Byron Lars talks about upcoming honors, listening to clients – WWD
Three decades after the start of his career as an independent designer, Byron Lars is honored twice this spring.
The Pratt Institute will honor Lars with an honorary degree at its 113th launch on May 18. And Tracy Reese will present Lars with the Fashion Group International President’s Achievement Award on May 10 at the organization’s Rising Star Awards luncheon.
Revealing its lineup on Tuesday, Pratt tapped architect Toshiko Mori to deliver the keynote, and the American Museum of Natural History’s director of astrovisualization, Carter Burwell Emmart, will receive an honorary degree.
Lars changed his name to In Earnest last year and the sentiment applies to his approach to fashion. As for the recent attention, he said, “It’s gratifying to be recognized for continuing to do relevant work. We really strive to keep things here, not just what we see, but what she needs – her being our client.
Not interested in “just ticking boxes for her and moving on to the next thing”, Lars aims to strike a balance between items customers know the brand for and surprises she might not be ready for this season, but maybe the next one. “We want to evolve it organically instead of a groundbreaking arc,” Lars said.
Given the current global turmoil, the designer struggled to identify the biggest challenge. “It would be more difficult to answer what is not difficult at the moment – everything from the supply chain to the world that we will be designing for six to eight months after creating clothes. But it has also been very instructive to try to find that balance with things that can really work at home on a Zoom call and in the real world,” Lars said.
The speed of the pandemic-induced shutdown happened so quickly that many resorted to pajamas or pajama sensibility “overnight,” the designer said. Once there were indicators of waning and re-emerging positive cases, “it appears there was overcorrection in some cases with difficult adaptation and a full evening [wear]”, said Lars. “Is this really happening in the real world? I would have to say yes and no to some extent. One of our fanciest and most expensive dresses sold very well last party season. There weren’t many parties, at least actual parties. We were tagged with a few videos of people just wearing the dress twirling around the house, looking great.
The dress retailed for the holiday for less than $1,000, but the price has since “climbed way beyond that” due to inflation, he said. “At the time, we were like, ‘How much should a party dress cost without anyone going to parties?’ We felt it and it went really well – just like the really laid back stuff.
Acknowledging how a return to the holidays then began to happen to a greater extent, Lars noted how other things are happening as well, such as Omicron’s latest mutation. “I guess it’s just the new world we’re navigating and we just have to learn to be in it,” he said.
With functionality always at the center of his designs, Lars has incorporated low-profile elastic waistbands and other features for maximum freedom of movement. So much so that at a glance buyers might mistakenly assume that they cannot wear such models. The designer’s response to these types of scenarios is a confidence response, advising consumers, “No, just put it on. “We do all the heavy lifting. With the pandemic, the imperative need for comfort has only been amplified throughout the entire design process,” Lars said.
The ability to make people feel good about a design beyond having others tell them they look good is key. “You feel like you look great because you feel comfortable. You can focus on something other than pulling that skirt down or pulling that bustier up,” he said.
Need isn’t the only determining factor in purchases — an emotional component can never be ruled out despite everything, Lars said.
The way he sees longevity comes down to listening to the audience you’re playing. That means being very receptive to input from buyers in co-creating the brand, Lars said.
Reached at his Fifth Avenue studio in Harlem, Lars said, “We work so hard that we haven’t really been able to engage with the community in a way that I’d like to be part of the creative conversation of Harlem. I would really like to get involved in this creative community here.