Not only has the 23-year-old designer gotten the attention of Guinness, Lady Gaga is a fan as well. Now McLaughlin is making waves with his second collection, which you can check out below. We recently sat down with him to get the lowdown on his budding career.
You started off as a dancer, not a designer. What was that transition like?
I began dancing at age 2. My parents started me young because I think they wanted me to be well-rounded artistically, as they are both phenomenal vocalists. I continued training throughout childhood in almost every discipline, with a major focus on ballet.
When I turned 16, I was given a contract with Hubbard Street 2, the junior company of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. I had to leave high school because of the rigorous national and international touring schedule, but was able to graduate by taking my courses online. I was later promoted to an apprentice position with the main company, where I had the privilege to work with some of the world’s leading choreographers and perform some of the most exhilarating pieces. I left the company in 2009 to pursue visual art in New York.
Had you always been interested in visual art?
Aside from dance, I began drawing at a very young age. There are some brilliant artists in my family so I think the bug caught me without it having to be thrust upon me. To this day, I sketch anywhere, on anything. I sort of evolved my aesthetic organically and on my own time because I’ve always hated the idea of art classes where you are assigned to do something that you have no interest in doing, expected to alter your style for the sake of a grade. Needless to say, I never took art in high school.
I was also vocally trained for a good number of years, and additionally taught myself to play piano, but only chords. I love getting together with friends and recording music. The majority of my close friends are very musically-inclined and have all taken up a variety of instruments, so it sort of ends up becoming one giant wayward band sometimes, which is awesome.
Why did you get involved in fashion?
Much of the sketches I did as a kid were fashion sketches. I started drawing Disney characters, and I think that’s how I learned to make a proportionate body — as proportionate as a Disney woman’s body can be. I loved designing crazy shoes and clothes, but I think my interest in my own personal style definitely helped me define who I am as a designer, and streamline some of the crazy.
It wasn’t until I met the amazing Daphne Guinness that I actually had anything constructed in the third dimension. It was sort of the catalyst for catapulting not only my career, but the mindset of “Oh yeah…why haven’t I done this before now?”
And how did you meet Daphne Guinness?
Twitter! I had sent her some of my sketches and after a few months (and kind words from friends), Daphne contacted me and we set a date to meet. The first day we met, she commissioned two of my designs for a short film she was working on with photographer/film-maker Indrani, called The Legend of Lady White Snake. One was a red leather catsuit designed to look like musculature, and the other were a pair of metal shoes now infamously dubbed “knife boots” by Perez Hilton, both of which were featured in Daphne’s exhibit at the Museum at FIT. I had the astronomic help of stylist GK Reid in sourcing the right people to help bring the designs to life.
In addition, Daphne graciously agreed to wear the finale piece of my premiere collection to her opening at FIT, which really put my name out there. What is so inspiring about her is that she follows her heart and her mind and wears what she is drawn to, not what the fashion world tells her she must be drawn to. Daphne is a friend in the truest and purest sense of the word. It’s evident, not only with me, but with anyone who has had the privilege to know her for even five minutes.
Can you describe your aesthetic? What (or who) inspires you?
I am constantly inspired by my “design interpreter”, Branimira Ivanova. She has been my partner in crime me since day one, and has had an unwavering amount of enthusiasm and drive for each collection. She is my rock, and every day gives me confidence in what I am doing. I can’t go on enough about her. She is the unsung hero of the brand.
Aesthetically, I like to live in a darker palette and a very historically-influenced mindset. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a sucker for medieval and fantasy-based movies and media — the A Song of Ice and Fire novels [the series that inspired HBO’s Game of Thrones], Lord of the Rings, King Arthur/Camelot. They all find their way somehow into each collection. There are heavy Japanese influences, as well as a love of British tailoring. These things are always there, no matter how different a direction the collection’s inspiration is headed.
Tell us about your new collection. How is it different from your first?
The fall/winter 2012 collection is different from the spring/summer 2012 collection in that it feels more accessible, to me at least. The first was sort of a mix of many different ideas that somehow worked together in the end. With this one, you can see a through line from beginning to end, and it has a great deal more separates and daywear. Still, it’s almost a continuation of the last. I am very interested in retaining, and building upon, each collection’s core qualities. I think that helps me to mature as a designer.
How big is your operation?
Not very big at all! Production-wise, aside from Branimira and myself, we have one seamstress who comes in once or twice a week to our studio in Chicago, which is oddly enough in the building of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. It’s nice to work amongst that energy again, even if it’s in a different capacity.
There are two fantastic women, Lisa Lawrence and Beth Terry, who oversee PR and sales, respectively. My entire journey into this world has been a slingshot of a-friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend. A friend on Twitter introduced me to the editor of the blog I Want to Be a Roitfeld, whose interview with me ultimately lead me to Lisa and Beth, with many more brilliant people along the way.
We hear Lady Gaga is a fan. How did she find out about you?
Yes! Another mind-blowing experience. This was set up by the amazing Lisa. Lady Gaga wore the neoprene and satin dress from my first collection at a performance for the Grammy nominations ceremony. Shortly after, I was commissioned to create two custom looks for the “Born This Way” Ball promos, one being the controversial corseted vinyl gown.
So, what’s next?
We are now in the throws of constructing the spring/summer 2013 collection to premiere in September. There have been a few scheduling changes up until now, but we are currently on the ready-to-wear calendar, so look for it this fall! It is a much smaller collection than the last, but brilliantly constructed.
I’ve already begun sketches for the fall/winter 2013 collection, which is especially exciting for me because we are in talks with the amazing jeweler and sculptor Eero Hintsanen. Other than that, I guess I happily wait for what the next day brings!
this is some kind of spaceship or something.
Top photo by Sara King; gallery images via Hogan McLaughlin