LAQUAN SMITH AT RÉMY MARTIN'S SUMMER KICK-OFF WITH THE RÉMY SIDECAR MAGIC HOUR IN NYC. Photo by Samantha Deitch/BFA.com
Fashion, by definition, is a popular trend—especially in styles of dress. Enter LaQuan Smith: the NYC designer who has redefined the meaning by creating luxury that transcends the industry by taking into consideration all types of the female form with his seductive designs. From styling Ciara for the cover of this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue to dressing Halle Bailey for the American Music Awards to Julia Fox wearing his pieces on the cover of Women's Wear Daily, Smith has risen above his humble beginnings in Jamaica, Queens, to become a prominent figure in the fashion world.
Now, he is collaborating with Rémy Martin on a creative campaign titled "The Rémy Sidecar Magic Hour”. It is led by Ricky Saiz, an award-winning filmmaker, designer, art director and photographer who has been at the forefront of culture for over 15 years (he’s also the former creative director of Supreme). The campaign’s mission is to bring out the best of summer by inviting us all to own the best part of each day.
It’s that sweet spot just as the sun is setting, the energy elevates, and all the right elements are aligned to create that magical feeling you can’t escape, all with the perfect summer cocktail in hand – The Rémy Sidecar. We spoke to the superstar designer about his collaboration with Rémy Martin, his relationships with André Leon Talley and Tom Ford, his career thus far, and much more.
How did growing up in Queens shape your passion for fashion?
New York City is the foundation for all of my inspiration. From the neighborhoods to nightlife to the iconic films and music videos that were shot in the heart of NYC served as the greatest source of inspiration for me. Growing up in this city shaped my identity and taste in fashion in terms of what luxury looks like.
You sound very proud to be a New Yorker.
[Laughs] I'm a New Yorker through and through! I always represent, in the best way I know how, and not just for American designers but New York designers. There was a wave of focus on European brands, and I love the fact I got to put on for emerging and creative brands from the city.
I think of New York as a living and breathing character with an atmosphere that can only be defined by experiencing it. If you could describe the perfect atmosphere to enjoy The Rémy Sidecar, what would it look and feel like?
Because I'm so drawn to the evening, I would say watching the sun disappear on a rooftop in NYC with friends, and we're preparing for an engaging and sexy night out. It would be fun! A lot of dancing and laughter while celebrating each other.
(L-R): LaQuan Smith, DJ Quiana Parks, Chef Kwame Onwuachi. PHOTO BY JOSHUA SOBEL
Some would call that The Magic Hour. How would you define The Magic Hour, and what does it mean to you?
It's about settling into the evening and having a sense of unification with creativity. Celebrating craftsmanship and the spirit of partnership. Rémy Martin exemplifies the energy that is The Magic Hour while embodying luxury.
You're very innovatory, so if you were to create and name your own Rémy Martin cocktail, what would be the ingredients, and what would you call it?
Some sort of lime juice, maybe some honey, a spritzer, and a splash of cayenne pepper; I would name it Lady Of The Night.
That drink would personify who you are as a person and a designer. Do you see the parallels between the LaQuan Smith brand and Rémy Martin?
Definitely! I'm naturally creative and always striving for perfection and excellence when it comes to my design aesthetic, and that resonates with the heart of what Rémy Martin stands for.
Incorporating these equivalencies and circling back to creating with Rémy Martin. Would you ever consider designing a bottle for the brand?
That would be a fantastic opportunity if it were presented! I've always had visions of creating my own fragrances, and when I think of aromas, I think of designing the bottle from the glass to the way they're structured. So I would love that! I don't know what it would look like [laughs], but that would be an insane collaboration!
Speaking of insane collaborations, André Leon Talley was very influential in the development of your career, even going as far as getting you to Paris for the first time. Would you mind touching on that?
André was incredible! I had never been to Paris before, and he gave me a really big check because he wanted me to experience the museums and Champs-Élysées so I could sketch in that environment. I think he recognized a natural and rich talent within me, and he was impressed by all the things that I was doing without having any major backing or traveling experience.
What did that type of affirmation from a fashion icon mean to you?
Everything! There was a growing buzz around me being an emerging talent from New York City that everybody had to pay attention to.
True or false? Your relationship with André led you to meeting Tom Ford.
André did not introduce me to Tom Ford. Meeting Tom Ford was organic through the nature of the women that we dressed; Kim Kardashian showed up to a Tom Ford show decked out in LaQuan Smith from head to toe, which is still crazy to me! Tom was a really big fan of mine, as I am of him, and through fashion, everyone knows everyone, but André did have nothing but nice things to say about me when Tom inquired and vice-versa.
Let's go back to your first Paris trip. How did you feel, and what did you learn?
To be quite honest, I was really overwhelmed. It took me a few trips to Paris for me to plant my feet in the setting. I was 21 when I first went to Paris, and I had never been out of the country before, but I remember someone taking me to an underground nightclub and feeling so inspired at that moment. I started going to different museums and even having a glass of wine or cup of tea while people watching and sketching was exhilarating and electrifying. The more I traveled abroad, the more it shaped my taste and designs in understanding who the LaQuan Smith woman is from a global perspective.
You used the word “overwhelming,” so it's safe to assume that it was a culture shock being from New York City and being thrust into the fashion capital of the world, or was it affirming?
Both because it was all so new to me. Then to have the André Leon Talley give me a big fat check to spend a week in Paris so I can be creative; no one has ever extended that level of grace before, especially in the fashion industry. Also, coming from Jamaica, Queens, which is a completely different atmosphere because we move and talk differently, and even our posture is different. Everything shifted for me, and I really felt a sense of growth. I learned there was so much more to become; I felt like LaQuan Smith was truly here to stay, and it felt like a new chapter was being written in my book.
What would you say you learned from being around legends like Tom Ford and André Leon Talley?
Being in spaces with such giants of the industry gave me a huge boost of confidence! I am an unapologetic Black man designing very unapologetic sexy clothing, which I realize could be a lot for people to take in, especially in the cookie-cutter-shaped fashion industry as we know it. André and Tom allowed me to be confident in what I'm doing, and that afforded me the space to stay true to who I am. I would go to lunch with André, and he would be so impressed with what I'm working on while being transparent and giving constructive criticism, which went a long way, and I sincerely appreciated that.
I'm in it to win it! My relationship with Tom Ford reaffirms that LaQuan Smith is here to stay for the long run in terms of building the brand as a staple in American luxury. I want to be the next Tom Ford and Calvin Klein, but in my own unique way.
Are there any Black creators that inspire you?
Absolutely too many to name! I love Stephen Burrows [fashion designer]; I think he's so amazing for his time. Patrick Kelly [fashion designer], whose life was cut too short, is incredible, and I love the movement that he made. Grace Jones' music has influenced me from the beginning. I can go on forever, but those are just a few.
Absorbing creativity from different avenues is invaluable. Speaking of which, you recently styled the decor for a party in Harlem. Are you officially throwing your hat into interior decorating?
I'm not there yet, but I am all about having people walk into a LaQuan Smith runway show or party and consume the experience. We really put in the time and effort into researching how to make our event(s) the most talked about and glamorous event(s) of the night. That's the pressure that we've put on ourselves because we've made it to the point where a LaQuan Smith runway show is one of the most highly-anticipated during New York Fashion Week, which is mind-blowing! Interior decorating is something for the future, but when it comes down to creating an atmosphere in a venue, that's definitely at the top of the list when it comes down to our brand's DNA.
Chef Kwame Onwuachi and DJ Quiana Parks.
Do you feel an obligation to the community in which you're from and the Black creative community in totality?
Absolutely! Because there aren't many people who get to experience the things that I do. With the level of growth in my success, I do have a sense of obligation to our community to help others grow and succeed in whatever it is they feel like undertaking. I don't necessarily feel pressured either because it feels like when young Black creators see me, they understand it's possible for them, so my first obligation is to remain visible. Whether I go talk to students or have an internship program for high school kids, there are plenty of initiatives I can take because I am blessed with everything I've experienced, and I have to give back.
What is style to Black & Brown people?
Style is self-expression and freedom of speech. Something graceful, consistent, original, personal, and true to form.
Let that be a lesson to all. We've talked about how you've learned from your experiences. What would you say is the hardest lesson you've learned?
Staying the course and keeping the blinders on because it gets harder as you elevate every quarter and year. With growth comes new responsibilities, which are growing pains that could stifle you creatively. You have to remind yourself why you're doing this in the first place and why you fell in love with it. When I'm at my lowest moments, I have to revert back to 2008 or 2010 when nobody knew me, and I was running around NYC trying to get put on while sneaking into parties and trying to get different women to wear my clothes. Just because your brand is growing doesn't mean you're growing; you have to elevate with what you're putting out there in the world.
Remembering why we started is imperative because we tend to forget that creating is supposed to be fun.
We always lose sight of that! Having fun and being creative because it made you feel good at 3 in the morning. Sometimes, success strips us of our innocence and that fire, but it's so important that we don't, which is why we should all take a break to reset. Go to the beach, go on vacation, or have a cocktail, preferably a Rémy Martin cocktail [laughs], and tap back into your best energy because that's what people signed up for when they consume your brand.
Is there a woman who you haven't styled that you absolutely must dress?
Good question! I don't think there's any one woman, but more of a list, and I've been fortunate to dress women from Rihanna to Chanel Iman to Winnie Harlow. I will say this, I am known for that quintessential sexy cocktail wear for an after-party's red carpet, and I would love to establish myself in Hollywood on a different portal like the Oscars, which is why I'm tapping into evening wear for actresses.
What is one piece of advice that you've been given or you would give to any burgeoning creative?
Stay the course! You're way too talented to ever give up, and your success is inevitable.
The Rémy Sidecar cocktail. Photo courtesy of brand.
Learn more about Rémy Martin and The Rémy Sidecar on their website.
Stay up to date with LaQuan Smith and shop his line on his website.
Photography by: Samantha Deitch/BFA.com; Joshua Sobel