This past week, LaQuan Smith and friends toasted the Crown Royal Regal Apple at an intimate event during Art Basel in Miami. The city and scene reflected the glamor and unapologetic expression central to Smith’s brand, which has seen him exclusively dress Beyoncé, Rihanna, Lenny Kravitz and more among a host of high-profile celebrities.
Before the runways and stardom, however, Smith faced the same struggles that many new designers face. He was rejected from several of his most coveted fashion schools growing up, but would never lose sight of both his dream as an independent designer, along with his vision to reflect the grit and glamor synonymous with New York City.
“I feel like my whole existence in fashion has really been about breaking barriers — opening new doors, new heights, new levels,” Smith told Hypebeast. Entirely self-taught, the 31-year-old designer has seen a meteoric rise over the past decade – from being known as the ‘leggings guy’, hand-stitching coveted garments in his Jamaica, Queens apartment, to creating a stunning dress for Khloe Kardashian for the recent CFDAs Awards.
Hypebeast caught up with LaQuan Smith to talk about his career so far, his partnership with Crown Royal and what’s next. Read the full interview with the American designer below.
Everyone has a different path no matter what field they pursue. Can you talk about your path to fashion and what shaped you along the way?
If you’re ready, it’s a long story.
Honestly, I feel like my entire existence in fashion has really been about breaking barriers – opening new doors, new heights, new levels. My foray into the fashion industry and more so, business, has been unorthodox. I didn’t necessarily have the formal training or intense educational background.
For me, Patti Smith, my grandmother was my formal training. She taught me everything I knew about design, draping, sewing, garment construction.
It’s my love – literally designing and constructing something that I’ve literally built my business off of – craftsmanship, creativity and being a native New Yorker has fueled me to create the kind of unapologetically sexy things that I design.
Early on, you were sometimes known as “the laying guy”. Can you talk about the origins of how it started and how it might seep into your work today?
Well, I obviously designed more than leggings, it was just one of the product categories that took off. It just made sense. I whipped them up very quickly. Then there was one of those things that was my side hustle – I was stepping out leggings like I was making cake. It was fast money, every woman of any size could wear it, and it was super dope at the time.
But I think for me, my business was really built at the beginning of the customer. I had a lot of custom clients, I didn’t have a real business or the luxury of creating a full collection, although I was able to design anything I wanted. I think leggings were just an easy money making opportunity for me.
Once upon a time, LaQuan Smith was a woman’s best kept secret. She would discover LaQuan Smith, walk into a room and have this crazy experience because every man wanted to buy her a drink, but every woman wanted to know where she got her dress from. So for me it’s about carrying that LaQuan Smith experience from a leggings to a bodysuit, a catsuit, then a dress. Now, women come to LaQuan Smith for a complete outfit, as opposed to something just tailored for the night.
How would you describe your brand?
Sexy, provocative, stylish, timeless. It is an experience. I think when a woman wears LaQuan Smith, she walks away with this experience of feeling unapologetically sexy and celebrating what glamor looks like for today.
Inspiration strikes at the most random times. But if you were to look back at your everyday life, where do you look for inspiration?
Everywhere. You have to catch it when it comes to you. Traveling is a great source of inspiration for me. Music, film, travel to Paris and Italy, along with textile fabrications are all the things that fuel my creativity.
The female form has been the ultimate inspiration, truly celebrating the body, celebrating female formality, sensuality and making women feel like “I’m the shit”.
What was it like working with Crown Royal for this partnership during Art Basel?
I am just thrilled to be working with Crown Royal. It feels great to have this partnership, and they’ve always championed designers like myself—really celebrating Black excellence, celebrating creativity, celebrating what it means to push the boundaries of culture, art, and fashion.
What has been one of your most memorable client dressings so far?
One recently worked with Khloe Kardashian for the CFDA Fashion Awards. It was just an amazing experience. I’m not new to dressing the Kardashian-Jenner girls. But just having that moment where she felt like she commanded the room and felt so incredibly sexy – that was a really great moment for me.
It’s not just about a celebrity. That’s the takeaway when you use LaQuan Smith. Khloe couldn’t be a Kardashian or whatever, someone would have felt that feeling in LaQuan Smith.
Working with her is what it’s all about – making someone feel beautiful, confident and super sexy.
You mention that travel is a big part of your design process. How does New York City seep back into the work?
Beyond the body, New York is always the first point of inspiration. That’s where I come from, that’s where I make and produce everything. My mother exposed me to so much in my childhood that it has been a big part of my contribution to how I design. The streets of New York City, 42nd Street, the night life, the nights in Meatpacking [district]all the films shot in New York.
The juxtaposition of grit and glam is what I love to play with. You can mirror and see how I play with this strict line and silhouette. It’s provocative people, it’s taking risks, but it’s elevated that way. It’s a mix of mediums in how I incorporate the liveliness and sensuality, but also the grit and glamor of New York City.
Do you aspire to dabble in menswear?
Absolutely. Honestly, the last CFDA moment, Lenny Kravitz called me and said, “I need a custom LaQuan Smith.” It was one of the most insane experiences I’ve had to date. He is such a legend and it was an honor to design for him. I felt truly honored that he chose LaQuan Smith out of all the brands he wanted to accept his Fashion Icon Award.
So absolutely, it inspired me to want to venture into menswear.
Streetwear and high fashion have always shared a symbiotic relationship, with both industries informing each other from a distance. Nowadays, it seems that there is a new collaboration in the works between brands like Gucci and Palace. What are your thoughts on the current fashion landscape?
I can only speak from my own experience, but I really admire streetwear. I’ve always stuck to the rivers I’m used to – I know sexy. I try not to do things I’m not familiar with.
But I love that my girl can do a streetwear situation during the day but opt for LaQuan Smith at night. What I’m really focused on is bringing sexy back and I think my recent collaboration with PUMA that I’m working with builds on the elements of the streetwear look from LaQuan Smith.
If you were to have a conversation with your younger self or someone coming up and struggling to make it, what would your advice be?
Relax, it’ll be alright. You’re going to make it.
I doubted myself for so long. When you’re young and creative, you don’t really know how to structure and you don’t have a business. You seek advice and guidance from industry insiders and moguls – “you should do this, this is the right way or not the right way.”
You are so impressionable that I was very nervous about what the projection of LaQuan Smith is. I’ve always been sexy, even before when I was told it was too risqué or too vulgar.
So I would tell myself to be confident in what I’m doing and just stay the course.