LaQuan Smith is used to doing things his way. As Stevie Nicks’ poetic “Edge of Seventeen” blared over the speakers just minutes before the designer's show, it was clear the soon-to-be-unveiled New York Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2020 collection would continue his, well, edgy approach that's become beloved by music's all-stars.
Despite having an admittedly “unorthodox” entry into the design world by the age of 21 -- which included rejections from both the Parsons School of Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology -- the self-taught Queens native continued to push himself in lieu of his journey’s twists and turns. He celebrated the 10th anniversary of his NYFW debut this year with a show that was as relatable and as unapologetic as he prides himself on being.
Smith’s electric showcase, held at Manhattan’s Spring Studios on Saturday (Feb. 8), was centered on black (“the color that never dies,” he says), and featured accent colors like iridescent blues, deep greens and metallics. In front of hundreds of invited guests, including rapper A$AP Ferg and triple-threat Tinashe, the diverse runway cast sported leather tops and jumpsuits, as well as snakeskin jackets.
There were also eye-popping dresses with form-fitting silhouettes accentuating all body types, and denim pieces, a nod to his collaboration with heritage brand Jordache last fall. Attendees were equipped with mini bottles of champagne from the designer’s brand partner Moët & Chandon, who launched their Limited-Edition Signature collection to coincide with the event.
The onyx occasion was inspired by the “unapologetically sexy” women of the world who are stepping into their strength, and stepping out as the baddest they can be. The models strutted to baddie-centered tracks from Christina Aguilera (“Dirrty”), to Pat Benetar (“Heartbreaker”), to Patra and Yo-Yo (“Romantic Call”), allowing Smith’s vision to resonate from concept to catwalk.
“I really wanted to be able to say something that was really impactful,” he tells Billboard on the telephone of infusing personal and cultural narratives into his collections. “I get a chance to be able to say how [we] feel through design, shows, my levels of inspiration… It's sort of my responsibility to make people feel excited about dressing up again. That's my contribution to the womenswear market today.”
Smith’s looks have been worn by the music industry’s heaviest hitters, such as Beyonce for her On The Run II tour, to eye-catching 'fits for Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Cardi B. His accessible assemblage of mouth-watering, vintage-inspired fashions has resulted in partnerships with brands like ASOS and Moët & Chandon (a collaboration that he calls “a great journey and platform”).
Growing up in New York City, music and fashion intersected for the now 31-year-old, who states that the “LaQuan Look” is inspired by the buzzing nightlife looks and rule-breaking artists such as Grace Jones and Lil’ Kim. What keeps him going, however, is his drive to not just create standout styles, but to make meaningful moments that transcend fashion.
“When I was starting out, [there were] so many industry insiders telling and advising [young designers] what we should and shouldn't be designing,” he details. “The reality of it is that I'm a black man from New York that's designing very sensual feminine pieces... I never really look at the negative side of things. I just try to focus on what's important: What's making people feel and look beautiful, and the quality and the craftsmanship of my collections.”
Smith is redefining luxury style by staying true to his upbringing and craft. When prompted on which big name he would love to design for, he notes that he’s less focused on celebrity, and more intent on making every woman who wears his designs feel like a superstar.
“I never want a woman to wear LaQuan Smith and not feel like she pulled it out of her own closet,” he says. “What I'm creating with [the line] is something that you want to be a part of. It's something that has this superstardom aesthetic, like, ‘Yo, I want to rock this dress and feel like a supermodel, and feel like a bad bitch…’ That's incredible to me, that's the most inspiring [thing] for any woman to be able to feel that way. That level of confidence is just powerful and it has a lot of value.”
Smith is cognizant of his visibility as a queer black man, and hopes to inspire those who aspire to work in fashion to take their time and to stay persistent as they build -- while also carving out his own legacy. In the decade that he’s been in the game, he has learned that the destination is always worth the experiences had created along the ride.
“I'm noticing growth with my collections and I'm noticing that I'm [consistent] in my designs for the women that I'm dressing,” he beams. “I'm still reaching new demographics, a new audience, but still remaining who I am without giving up who I am as a creator.