January 20, 2011

A Texas Rose In New York

Fashion Designer And Lone Star State Transplant Lela Rose Talks About Her Love Of Cooking, Crafting And Cycling Around The City With The Kids—All In Stilettos, Of Course

By Erika Thormahlen

“I’ll be right
back,” Lela Rose tells me apologetically upon my arrival for our interview. “I
just have to bike Rosey to school.” But before I can warn the fashion designer
known for her ladylike looks that the ultra-chic, suede, stiletto booties she’s
sporting may be unadvisable for a winter bike ride, the svelte blonde and her
flaxen-haired little girl are off on an oversized tricycle complete with wagon and

Lucky for me, Lela’s commitment to do-it-herself drop-off
affords a grand tour of the 6,000 square foot Tribeca home she shares with her
husband, hedge fund manager Brandon Jones, and their two children, Grey (9) and
Rosey (4). A recent renovation showcases Lela’s signature penchant for fabric
and embellishment, not to mention quirky design (think hidden “tequila nook”—a
modern twist on the wine cellar—or the Monopoly hotel-shaped elevator for her
beloved Stitch, a ten-year old Norwich terrier).

Despite her walk-in, red-carpeted closet and a wardrobe to
rival any Sex and the City episode, this Texas transplant is a
self-described “Beverly Hillbilly.” And while one is reluctant to believe her—after
all, her ready-to-wear designs and bridal collection are favored by well-heeled
girly-girls like Zoe Saldana and Zooey Deschanel—it’s Lela’s DIY attitude toward
work and parenting that give you the sense she is as down-to-earth as she can
be in those 4” heels.

And in case you were wondering, they’re Lela Rose for
Payless, at the very down-to-earth price of $37.99.

As a fashion designer, did becoming a mom change your
approach to designing clothes or getting dressed?

I don’t think becoming a mother really changed the way I
either dress or the way that I design, but I think I’m a little unusual that
way; it’s always been important to me. People make fun of me sometimes because
you hardly ever see me in jeans. I’m usually in a dress. I grew up in Texas and
I feel like women there for the most part do dress.

May I ask how you met your husband, hedge fund manager,
Brandon Jones?

Yes, we met here in New York and we are both Texans.
Sometimes Texans seem to somehow only marry Texans.

How do you and your husband manage the duties in the
household with your busy schedules? 
How do you juggle it all?

I would say we do not manage well, nor juggle
well. We have our routine that works for us. Brandon and I will wash the dishes
and Grey dries them; Rosey loves to put things away and help me cook in the

You love to cook for your family—where did that come from?

I grew up with a mother who cooked every night. It is a
pleasure for me to get home from work and have that outlet. We pretty much eat
at home Monday through Thursday. I have a great nanny, Agnes, who I can ask to,
“chop this, pull this out of the refrigerator at this time, turn the oven on.”
She helps me get things to a certain step, which is really lovely.

Did you always know that you wanted to be a mom?

I did. For me, though, I was always pushing it five years
off. I remember when I got pregnant with Grey, I was traumatized. When it’s the
first time you’re pregnant, there’s a certain group of people who love to tell
you how you will never sleep again, how life as you know it is over. And
really, life as you did know it is over, but in a good way. It’s
such a joy and it always has been, it’s always been a ton of fun peppered with
some tough stuff. It’s not that bad!

What do you enjoy most about parenting your children at the
ages they are right now?

One thing I love about Rosey is she remembers every single
thing you tell her, and she remembers everyone she meets. And Grey is a
voracious reader; he just loves it. It’s fun to see their minds and how
they work.

Do they take after you or your husband in their

I think Rosey is going to be more creative. Grey is more
mathematical, which is (like) my husband, but he’s also very creative, too.

Are your kids interested in your work, or in the fashion

Rosey definitely is. She loves to come to the office.
I make her clothes all the time, so I’ll come home from work and she’ll say,
“Do I need new dresses today?” People are always complimenting her on her
clothes, and I feel like she’s kind of like, “Uh-huh, I do look pretty
good.” I don’t know how long this will last.

I assume she takes after her mom when it comes to dressing
up versus a more casual look?

It was too funny, Rosey had a soccer class and Agnes sends
me a picture of her in class. She’s got this giant flower in her hair, she’s in
a Peter Pan collared shirt, suspendered Bu and the Duck shorts and flats. And I
was like, “Agnes, is this proper soccer attire?” She goes, “Well, Lela, Rosey
owns no tennis shoes, no jeans, no athletic shorts and no t-shirts.” We don’t
buy her that stuff! She is literally in a dress or skirt and tights every day—even
the weekend.

How about Grey—do you still have influence over his choice
in clothing?

I have lost that battle. I used to make him stuff when he
was really young, but he is well beyond that stage. If he could be in camo all
day long, that’s what he wants to wear.

How do you enjoy the city with your children? Do you have
any specific places you like to go with them?

We do galleries more than we do museums. Although, we just
went up to MoMA on Christmas Eve. No one was there; it was the perfect day. We
bike everywhere. That is one my greatest joys of living in New York City. I
think it gives you such a sense of adventure.

Have you always biked everywhere?

I never commuted by bike until about seven years ago, and
I’ve lived here for 19 years. When I started I was like, “What have I been
doing?” I have missed so many great parts of living in New York City by not

Biking in the city with a family of four sounds a bit
intimidating. How do you make it work? What are the advantages?

The kids go everywhere on our bikes with us. We’ll bike over
to somewhere like Brooklyn and just explore. We’ll go to the Lower East Side to
the galleries, stop by a street fair or a performance that’s happening. That’s
the thing about a bike: it makes it so easy for you to just stop and do

How did you get involved with Transportation Alternatives,
the New York advocacy group for biking, walking and public transit?

I’ve known their executive director, Paul Steely White, for
a while and they asked me to join the board. It’s funny; I know most of the
messengers in the city! Honestly, the biking community is not that large. We’re
kind of a fervent crew. There hasn’t been that many people who I’ve converted,
but the ones that I have without fail say, “It’s changed my life.”

With all that biking, you seem like a pretty on-the-go

We get out and do a lot. My husband is kind of a health nut.
He’s training for a triathlon. But Mr. Stitch here [Rose’s Norwich terrier] is
pure lazy. He doesn’t even walk. He’s kind of my old man.

That’s right—he has his own elevator!

Yes, the “Stitchevator.”

Well, let’s talk about the house renovation quickly. How did
you go about designing such a unique interior—including a system of interlocking
dining room tables?

This was a complete undertaking that took six years. We
worked with an architecture firm called Work AC and really designed something
that fit our family and lifestyle. I love to entertain and use different parts
of the apartment to do that. My husband, Brandon, hates to move furniture so I
said this is what he got: a table that comes down from the ceiling and one that
comes out of the floor.

You’ve incorporated a lot of quirky touches into the house,
like the felt-covered walls, Grey’s secondhand Eames chair covered in
rubberbands and Rosey’s bedroom window, with its honeycomb of drinking straws.

It’s really about taking materials that aren’t expensive and
using them in beautiful ways. Like the mesquite wood chips in the floors
downstairs; that’s a little nod to Texas. We really aren’t fancy people; we are
a little down-home.

Let’s talk clothes—did you always know you wanted to be a
fashion designer?

I always knew I wanted to work with my hands. The part that
I really love is working with fabrics and color and texture. I feel like at
work we get to do arts and crafts on a daily basis, which is really enjoyable.

Where do you find inspiration for your designs?

The thing that is great about New York City is there is so
much [inspiration] available to you just out on the street—the buildings here,
the architecture, the people, the food. New York is a constant barrage of
creativity if you’re open to looking for it.

Was there any kind of turning point in your career that took
your company and designs to the next level?

A lot of people started becoming more aware of us when we
dressed the Bush girls for their father’s inauguration (in 2000), but honestly I
feel like we’ve just been plodding along over the years, doing what we do and
doing a good job of it.
It hasn’t been all about this one
sky-rocketing moment. It’s been a lot of hard work and learning from your
customer about what they’re looking for on a seasonal basis.

With all the cooking, sewing and crafting around here, you
seem to be continuing in the traditions of the domestic arts—is that something
that’s important to you?

I don’t want to sound like a happy homemaker, but a part of
that is just realizing that you can do so many things yourself. It’s about a
level of confidence in yourself and realizing that, yes, you can do
these things. 
It’s not that I’m
this extraordinary cook, it’s that I cook a lot so I learned a lot about it.
There’s a real creative part of doing things for yourself. The more we move
away from that, the more disconnected we feel.

That can-do sentiment feels so downright Texan!

A friend of mind was like, “You’re like a cross between
Sarah Jessica Parker and someone pulling an oxen or something. A down-home
country thing mixed with this glamour part.” Maybe it does seem Texan. I think
it kinda seems a little bit like “Beverly Hillbillies.” I think it keeps you
more connected to community and tradition and family, and you’re a more
independent person the more that you can do your own things. Frankly, I also
think it’s just fun.

Photography by Michael Jurick.

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