Magazine article The New Yorker

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Magazine article The New Yorker

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Article excerpt

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The designer LaQuan Smith checked the setting on his iron before he started pressing a black pleated waffle-mesh dress the other day, in his showroom, in Long Island City. The dress was made of neoprene, and too much heat might melt it. Behind him, on three racks, hung his Spring 2016 collection. He flicked through neon neoprene sweaters and tweed bustiers and pulled out a slinky dress of golden fishnet, which he had also made in emerald green, for Rihanna, who wore it on tour in South America. "Because of the 'Bitch Better Have My Money' track, I was, like, This would be perfect for her," he said. He sent the dress to her with a note saying so, and she thanked him on Instagram.

Smith, twenty-seven, is tall and lean. He wore a red baseball cap, a long-sleeved green T-shirt, skinny jeans ripped at the knees, and tan hiking boots. He grew up in St. Albans, Queens. His grandmother taught him to sew, and he got his first sewing machine when he was twelve. He'd go to Walmart and buy stretch fabrics for $2.99 a yard.

"I was making cute little crop tops and miniskirts that I thought were really, really hot," he said. In junior high school, he wrote letters to his guidance counsellor making a case for why the school should hold fashion shows. He was inspired by R. & B. singers of the nineties: J. Lo, TLC, Destiny's Child. After attending the High School of Art and Design, he applied to Parsons and the Fashion Institute of Technology, and was rejected. Years later, both schools invited him to speak. "It was flattering," he said. "But it was also, like, 'Girl, bye!' " (In the end, he gave the talks.)

He got an internship at the magazine BlackBook and became a "club kid," going to parties with women friends who were outfitted in his clothes. Sometimes he'd wear the designs himself. "What I've always been trying to do is implement androgyny," he said. "What makes this womenswear, what makes this menswear?" He once went to a Fashion's Night Out event in a metal-spiked catsuit and pony-skin Louboutin pumps and passed out business cards. He'd give his catsuits and leggings to anyone who asked for them. In 2009, he was grocery shopping with his mother at Pathmark when he opened a tabloid and saw a photograph of Lady Gaga wearing his perforated hyper-textured leggings. …

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