryl Strayed.
Favorite Tv show? Chef’s Table
One superpower you would like to have? To be able to travel anywhere in the blink of an eye.
Curated by Sego Elliott