Designer Lela Rose on how to host a party your guests will never forget, and why riding a bicycle in NYC will change your life.
by Phoebe De Croisset
It’s 9am and fashion designer Lela Rose has just finished her morning jog along the West Side highway. She greets me, and the entire crew gathered outside her Tribeca loft, with a smile and an invitation to come in and make ourselves at home. “I have water and coffee,” she says… “And wine!” Lela Rose is best known for her eponymous label that marries effortless, elegant designs with bold color and intricate detail. But this Texas native has built more than a clothing line. Hers is a lifestyle that revolves around her philosophy of celebrating the ordinary. As I watch her load her adorable Norwich Terrier, Bobbin, into the basket of her bespoke cherry-red bicycle, wearing white lace gloves and her signature smile, I can’t help but think that hers is anything but an ordinary life.
Dress Lela Rose Belt Buckle Vintage Trench New York Vintage Scarf Madewell
PHOEBE DE CROISSET You were born and raised in Dallas. How big a role did that Southern upbringing play in the way you approach design?
LELA ROSE I have always credited the women in Texas for having an influence on my design sense, really in a few different ways, but probably first and foremost with color. Black was not considered a color in Texas. Also, I really love and appreciate how women get dressed there every day. It’s not as casual a culture as you see in some places. It’s a sense that you get dressed every day to feel you look good, to be able to greet the day in a better way.
PC Does the idea of “getting dressed” play a big role in your design philosophy?
LR My design philosophy is really pretty simple. I try to provide pieces that are easy to wear, easy to be in all day from morning until dinner, but that you look and feel great in, that you’re your best self in, and that make you feel you can accomplish everything you need to that day. They’re easy pieces. We really built a business based on the dress, and I think part of that it’s because it’s one zip. It’s easy. I’m looking for pieces I can wear to work, have my meetings in, ride through the green market on my bicycle and pick up my groceries in, and the moment I get home, I am cooking dinner for 12 people. I don’t have time to figure out a new outfit. That’s my design philosophy and it really fits into a lot of how I entertain and how I like to look while entertaining.
PC That brings us to our next question. This town knows you to throw one heck of a party. You recently came out with a book about just that, the art of preparing for, and hosting a party. How did Pret-a-Party come about?
LR The whole book is really the same premise as my design philosophy, which is to make every day an occasion. Celebrate every day for no particular reason. I’m constantly throwing parties and when someone asks me what the party is for, I generally answer with “Well, because why not?” We all live pretty lucky lives, and I especially feel I do. I have this amazing family. I love what I do, and I kind of celebrate that. And I love to celebrate it over a good meal.
(Look 1) Dress Lela Rose Shoes Manolo Blahnik Necklace Carolina Bucci Earrings Personal (Look 2) Dress Lela Rose Shoes Pour la Victoire Earrings Personal
Skirt and Blouse Lela Rose Coat Max Mara Gloves Carolina Amato Shoes AGL Earrings Personal
PC Do you remember the first party you hosted?
LR Well, I don’t know if you would consider this hosting, but I think I was probably eight or nine and it was Father’s Day. I cooked an entire lunch and had several fathers in the neighborhood come over, and my girlfriends too. We did this whole Father’s Day luncheon. I will always remember that. Getting the melon scooper. It was very silly things, but it was so much fun.
PC Who was your biggest inspiration growing up?
LR My mother has always been an inspiration to me. She was growing up, and she still is today. She is one of the most forward-thinking, curious, interesting, interested people and always has her mind open to something new.
Celebrate every day for no particular reason.
PC What was the best advice she gave you?
LR I actually have a quick answer for this. It’s something she has always said and has always lived by, and that is “be nice, be nice, be nice.” That is truly how she deals with everyone and even when there is conflict going on, she deals with it in the nicest way, and then everyone walks away feeling like “Okay, I like that solution.” I am always looking for a win-win situation like this in my life and in business.
PC What would you say to people who are generally overwhelmed by the idea of hosting a party?
LR For me, the process is truly the most fun part. I always have fun at the party, but I love the details and the planning. I really do believe the devil is in the details. I also think you should allow yourself a cocktail yourself before all the guests arrive! And remember that perfection is not the aim. Try to relax, and it will be fun. And finally, remember to smile! Especially when you greet your guests. No one likes a stressed-out hostess. It sets everything off on a bad tone. If you are having fun, then everyone else will have fun too.
PC A passion for good food is something you live with every day of your life, from the farmer’s market to the dinner table and beyond. You have been on the board of the Edible Schoolyard for seven years. Can you tell us about it?
LR The Edible Schoolyard is an organization started by Alice Waters, one of the first well-known farm-to-table chefs. She has long believed in giving children a food education, teaching them where their food comes from, why it’s important to understand the sourcing of it, who is farming it, and what goes into our food. The Edible Schoolyard focuses on underprivileged areas and the kids in public schools. We build gardens in these schools and it becomes part of the curriculum. The kids help harvest and grow the food. They cook it. And then they all sit down together and eat this meal that they have had a hand in producing. It’s pretty amazing. They then go home and talk about it with their families, and it’s a great way to teach about food and community and how they can come together.
PC Now please talk to us about these famous bicycles of yours. You are THE expert on riding a bicycle in NYC. When did all of this begin?
LR I started commuting by bike probably 14 years ago. I found this trike on ebay and would load my son and my dog in the back along with all my stuff. I truly believe that if I hadn’t started riding a bicycle, I would have left this city years ago. It really is the key to living in this city, and to having freedom. You never have to wonder how long it’s going to take you to get anywhere. You just unlock it and throw everything in and you’re on your way!
Be nice, be nice, be nice.
PC Would you like to share any words of wisdom to first-time bicycle riders?
LR No 1. Never wear spandex. I feel like the way we grew up with bikes as Americans, they were meant to be this exercise thing and you had to put on workout clothes to get on your bike. I do not feel very inspired running into people in my work-out clothes. I’m always a little bit ashamed, like “Sorry, I’m in my work-out clothes.” I think you should get dressed, put on what you’re wearing for the day, and get on a bike!
No 2. Start on the West Side Highway, which is completely protected. It is such a joy having the wind blow through your hair.
No 3. Decorate your bike. I make mine really fun so they’re fun to be on. And as I go along, people wave and smile and say “That’s so cute! Your dog’s in the back!” And I smile back and wave, unless they get into my bike lane, and then I flip them off. I’m very militant about that!