I am beyond excited to introduce our next Once Worn style extraordinaire, Mrs. Laura McLaws Helms! Laura is a fashion writer and historian currently living between London, New York and Los Angeles. You may know her as the Director of Lady magazine, Curator of the much anticipated Thea Porter exhibition or a global style influencer (her social media following is epic) - needless to say, Laura is seriously rocking the fashion world and we are so excited that we were able to speak with her.
Tell us about your role as a fashion historian
I'm a freelance fashion and cultural historian so my work takes on many different forms. At the moment I am finishing up a book on the designer Thea Porter (V & A Publications, 2015) and am curating an exhibition on her that will open at the Fashion & Textile Museum in London on February 6, 2015. In addition I am working on several book proposals and working with other museums to set up a tour of the Thea Porter exhibition. I consult with designers and brands―helping to create mood boards and help with design inspiration. I also do research for photographers, writers and for movies. Every day is completely different and usually taken up with working on many different projects at once―at the moment it is primarily the Thea Porter book and exhibition, as well a finishing up the second issue of the annual art and fashion magazine, LADY, that I co-founded, but I'm usually working on a few smaller things at the same time.
When/why did you become interested in fashion history and wearing vintage clothing
As a small child I was fascinated by my grandmother's clothes and would spend hours looking through them when I visited. I started collecting all of the Tom Tierney historical paper dolls when I was around 4 or 5 so was soon able to speak quite eloquently about Schiaparelli and Hartnell. When I was six we went to visit London (prior to moving there a year later) and my parents took me to the V & A to see the costume galleries. I was enamoured and awed by the heavily embroidered mantuas―my mother bought me the catalogue, 400 Years of Fashion, and that pretty much became my bible.
I started shopping at charity shops when I was around 10 or 11―I've always been a collector and a pop culture obsessive so would buy old records, magazines and things like Bay City Rollers annuals from 1974. Along the way I started picking up old clothes and gradually over the years stopped wearing anything else.
What genre, era or mode of fashion do you find most interesting
I'm very interested in the sixties and seventies in all aspects of culture, art and design―studying the huge cultural and social shifts and how those played out in fashion, in interiors and architecture, in magazines, in relationships. All aspects of culture are so deeply interrelated. In terms of fashion, I'm primarily interested in western fashion from 1967 to 1977―in particular the British designers who brought a sense of fantasy, exoticism and romance back into dressing (Ossie Clark, Thea Porter, Bill Gibb, etc.). I also love Classic American sportswear from the 1970s and the over-the-top opulence of 1980s French couture.
How has studying fashion history influenced your personal style
Since I only wear vintage it has made me a much more informed shopper. I know how much things are worth and also what labels might not be well-known now but were important and luxurious at the time. My Masters included conservation - while I chose not to pursue that side of the field, I know how to tell if and how something can be repaired. In the end I think all of this helps me make more informed decisions when I am purchasing vintage to wear myself.
Tell us about an exciting project you’re working on
A project I've been working on for several year is finally coming to fruition―I started researching Thea Porter my first year of grad school, so it is wonderful to have the book an exhibition launching so soon.
Is there a fashion collection or exhibition you’ve been wanting to see
I've heard great things about the China exhibition the Costume Institute is working on for next May, so I am excited to see how that comes together. I still need to find a day to go to Philadelphia to see the Patrick Kelly show.
I really regret not seeing the Giorgio di Sant'Angelo exhibition at the Phoenix Art Museum two years ago―he is one of my favourite designers to wear so I'm still kicking myself for not just getting on a plane and going
How would you describe your personal style
It's basically an amalgam of various trends of the 1960s and 70s―high wattage glamour, prairie girl, disco diva, Edwardian miss... I love clothes that have an element of drama, romance and fantasy to them.
Who or what has influenced your style most
My maternal grandmother. She was always immaculately put together, so stylish. Almost all of her clothes were made by a couturier in Geneva; the rest were Lilly Pulitzer and Pucci pieces she wore for leisure.
Over the years she gave me all of her perfect suits, evening ensembles, pool cover-ups. I do wear them all quite a lot―in general my style veers more towards the 1970s, but I've been deeply influenced by her fastidiousness in terms of fit, her love of colour and print, and by her general engagement with dress as a major aspect of personal narrative.
What is your most treasured item in your wardrobe
In terms of clothes, I have a few Ossie Clark and Thea Porter pieces I am very partial to. There is a purple-and-white Pierre Cardin coat that I was wearing when I was in an accident―it was completely untouched and I feel that it has a strong blessed and protective energy to it. Other than those, my grandmother's rings and the cross I designed when I was 18 are definitely the most treasured.
Where do you find style inspiration
I find style inspiration everywhere. Usually it comes from the clothes themselves―I see something and can immediately imagine how I will wear it―but I know that my years of looking at hundreds of historical images daily informs everything that I do in life. I never look at an image and think that I want to replicate the look; it's more that every image has gone in and been filtered and merged into my aesthetic.
Do you have a signature piece or heirloom that you wear often
I usually wear two rings I inherited from my grandmothers; one from each. I don't wear both every day, as one of them is a rather large cluster of diamonds, sapphires and emeralds, but when I do wear them I feel very deeply attuned with my heritage and they always seem to bring me good luck.