Designer Interviews: Layla L'obatti of Between the Sheets
Today is the start of a brand new feature here on The Lingerie Addict... Designer Interviews! As you already know, I am super-passionate about small brand lingerie. Of course, I love the big guys too, but I genuinely believe niche designers bring something to the market that corporations simply can't replicate.
I also know that in this cash-strapped economy, small designers are the ones least likely to have the thousands of dollars and dozens of samples necessary to invest in massive PR campaigns. So as a way of "practicing what I preach," I'd like to use my blog as a space to give these artists more coverage.
This is my very first interview ever, and Layla L'obatti of Between the Sheets was kind enough to be my guinea pig. I had the immense pleasure of meeting Layla during my trip to New York earlier this month and her collection is an absolute vision up close. I'm delighted to have her share her thoughts with you here.
1) How long have you been designing BTS? What made you want to become a designer, and do you have any formal training?
I started designing lingerie in 2005 and came up with the current company model in mid-2008. That’s when I began defining my brands as Between the Sheets Collection (BTS collection going forward) and Layla L'obatti for Between the Sheets (LL for BTS going forward) .
I discovered my flair for clothing as a freshman in high school when I took a theater class and began designing costumes. My teacher remarked that I had a knack for patterns and construction, and pushed me to research it more. I went to Istituto Marangoni in Italy (the school Dolce from Dolce & Gabbana attended) my junior year to develop a portfolio, and that is the portfolio that got me into the Fashion Institute of Technology [FIT].
I learned that I wanted to specialize in lingerie my sophomore year. Lingerie poses so many challenges --- a variety of materials and also a variety of skills --- that serve as the foundation for everything else. If you fit a bra, you can fit anything. So I got a group of girls organized and started planning the first BTS fashion show in 2005.
While at FIT I interned at a couple of amazing places that taught me so much about bra fitting, design, and lingerie in general. At Vanity Fair I fit bras on sizes above and below D. That let me see differences in the whole process and how things shift at that point, which also showed me the reason brands are generally split and developed along that size. I also interned with Carole Hochman Group under a couple of brands including their [then] newly aquired OnGossamer label. Here, I witnessed the wonders of relaunching a brand, defining it, and also the merchandising that can take a good brand and make it great.
2) How did you come up with the name Between the Sheets?
The name is from when I was working on a title for our event. I said we should call it "New York Fashion --- between the sheets." The NY fashion part got dropped; Between the Sheets remained.
3) How would you describe BTS? What's your inspiration, design aesthetic, and philosophy behind your line?
Between the Sheets Collection is a line focused on easy and luxurious lounge living. I describe the aesthetic I'm going for as whispers: whisper soft on your skin and whisper soft touches of color. For Layla L'obatti for BTS I get to live my Hollywood romance to the fullest. I am inspired by old Hollywood screen actresses, belly dance stars, burlesque and roccoco opulence, and so I use lace, silk, and silk chiffon with glee.
The philosophy behind the company is that designers bring a certain something to the table, and that something is the life of a brand. I truly admire the efficiency and power of large companies, but it is the small ones that are growing that I feel have the most beauty in them. They express individuality through big design or little details, but there is always a designer who orchestrates a symphony behind the scene.
4) Is there a specific kind of "BTS woman?"
For BTS collection, my muse is a woman who smiles, laughs, entertains, and enjoys life. She can be any shape, size, or color and she is comfortable in her own skin. She loves little details so her house is filled with beautiful things. And she appreciates the little touches in our pieces like grosgrain instead of elastic on straps, and the contrasting colors that she can mix and match back to her current wardrobe. She enjoys the moments to herself as much as the moments with her partner if she has one... and that is probably the key. Our customer buys lingerie to please herself, and anyone else who loves it is just an added bonus!
For Layla L'obatti for BTS my muse is a woman who appreciates and goes after the finer things in life. She is a fan of all things luxury, quality, and classic in design and style. She wears pearls and diamonds, and she may have a yacht or just aspire to have one. She's opulent, and dramatic, and never boring. She could be dangerous if she wanted to be, but she would rather be sweet and soft unless danger and drama are necessary.
5) What are the best and worst parts of being a lingerie designer?
I love when a piece comes to life, seeing it on a fit model/model for the first time and seeing a sketch that I've breathed life into is exhilarating.
Worst parts... knowing that you answer to a customer in the end is hard as a DESIGNER, but this is usually when I put my MERCHANDISER hat on and cut craziness out. As a designer I sometimes want to do crazy, over the top, fantasy and that just won't work. I think that's where the fashion show was a release valve in the early days of my design career; it taught me to leave the fantasy for the show, and dress a real woman.
6) Which one of your pieces most embodies BTS?
I can't possibly choose!! If I had to, for BTS collection our Come Out & Play cami, because it's a cami with cups (which is unusual). I love shaping something around the breasts --- honoring them instead of flattening them. I also love that this style can go from the bedroom to a date with the addition of a cardigan and jeans. For LL for BTS I would say the babydoll. It’s special, seductive, moves and flatters all figures... and it's the art of bias draping and lace applique used in a modern and seductive way.
7) What makes BTS different from other lingerie labels?
With BTS collection I think fit is most important. Next is color. I think our fit is amazing, and the boutiques and customers that buy the brand echo that in return. It's partially the choice in superior materials and also my experience in these categories. Many loungewear brands are lifestyle focused, but I think my goal with ours is not just to define a lifestyle but to go beyond the basic black and white, beyond the ruffles and lace, and find silhouettes and bodies that a wide range of women can wear.
With Layla L'obatti for BTS it's a lot of the above. People never really get how incredible these pieces are from our photos, it's when they see, touch, and turn them inside out that they see the detail. I try to challenge myself in the construction and patterns. Playing with grain and bias (which gets expensive since you cut more of the goods when you cut diagonally aka on bias) and not limiting myself. I think this results in a product unlike anything out there.
It's a modern take on traditional silk and lace, with the heirloom quality of a vintage piece. I reference vintage only because we don't have that quality in our clothes, and fast fashion can never provide that. So that is also what I strive to create… unique and almost collectible works of silk/lace art. The delicate applique, French seams, and baby hems are the orchestra to my personal symphony about my love affair with the details I fawn over.
8) Any fave stories?
I've told this story way too many times, but I love it so much. When we shipped to our first stores right in time for Valentines 2010, Randee at Bardot told me that a husband purchased a "sexy set" for his wife and a day later she came in and exchanged it for our loungewear! I love that because that is exactly what I was going for… creating something that women want to wear and feel sexy in!
9) Where (and on whom) have you been featured? Any upcoming features?
No celebs yet, but LL for BTS was in a behind the cover story feature for SATC2 in Marie Claire. BTS collection is in Brides, and Fitness Mag this month, and we're about to debut FW2010 which is receiving amazing response!
10) And, most importantly, where can we buy your stuff?
Both lines in full are available on our site www.btslingerie.com, but we are also becoming available in more and more stores I hope to have a couple to announce soon that also have amazing e-boutiques! Intimo and Antoinette in Santa Barbara, Bardot Lingerie in Millburn NJ, Lilibeas in Reading PA, and both collections are available in stockists around the world so check our stockists page on laylalobatti.com and www.btslingerie.com for stores near you.