Some Like it Handmade with Designer Carmen Orford
Arabic nights of Kandinsky`s abstract Firebird motives, screaming red velvet and minimalism of the fifties, the delicate mystery of the East and futuristic extravagancy of Leeloo’s 5th Element – are associations which spring up in my mind like paint brushes at the sight of the Laura Vivian brand.
A young, fragile girl from a small Canadian city with a romantic name of Belleville is sitting in front of me. Her name is Carmen Orford. Modest and shy, her mermaid eyes glance and gentle voice almost fools me. This girl, who seems to just have stepped out from a Pre-Raphaelite painting, is a fearless, confident young woman in the becoming. Her strong character matches her creative vision, especially in the ever-changing world of fashion. This monstrously big city of Los Angeles didn’t scare her either. On the contrary, she caught it, challenged it, shaked the hubris out of it and made it her best friend. At only 23 years old, Carmen already dresses stars of high-caliber like Susan Sarandon, Bella Thorne, Mø, Mimi Elashiry and many more. Some of them, like singer Elliphant, reached out to Orford and just like in fairy-tales, gave her an impossible ordinary people’s task – to sew a dress for the 2017 Vanity Fair Oscar After Party in one day. Orford, without further ado, sat down in Canada with the singer`s measurements. Within 24 hours designed and handmade Elliphant`s dream dress. It looked so fascinating that the singer didn`t consider other designer dresses afterwards. Orford’s designs her handmade clothing line from scratch, adding all the magical tenderness and softness of her little hands into the art pieces she creates.
From a small city to the boundless ocean named Los Angeles, it was not easy to persuade these LA sharks to take her seriously. But she managed to do it in three years. Orford has been successfully distributing her collections throughout the United States since.
Orford’s design dreams started taking shape at the age of eight. No one in the family designed, but they believed in her bright talent and always supported it. She had no connections in the US either, no acquaintances, no patrons or mentors. And still, Los Angeles was the right place to start a career. She learned the language of business fast and started working towards creating a fashion company. When Orford came to study Fashion Design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in 2011, she learned to sew, produce and catch customers into her creative nets. Here is where she acquired the tools to start the clothing line Laura Vivian LA. The collection creates quite a unique first impression that suits fast-paced, goal-oriented, adventure married LA girls. When asked: “If not design, what else do you see yourself doing?” – Orford looks bemused. Fashion design has become such a strong part of her lifestyle that she can`t imagine a life without it. Initially, Orford started designing clothes for women, but in October a new collection of clothes for girls will launch – Little Vivian – and is coming out to inspire and encourage other little mermaids to seek, find their passions, goals and dreams.
Diamonds Mirror: Why Laura Vivian? Why not Carmen Orford?
Carmen Orford: Laura Vivian is my grandmother`s name and my middle name is Laura. The clothing line is in dedication to my grandmother. She inspired the type of strong woman that I see wearing Laura Vivian. She is a very independent and opinionated woman in a great way. I’ve always had support from her and my mother as well.
DM: How did you find your style in fashion?
CO: Chanel has always inspired me. The 1950’s and that kind of old style are what I would initially design. But for my clothing line now I design edgy and modern pieces.
DM: I noticed the mix of different genres of art in your design. Where do you get inspiration?
CO: The location is what inspires me mainly. When I have the location it`s easier to design pieces. Some great ideas come based on that. Apart from that, I like looking at fabrics. That`s what also inspires me. Also, networking with other people, taking a break from designing and just being involved in fashion.
DM: Do you research before designing or you just follow your first impulse?
CO: I follow what I see and feel at the location and start designing from there.
DM: Was there an event from the past that really motivated you to keep going?
CO: Clothing brand Roxy organized a design competition across Canada when I was 12. You had to sketch two drawings of T-shirts and the winner would design, produce and have it available in stores. I was the second-place winner but it was something that really motivated me, because to be second place winner across all of Canada – I was proud of that. Also, when I meet with high-profile clients from the industry I feel inspired to keep going. I expect to ask them questions, but they start asking questions about me and my work. It`s nice to see that support and the fact that they are interested keeps me going.
DM: Some designers say that music helps them create pieces. Does music inspire you? What music do you listen to?
CO: I definitely listen to music when I sew and design. Kandle Osborne is my favorite. She is great! I love her music and. It was nice to design clothes for her too.
DM: How did you meet?
CO: We had a mutual friend and I asked her to be a part of my photoshoot. She agreed. Ever since we stayed connected.
DM: What about the great Susan Sarandon?
CO: Oddly enough I reached out to her on Instagram – I said I would love to give you a gift package of my designs. She gave me her measurements. A couple of months later when I was still working in Canada but conveniently was going back to LA, she said she wanted to meet. So we met last year in October, we sat down and talked. She was just great! I told her that as a woman I`ve looked up to her. I found these types of relationships with clients to be more beneficial and professional when you can meet them and talk [in person] rather than just messaging.
DM: Apart from the fame those sort of connections bring, do you feel working with celebrities is something different and special?
CO: I won`t lie. There`s definitely a lot of excitement and happiness when I am creating something for them, especially if it is a musical artist that I listen to. The feeling while I create something and listen to their songs is very satisfying.
DM: Your new collection for girls – Little Vivian – is coming out in October. Were there
personal motives in the idea to create a collection for girls?
CO: My niece. She inspired that collection. I began designing clothes for her soon after she was born. I found that I am really passionate about it. I love designing womenswear, of-course, but it’s different. In Little Vivian there`s going to be more of a vintage inspiration. My women`s collection looks a little bit more modern. I don`t want to go for the typical mini-adult wear look. I just want it to be nice children`s wear. And I really like the idea to keep it handmade because I don`t know many handmade children`s lines.
Yeah, I am excited. And it is coincidental that my sister named my niece Lauren Vivian [smiles proudly]. It`s all about individuality and creativity for kids. I’d like to encourage them to use their imagination, wear clothes that they want to wear. And I also think that I am more passionate about children’s clothing because I started designing at the young age of 8, and it draws from what I created back then.
DM: Today all things in your collection are handmade and exclusive. If you were given the opportunity to mass produce your designs, would you agree to it?
CO: It`s hard because I do want to keep it handmade. Depending on the circumstances, I will keep it handmade as long as I can, because I think that the quality and that homemade feel is what people really love. Possibly, down the road in the future, if it benefits me, then yes. I would want some level of control however, since it`s weird completely having it leave your hands.
DM: Is there a difference between doing business in the United States and Canada?
CO: Everything that I need is here. The choices are very limited in Canada. Even fabric supplies are a lot more inexpensive and all my clients are here. And it`s odd, but I haven`t really had many Canadian customers. My clients are mostly from the United States and Europe. And everything else, like having access to models and photographers. The fashion design culture in Toronto is limited.
DM: Weren`t you afraid of the US competition?
CO: I think I have found my unique look and wanted to do something different. That’s helped. Also, exposure through Instagram, reaching out to people. You just have to push forward and keep going with it and people will learn about you.
DM: How would you compare fashion business with show business?
CO: I find fashion design a bit more accepting. I`ve heard it is more intimidating for show business. I`ve been working in collaborations, where people want to incorporate my brand into what they do. I find that really great people see what I`m doing and the energy behind that, and they respond to it pretty nicely.
DM: Who is your favorite writer? Just curious.
CO: Stephen King.
DM: Wow! That`s unexpected!
CO: Yes, I think it`s my mom`s influence but yes. I`ve always liked him. He is someone I love
to read to get away from design.
DM: What is your business plan for the nearest future?
CO: Once I get my children`s collection established I would like to bring that into local boutiques, then expand to more online retailers. And getting into some runway shows is also somethings that interests me. I think it`s great to show people in person what your designs look like. I also have been working towards LA Fashion Week.
DM: Los Angeles is the capital of the entertainment [movie] industry. Have you considered doing production costume design?
CO: That`s something I would love to do. Susan Sarandon has put me in contact with her son, filmmaker Jack Henry Robbins, for that reason. I would love to do costumes for period dramas of the 1950’s era.
DM: Do you also photograph your own work?
CO: Literally just got a camera two weeks ago and started trying…
CO: It’s very enjoyable!
DM: What trends are we going to see in your 2018 Fall-Winter collection?
CO: I want to produce a trench coat style, loose, like the ones I`ve done before but in different fabrics. Fitted pants and layering pieces with loose overcoats and silhouettes like that.
DM: Describe yourself in 5 adjectives.
CO: Quiet, creative, independent, open-minded and….
DM: And charming!
CO: Thank you [smiles]
DM: I hope to see your new collection soon! I am sure it is going to be creative and unique!
CO: Thank you!