Laura McLaws Helms
Three hundred eBay alerts per day and counting.
MONOGRAM: List your name, profession, and place of residence:
LAURA MCLAWS HELMS. Fashion & cultural historian, creative consultant, and author. Brooklyn, NY.
MONOGRAM: How do you see vintage fashion as influencing contemporary designers?
LAURA: From vintage fashion photographs plastered all over moodboards to racks full of second-hand garments for “research”, vintage fashion is not as much an influence as the starting point in the process. Some designers straight-up copy while others update or combine elements from various designs and eras; fashion today is less about innovation and more about the skill with which you can modernize the past.
MONOGRAM: Is there a connection to our current climate that makes certain designers feel very relevant right now? Any that you’d name?
LAURA: I’m actually really interested to see what happens in fashion in the coming season in this new Trump, post-truth era—if designers are feeling as bleak and as frightened for the future as I am, I have a feeling that fashion might become even more escapist and fantastical for a period.
MONOGRAM: You recently curated a show on Thea Porter at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London. What is it about her work that makes you feel like she’s an important designer to know now?
LAURA: Thea was really the first designer in the west to incorporate Middle Eastern influences in luxury fashion from a very authentic and intimate perspective. She was raised in Syria and Lebanon before settling in London, and Arab culture was integral to the way she designed and the textiles she chose to use. Now—when much of the world views Arabs as terrorists and the world she lived in has been destroyed (many of her first textiles were antiques bought at the souk in Aleppo)—it has become vital to expose people to the craftsmanship and beauty of Middle Eastern garments and fabrics, and to illuminate how this dynamic culture, through Thea’s designs and their recent runway copies, continues to inspire fashion today.
MONOGRAM: Along with being a curator and historian, you’re the co-founder and director of Lady magazine (which we love!). How did this project come about?
LAURA: Four years ago I reconnected with Susan Winget, a fashion editor I have known since I was 16. She had an idea for a zine and asked me to collaborate with her on it; over a few discussions it quickly expanded into a beautiful large format, annual publication. Now primarily web based, it is the baby of a group of amazing ladies that I feel very lucky we are able to work with. Lady has always been very much about living an aesthetic and intentional life, which to us doesn’t require masses of money—luxury comes from a certain thoughtfulness and care with which you inhabit your life. This is what we hope to achieve through our films, editorials, articles and interviews.
MONOGRAM: Tell us about your vintage magazine and clothing collection. What’s your favorite method to procure great vintage pieces? Any great stories to share?
LAURA: For the last 16 years I have done almost all of my shopping on eBay, making me somewhat a master of it. I have three separate accounts set up for different countries, and receive up to 300 search alert emails a day. That might sound insane but I’ve been doing this so long that it takes just a few minutes every morning to check. Also, my ultimate way to de-stress is by scrolling through thousands of vintage dresses. I found an Ossie Clark dress for a few pounds at a car boot sale in London when I was quite young. It was pre-internet so I knew nothing about him but I could tell the dress was special—this started me on my passion for research and collecting.
MONOGRAM: Your Instagram has quite possibly the best video clips of any feed we follow. Are you in constant research mode to find these?
LAURA: I never purposely research clips to post, but as I’m not the kind of person who keeps up with contemporary TV shows, I use my relaxation time to submerge myself in the deepest, weirdest parts of 1950s-90s pop culture, and the magic is everywhere.
MONOGRAM: Of your many vintage t-shirts, which one is your absolute favorite? How and when did you acquire it?
LAURA: There’s this 1979 Madison Square Garden Yes tour shirt I have that I’ve worn so much it’s collapsing in on itself, yet it stills makes me swoon. Almost transparent cotton printed with a Roger Dean fantasy—what could be better?
MONOGRAM: Do you wear graphic t-shirts as a form of self-expression?
LAURA: As a pre-teen and teenager, graphic t-shirts helped me to define who I was in a more clear and succinct manner than I would have been able to verbalize at the time. I began collecting them as an 11-year-old obsessed with Marc Bolan, morphing over time through prog rock, glam metal, NWOBHM, and black metal.
MONOGRAM: What’s your favorite way to style a t-shirt?
LAURA: Returning to my glam rock pre-teen roots with a flippy satin or lamé skirt, fishnets and super high metallic platforms.
MONOGRAM: Lightening round: describe yourself in terms of the following...
LOCATION: The Smoky Mountains
BEVERAGE: Pina Colada
VEHICLE: 1973 AMC “Pierre Cardin” Javelin
PHOTOGRAPHY: Clement Pascal