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Q&A: Denise Lasprogata


Denise Lasprogata. (See photos of her spring 2011 collection below.)It’s been a number of years since New York fashion designer Denise Lasprogata has visited her alma mater, Country Day School of the Sacred Heart. A native of Havertown, Lasprogata (’91) returns to the Bryn Mawr campus to host an informal, alumnae-only show of her spring 2011 collection on Feb. 25 and then invites the public to a trunk show on Feb. 26 (details below). Fashionistas will appreciate Lasprogata’s “day-to-evening fashion collection of couture and ready-to-wear elegant dresses and sophisticated separates featuring intricate beadwork and luxurious materials.” Not only are her fashions inspiring, but so is her story about why she has such a commitment to the visually impaired population.

MLT: How does it feel to be coming back to your old stomping grounds?
I’m so excited. It’s going to be great to reconnect with people I haven’t seen in so long. I went to Vanderbilt University for my undergraduate and then moved to New York to go to FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology).

MLT: How did the Sacred Heart fashion event come about?
I did a fashion show in the fall during Fashion Week at Sacred Heart school in Manhattan. They have a beautiful mansion—the Otto Kahn Mansion—that I showed the debut collection in. Subsequently, Sacred Heart reached out to me, and they suggested doing something at the Country Day School. So I’m staying within my Sacred Heart network, which I really love since it’s my alma mater.

MLT: How thrilling was it to see your clothes come down the runway?
Well, I didn’t even get to see the show live. We were so busy in the back, working with the producers and the models. It went by so fast. I’ve never been married, but now I know what people must mean when they say, after all the preparation, their wedding day flies by.

MLT: You are very passionate about the visually impaired community. How come?
When I was in high school, I had a real dear friend lose her sight. Through her rehabilitation, I got to understand that identifying clothes and the color of clothing was an issue for those who were visually impaired. It really changed, in many respects, my view of not only fashion but also this community and needing to provide a type of awareness of their needs.

Upon graduation, I had started developing and working on a patent for a label that was washable and had braille on it that identified color and other attributions of the garment. For those who were visually impaired, if they had known color before they lost their sight, then they’d be able to identify the color by reading the large print or by reading the braille. My first collection is inspired by the concept of braille and how it is that we experience the visual world of fashion not only through our eyes but also through our hands.

MLT: Family inspired you also, right?
Absolutely. My family background had been in fashion. My grandmother was a dressmaker, and I grew up watching her make dresses primarily for private clients; she ran a sewing school in her basement. So I always knew I’d go into fashion, and I always wanted to be a fashion designer, but this experience [of her friend losing her sight] shaped the way in which I entered into the industry.

MLT: Is it true you started with a basic T-shirt line?
Yes. I started with a T-shirt line that featured different sayings in braille. They were sold in Henri Bendel and other boutiques, and they were quite successful. The T-shirts attracted a lot of attention from the press. Over the years, we’ve developed into a full collection.

MLT: And a celebrity has contacted you about your efforts with the visually impaired, right?
Yes. Stevie Wonder has been really involved in my work and very supportive. I had an article in People magazine about my T-shirts and garment labels, and someone he worked with read it to him. He was actually looking for labels for himself, so he contacted me. I met with him and showed him what we were working on.

MLT: That must have been a surreal moment.
Definitely. It was amazing. I was sitting in my New York apartment when I received a phone call saying, “Mr. Wonder would like to speak to you.” It was personally rewarding being able to work with someone on that level. He’s an incredible artist and human being.

MLT: Tell me about your spring 2011 collection.
The clothes are traditionally ladylike, with a little bit of edge—both refined and elegant, but comfortable and wearable, too. Each piece of the collection has a braille signature, sometimes hidden in the texture of the cloth or at other times quite evident in the beadwork. The collection is primarily geared for women who like fine lady dresses, but all of it is based around the braille and also the intention of bringing awareness to the sighted population as to the needs of the visually impaired population.

MLT: What has the reaction been toward your efforts?
The visually impaired are appreciative that there is a voice out there for them. From the buyer and retail standpoint, since it’s something that’s never been done, it is very novel. It’s a different perspective on fashion, which I think is interesting to the sighted world. And, of course, [it’s geared toward] the women who are more philanthropic and interested in clothing with more of a cause.

MLT: Where can women find your clothing?
We’re working on brand identity and developing the brand in boutiques and trunk shows, and then looking toward opening a small venue in Manhattan. It’s all very exciting.

Fashion Trunk Show: Feb. 26, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Clothes available for purchase both days, with 15 percent of the proceeds benefiting Country Day School of the Sacred Heart. For more information, visit dlasprogata.com.

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