Barbara Laken Starts Couture Clothing Store Contrarian
Former Highland Park resident Barbara Laken has started a couture business called Contrarian with her daughter, Alexis.
When former Highland Park resident Barbara Laken with daughter Alexis first developed their small capsule collection called Contrarian in the fall of 2009, friends thought they were crazy to start this company in such a dire economic environment.”Contrary to their opinions,” Barbara Laken said, emphasizing the very reason Contrarian was the name chosen for their couture, “we felt the time was perfect.”
Consumers would become more discerning because of the new economic uncertainties, she felt, looking carefully for clothes and wanting more for their money.
Working with Alexis, 30, a fashion stylist in New York, Barbara, 55, who now lives in Lakeview, travels to New Your twice a month where Contrarian has a loft. The women shop for fabrics and work together on patterns and sketches.
“New York’s downtown provides a fashion show every day — and we both benefit from that,” Alexis said.
The Lakens work in steps. “We do the design,” Barbara Laken said, “recreating our picture in a muslin.” Their pattern maker then comes back with a pattern. Fitting the new clothes on themselves, they can see how the fabric falls and if their ideas translate into wearable, functional clothing.
What designers wear
When she works, Alexis usually wears a Contrarian T shirt and jacket or one of the line’s kimono sweaters which Drew Barrymore and Gail King both bought — plus jeans. But at night, “it’s real girly sexy stuff for me — like our famous Colette dress, or one of our backless bib dresses.”
During the day, Barbara Laken often opts for one of Contrarian’s cotton shirts with wide-legged pants, while at night, she loves to combine those pants with a backless cashmere turtleneck, or “train” shirt that has a bustle at the back, if she’s looking for a more dramatic entrance. All 40 pieces of the spring 2010 collection are priced below $500.
Contrarian is 100-percent American made and New York City produced. “We’re never going to outsource,” Barbara Laken said. “There’s no need to do it. I personally think it is wrong. There are so many talented people here and they produce a better product.”
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