“It’s really amazing that I am this relaxed,” said the fashion designer Abigail Lorick, sucking down a monstrous iced coffee on the sixth floor of a nondescript building on Pearl Street the other morning. “I should be freaking out by now.” She bent down to pet her adopted Brussel Griffon, Bill (a girl), who was pawing at her ankles.
It was exactly a week before Ms. Lorick’s spring ’10 presentation, which will take place Thursday, Sept. 10, at the Soho Grand, and two interns were sitting in a trancelike state at desktop computers at her studio, which is also her home (she sleeps in a lofted space up a flight of stairs), relaying one exciting development after the next.
Gilt Group, the luxury online retailer, had just placed an order of 1,200 Lorick pieces that they wanted delivered in one month! There would be a trip to Home Depot on Saturday to get wood for the show’s set, and a meeting with the set designer on Sunday. A hair concept for the models had just been finalized. On the kitchen counter were deliciously colored vials of nail polish (nude, pink, electric blue). “I think this may be too sparkly for us,” said Ms. Lorick of the metallic orange, painting it onto her ring finger. And then, looking at sketches for the presentation emailed from an artist: “Hot shit!” She looked up from the screen and giggled self-consciously, like a child surprised by her own vocabulary. “I heard someone say that and now I love saying it: Hot shit!”
‘It’s about bringing elegance back to our generation of women.’—Abigail Lorick
Ms. Lorick, a very pretty former Ford model with big blue eyes, blond hair in ringlets and lips that she paints a shade just a few degrees softer than red, was wearing a floral blue skirt, just above the knee, a neat blue Oxford-cloth shirt and red flats—all of which made her seem both younger and older than her age, 27. It was the kind of look borrowed by her friend, Gossip Girl costumer designer Eric Daman, when he created the personal style of the show’s heroine, Blair Waldorf, played by Leighton Meester. That was in the fall of 2007, when Ms. Lorick was designing her first collection. Later, when Mr. Daman learned that the character of Blair’s mother was going to be a designer, he pitched Lorick as the ghost line. Producers bought her entire first collection before it ever reached stores.
“Be a lady on the street and a whore in the bedroom!” said Ms. Lorick, quoting a friend of hers describing the style. “Wait, no, don’t write that!”
BUT THAT IS exactly the look the show promotes: an outwardly sweet and studious but secretly mischievous private-school gal that travels easily between uptown and downtown. The aesthetic, with its excess of hair ribbons and classic silhouettes, is now regularly featured in magazine fashion spreads (Harper’s Bazaar’s big September issue even had Ms. Meester on its cover). In a time of fashion chaos and oversaturation, it appears consumers are looking at TV shows (Mad Men, too) for dressing guidance and fantasy in a way they haven’t since the days of Dynasty.
“Gossip Girl showed women that it’s good to have style and it’s fun—go get dressed up!” said Ms. Lorick. “It’s been such a challenge for us to educate people. In America, girls don’t get that. They want to show leg and skin to be sexy.” (The designer always says “we” and “us,” though her company is made up of one person: Abigail Lorick, plus the interns.)
Ms. Lorick grew up in Amelia Island, Fla. She began modeling at 15, and after graduating from Bolles High School in Jacksonville, she departed for Paris and Milan. At 23, she enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology and got an internship at T. S. Dixon, the embroidered caftan maker that Ms. Lorick described as the “modern Lilly Pulitzer.” After a few months, Ms. Lorick was given the task of designing whole collections for the label, and after one semester, she dropped out of school. Two years later, her production manager in India suggested that Ms. Lorick start her own collection.
The designer proceeded to create what she thought was missing from the market for women like herself: feminine pieces that were elegant but playful; retro silhouettes in modern prints; simple in the front (to be adorned with belt, scarf or purse), but decorative in the back. A kind of Little Red Riding Hood meets Audrey Hepburn—or what she calls the Lorick Lady.
“It’s about bringing elegance back to our generation of women,” Ms. Lorick said. “When we started, everything was ripped T-shirts and messy hair, and it looked like everyone just rolled out of bed. It’s also a sign of respect for people around you. You know, be on time, sit up straight and be present. It’s about bringing back manners.” Ms. Lorick’s busy interns upload manner updates onto her Twitter page. A recent example: “A Lorick Lady always serves food when serving alcohol to offset its effects.”
The money she received from Gossip Girl in part funded the production of her first collection, and in her second season, Lorick was picked up by Barneys.
The phone was ringing with more news. Dana Lorenz of Fenton/Fallon jewelry would supply accessories for the presentation, which led Ms. Lorick to squeal with pleasure. “Yay!”
Today, she was also casting models. First walked in Lisa, a sylph-like blonde in a wifebeater, jeans, heels and a ponytail. Ms. Lorick sent her into the bathroom to change. Lisa returned in a long black Lorick skirt and top, both in an organic bamboo knit, with a pink ribbon at the waist, and stomped across the floor with her protruding hip bones leading the way.
MS. LORICK PINCHED and adjusted the fabric and instructed one of her interns to snap a photo opposite a wall stacked with the designer’s collection of DVDs (Roman Holiday, Harold and Maude, Planet Earth) and books (Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh) and near a table covered in torn pieces of blue fabric.
When Lisa left, her model card went in the “no” pile. “She was too pointy or something,” said Ms Lorick. “I try to get girls with personalities. It’s just kind of a feeling. And I like girls who still have their eyebrows.”
The models coming by for the casting were all asked if they would be O.K. with undressing in front of people. Ms. Lorick’s collection is inspired by three artists in three media—Francesco Clemente’s watercolors, Edgar Degas’ pastels and Jonathan Green’s acrylics—and her presentation will be a series of “portrait sittings.” (Ms. Lorick is fond of the presentation as performance art: At her last show, models were posed near elaborate tiered cakes and proceeded to devour them with their fingers.)
The next model was named Bibissara: an Asian beauty from Kazakhstan with a curtain of thick dark hair down to her hips. Ms. Lorick sent her away with a teal hoop skirt in silk and a matching blouse.
“How old are you?” Ms. Lorick asked when she returned. “Almost 17,” Bibissara whispered. “Oh, wow, almost 17,” Ms. Lorick said, without a whiff of sarcasm. “Do you like New York? Will you live here forever and ever?” There was another inaudible utterance.
“I love her,” said Ms. Lorick after Bibissara left. Next came Milena from Poland, in a long backless gown; Euphrasie from France, in a dress that was blue-bodiced and cream with organic yellow splotches on the skirt; and Laine from Latvia, in a sculpted grayish-blue canvas coat. All but poor Milena made it into the “yes” pile.
The new collection is a test for Ms. Lorick. For fall ’09, she showed an austere collection in darker tones. Women’s Wear Daily said it “verged on stale with gaudy fabrics and uninspired designs.” Meanwhile, others have been offended by just the opposite: the ultra-femininity of it all.
“People look at my designs and say it’s too frilly or too girly, but I think these are strengths!” said Ms. Lorick. “When I was younger, I thought I had to be masculine to have the same opportunities as the men, but now there is no reason for us to hide our femininity.”
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