If ever there is a painter of fibers, it’s Louda Larrain. The internationally accomplished designer, a daughter of communist Russia, started painting at the age of 5 at the encouragement of her parents. “It didn’t cost anything,” she says, “but everything is serous. You don’t go to express yourself. It was like, ‘You! Go and draw a cube for a year!'”
Louda enrolled in fashion design in college, but says she didn’t have much interest in it because the culture at the time viewed fashion design as less than intellectual. “I thought I would just get a diploma and then paint, or whatever.” Soon, she realized that fabric had a visceral quality that painting did not. “It’s very sensual,” she says. “Textile is tactile. You like to touch it, get your fingers in. It’s not the same materials you would use when painting. You put out all the wools and threads and all the senses are activated. As soon as I put it in fabric, it’s an emotional experience.”
Illustrations by Louda for a recent show at Carnegie Hall, courtesy of the artist.
As part of Hawaii Fashion Month, Louda will host a workshop on fashion illustration that will tie in to her exhibition of haute couture swatches that she hand-stitched for Christian Lacroix, Chanel, Emanuel Ungaro, and Thierry Mugler, among others, during her tenure in France from 1996-2005.
In 1996, Louda left Russia for France with nothing more than 200 francs in the bank, and by happenstance found herself at an accessories fair in Paris, where someone complimented her outfit. “He stopped me to ask what is it that I was wearing,” she recalls. “I wore a jacket made from one of my fabrics, so I said that I made it.”
That person was François Lesage, the French embroidery designer and heir to Maison Lesage, an embroidery atelier that collaborated with such fashion clients as Givenchy, Christian Lacroix, Balenciaga, and Dior. The next day, Louda got a phone call. “I have news for you,” Lesage told her. “Someone went crazy about your fabric. It’s Karl Lagerfeld!”
“It’s so big that you get post-traumatic stress,” Louda remembers. The early support from Lesage and enthusiasm from Lagerfeld, the creative director and head designer at Chanel, convinced Louda that she had a future in textile design. Her pieces have since been featured at Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, a somewhat disillusioning experience. “You just keep repeating what sells,” she told the New York Times. “Today I’m much better off making much less, designing just one piece at a time, but a really loved piece.”
Now, at 52, Louda and her husband, esteemed photographer Gilles Larrain, live and continue to make art on Kauai. “Being in Hawaii, I’ve never thought as clearly, never had as many good and valid ideas as I had before. It’s much more relaxed, personal, and friendly here.”
She says she is excited to participate as a mentor in the Hawaii Fashion Exchange’s mentorship program, as well as the upcoming Hawaii Fashion Month. “What Melissa White and Toby Portner have in mind is a really great idea, because assisting with Paris’ and New York’s Fashion Weeks, you still love fashion you want to see what is exciting. Hawaii Fashion Month can be like a cherry on all the fashion weeks.”
To register for Louda’s HFX mentor workshop, click here. Below is a preview of Louda’s textiles.