Interviews

Off Duty: Lauren Kirby, Design Director, House Of St. Clair

Written By James Kicinski-McCoy

Photography by: The Bleu

I met 20-something Lauren Kirby a few years ago when she was in Nashville working for her previous job, fellow Austin clothing company Esby apparel. She brought the line into my then brick and mortar, and we hit it off and have stayed in touch ever since. She has since moved on from Esby to join forces with her fiancé Carson in their own label House of St. Clair. It’s been so fun watching her career evolve and the collection expand — Lauren’s the brainchild behind a new women’s collection launching this fall. I’ve gotten a few sneak peeks at the line here and there and it’s beautiful! When planning my recent trip to Austin, I couldn’t wait to see her again and knew I needed to photograph her for Bleu. Lauren has incredible, effortless style, a magnetic smile, and she is one of the sweetest and kindest women I’ve met in the industry.

She’s currently living in a charming, bungalow-style, backyard house owned by one of her friends, complete with private pool — the better to beat that Austin heat. The space is small, but seems much bigger than it is with its open floor plan and the well thought out furniture and art placement. We spent the morning catching up, talking favorite fashion finds (stay tuned for Lauren’s guide to the best vintage shopping in ATX coming later this week), and another passion the two of us share…really good food! Read on for an inspiring look into the design director’s day-to-day where she shares her world of helping build a successful fashion label, the habits that keep her motivated and inspired, and a deep love for literature. Enjoy!

House of St. Clair linen blazer from SS18. Deji Studios shorts. Vintage tortoise sandals.
House of St. Clair linen blazer from SS18. Deji Studios shorts. Vintage tortoise sandals.
The living room.
The living room.

How do you typically spend a day off when the work can wait?  “I let myself sleep in a little, and then I get up and make some coffee and take my dog Mig for a walk. We have a park with a beautiful waterfall and stream that runs through it near our house and he loves it there. It’s really peaceful and it’s the best way to start the morning. Since we own a business, most days require at least some work. So, we’ll usually cook breakfast and spend a little time on email. But, my ideal day off involves both productivity and relaxation. Otherwise, I’ll burn out during the week. I love to read, so that’s usually on the top of my list and it’s a time just for myself. I also love to thrift or go antique shopping with Carson. We both love food, so we’ll usually go out to dinner on our day off and grab a drink somewhere either together or with some buds.”

Do you sleep-in on your days off?  “I have a super power where I can sleep so much if I let myself, but I try not to do that. So, I usually get up around eight or nine on the weekends, so I don’t throw my day off. On my work days, I’m up at 6:45, so I try to keep it consistent enough.”

How many times (if any) do you hit snooze?  “I’m not a snoozer. It makes me more tired, so when the alarm goes on, I’m up.”

What’s the very first thing you do when you wake up?  “Let my dog out, brush my teeth, and if it’s a work day, we’ll go to the gym to work out. After that, we alternate between who walks our dog and who cooks / makes coffee. And, we’ll always listen to music in the morning to set the mood for the day. Then, it’s off to work!”

What’s on your bedside table?  “At least a few books I’m reading. I read one at a time, but I like to line up my books for the month. And usually, Lypsyl, because my lips get really chapped.”

What’s the story behind your home and how long have you lived there?  “We live in a small back house in South Austin. We moved here a year ago to really save money to buy our own place. It’s a little bungalow, but we have a pool in the backyard that we share with our friends, which is so great. We’re excited to buy our own place soon!”

Please name a few favorite things you cherish in your home and why.  “Our collection of coffee table books and magazines. This is something we look for all the time, whether it’s in Austin or when we travel for work / pleasure. It’s just so fun because they all have memories. The antique female bust above said books. Carson got it for me after we got engaged from a vendor at Round Top (Texas Antique Fair outside of town). It’s early 1900s French, and I love her. I still can’t decide on her name. Our tableware. They’re all pieces from different times. Ceramic bowls and plates from Japan, bowls from Michigan, ceramic plates from a company in Portland called Notary, mugs from roadtrips together, etc. They make me happy when we eat. The framed drawing of a man’s face. Carson’s dad drew this in 1980 before he was born and gave it to him as a gift. I love that man’s face; it really tells a story. Our couch – another find from a dealer at Round Top. It’s 1960s Hans Olsen that we got for a great deal because it needed a little refurbishing. We’ve had a lot of fun watching movies and eating and entertaining friends on that couch.”

Tell us about the art in your home.  “A friend of ours, Alexandra Valenti, had an art show last year and I fell in love with this piece. The day after her show, Carson asked me to help him grab something from the car. It was this piece. It makes me so happy to look at. There are two paintings next to our bed. One is a 1960s painting of the sea. We found this in Tucson at a Goodwill. It’s still in the original frame and is signed by the painter.
The other painting by the bed is a mid-century oil painting find from a dealer at Round Top. The rest of our art is now at our shop! It’s resting there until we can use it in our home. Some of it is actually for sale online.”

Where do you find / shop for home decor?  “Carson, my fiancé, is amazing at finding really cool home and art objects. Where as I used to exclusively look for clothing, he’s shown me this whole other side. Most of our decor is from trips we’ve taken together. We are always going to local shops and flea markets on our trips, trying to score the perfect piece for our house. We’ve actually acquired too many for our small space and have a lot of them in storage at our shop. In terms of local, we like Revival Vintage, Room Service, Austin Antique Mall, and Uptown Modern.”

What are your hobbies?  “Reading. This is something I do every day or at least try to. It’s been a hobby of mine since I was a little kid. I love getting lost in a book.  Thrifting / picking / antiquing. It’s seriously the best feeling when you find a treasure. I love finding really special gifts for friends’ birthdays. Ebaying – Is this the same as above? Cooking. I am new-ish to cooking, but I’ve been trying to work on my skills. I find it really relaxing after a stressful day at work.”

Night in or night out? How do you spend it?  “I definitely like both, but I love a night in. I get home from work and snuggle / walk our dog, and then we listen to music and have a glass of wine. Carson cooks dinner — he’s an amazing cook, so I’m going to prefer him make dinner. [Laughs] Then, we’ll watch a movie and I’ll finish the night by reading before I fall asleep. And then if I’m out, I’m either going to dinner or drinks with Carson or getting martinis / going dancing with my girlfriends. Some nights require one or the other.”

Favorite, must-read books? Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner, Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney, White Teeth by Zadie Smith, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, and Between the World and Me by Ta Nehisi Coates.”

Favorite Netflix series / movie?  “Black Mirror, The Office, Killing Eve, and The Killing.”

Any good podcasts you recommend?  “Armchair Expert, The High Low, Hidden Brain, Revisionist History, and 2 Dope Queens.”

Coffee table books and magazines you love?  “For magazines: Unconditional, Purple, The Gentlewoman, Gagosian Quarterly, and Cabana. For coffee table books: Marc Jacobs by Robert Fairer, Luis Barragán, Ward Bennett by Elizabeth Beer, Marfa Modern, and Yves Saint Laurent.”

Favorite candles?  “Santa Maria Novella’s Tabacco Toscano, Astier de Villatte Opera, Cire Trudon Ernesto, and D.S. and Durga Portable Fireplace.”

Song on repeat?  “This is more an album, but I’ve been listening to Nancy and Lee on repeat. It’s just felt right this summer.”

Signature scent?  “I don’t wear any perfume! I’m really particular to scents and can get a headache really easily, and wearing perfume is just too close for comfort. But, we always burn a specific incense in our house, so that’s probably my signature scent by default. It’s called Opera by Astier de Villatte. We picked it up awhile back from Bon in Tucson. Now, we just call them when we need more and they ship it. It’s seriously the best (and so is her shop, you should check it out!) The description reads ‘the splendour of the Palais Garnier. Ballet movements in the Great Hall’. I mean, how good is that?”

Aforementioned bedroom art.
Aforementioned bedroom art.
House of St. Clair sample from our AW19 women’s collection — coming out September! Vintage 501 Levi's. Vintage black heels.
House of St. Clair sample from our AW19 women’s collection — coming out September! Vintage 501 Levi's. Vintage black heels.

Describe your personal style / style philosophy.  “I would say it’s romantic and practical. I am definitely a mix between feminine and masculine, but skewing more feminine. I love ruffles and lace, but also pleated trousers and men’s oversized button downs. I love mixing the two. I almost exclusively shop vintage because there’s so much you can find that’s one of a kind. I just love finding those pieces that you know you’ll have forever and they have a story behind them.”

What’s the one thing in your closet you would save in a fire?  “My best friend gave me this vintage Gianfranco Ferre orange silk blouse for my birthday a few years back. It means so much to me because it was the perfect gift and she’s such a special friend. Also, it’s just an amazing piece and I’ve never seen anything like it. Thanks Dre!”

The bedroom.
The bedroom.

Your first fashion splurge? “When I was working at Billy Reid the year after I graduated college, there was this cashmere and neoprene jacket that I was obsessed with. Very oversized and very cool. It was selling for a few thousand, and I had practically zero dollars. But, I was in love and determined to have it one day. I waited patiently until it went on sale and then they did a sample sale for the employees. They let us have a deal on one item and I got the jacket. It was my first splurge, but I had been waiting so long and was still in love with the piece, so I knew it was worth it. I was ecstatic. For a few years I kept the tag in my pocket to remind me of how much it cost. That way, I would remember to take extra good care of it. I still have it and it’s still one of my favorite pieces in my closet.”

Favorite vintage find?  “This is tough! I found this Vicky Tiel Couture prime colored silk skirt suit. The sleeves are all ruffled and it’s fitted perfectly. It’s pretty incredible. On a more day to day, I have a 2XL vintage linen trench coat that I wear a lot. It’s the perfect shape and color.”

What do you wear when you’re spending the day comfortable, at home, and off duty?  “Deji Studio linen shorts and a vintage white tee. Probably with some Anonymous ISM socks because we sell them at work and it’s always cold in our house with the AC.”

Who, what, where inspires your style the most?  “For sure, the most is traveling. I love Austin, but I really love getting out of Austin. It’s just refreshing and invigorating being somewhere else. The people, the food, the smells, the sounds, the architecture — it’s always inspiring being somewhere new or somewhere that you’re not accustomed to.”

What’s on your want list?  “I don’t want to share this top because there’s only one, but maybe it’ll force me to buy this when this publishes! I love all of her vintage. I love Cecilie Bahnsen and I hope one day I’ll own one of her dresses. You could always wear a turtleneck underneath with tights when it gets cold. I’ve been wanting this Hunza G bathing suit in white for awhile. We’re getting married in Mexico in November, so I’m going to buy it before then as a gift to myself! I’ve been lusting over these since the first day I saw them. This blazer is really cute for pre-fall and it’s on major sale. I picture it with shorts and sheer knee socks and loafers.”

Necklaces on the window sill.
Necklaces on the window sill.

Your five wardrobe staples, go…  “Vintage jeans, classic loafers, white buttons downs (men’s and women’s), vintage jackets (I collect outerwear pieces), and a pair of small gold hoops.”

Favorite designers / brands and why?  “Jil Sander is classic, elegant, and amazing every season. I really want a pair of her trousers and any of her shoes. Cecilie Bahnsen is romantic, feminine, and comfortable. And, I really like Bevza lately. It’s beautiful and sexy, yet understated.”

Very favorite online shop? Ebay, Moda Operandi, and The Real Real.”

Favorite local clothing store?  “Am I allowed to say our store? Haha, House of St. Clair.”

Dresses or jeans?  “This is almost 50-50 for me, but jeans.”

Heels or flats?  “Flats.”

Vintage or new?  “Vintage.”

The kitchen.
The kitchen.

Breakfast / brunch of choice?  “I almost always eat either a green smoothie or a bean and potato breakfast taco.”

Coffee or tea? How do you take it?  “Coffee, black.”

Favorite local cup?  “Figure 8 or Flat Track.”

Fave cookbooks? My Mexico City Kitchen, Hartwood, Minimalist Baker, and The Art of Cooking.”

Your go-to dinner recipe when at home?  “This is a really easy go-to for dinner. But I usually add sautéed mushrooms and snow peas to it. And, if I don’t feel like chickpeas, I’ll bake tofu instead.”

Favorite local restaurant and your go-to order? Justine’s mussels and frites with a dirty Hendrick’s martini.”

Regular Postmates / takeout order? Home Slice Pizza. Half cheese, half broccoli, black olive, and onion.”

Any supplements you take / magic elixirs you make or swear by?  “I drink room temperature water with lemon every morning when I first wake up.”

Any most-loved kitchen gadgets?  “Our Lodge cast iron skillet, Chemex pour-over, and the Ninja professional blender. We used to have the Vitamix, and this is basically as good and a fourth of the price.”

How do you stay active? Do you work out?  “I work out four to five days a week. Carson and I both go to the gym Monday through Friday. I do cardio two times a week and weight-training three times a week. I didn’t used to work out so consistently until this year. It took me awhile to get into the habit, but now I can’t imagine not working out. It’s really helpful for my anxiety and peace of mind.”

What does self-care look like for you when you’re off duty?  “Definitely reading in bed with a face mask on.”

You decide to treat yourself, how do you indulge?  “I have about 100 things in my cart on Ebay, so if I’m going to indulge, that’s the first place I’m going to go. Otherwise, I’ll go to Book People and buy a bunch of books on my list. Oh, or, I’ll go to a nice dinner. So food, books, or clothes.”

AVN dress. Sandals from Morocco.
AVN dress. Sandals from Morocco.

Tell us a bit about what you do.  “My title is Design Director, but it’s way more than your ‘title’ when you work on such a small team. Carson started House of St. Clair, a menswear (and soon to be womenswear) brand in Austin a few years ago, and I came over to work with him at the beginning of this year. I’m in charge of the product from start to finish. So from concept to design to production to completion, I am working with Carson, our sample house, our production coordinator, our factory, and our wholesale accounts. And then on the other side, I’m working on marketing, sales, web, etc. When you’re at a start-up like this, you have 100 different hats. That’s what makes it so fun — and stressful! [Laughs]”

Was it always fashion?  “Not until I graduated college. I went to the University of Michigan and was pre-med in college. My major was Bio-Pscyh with a Biological Anthropology minor, so I definitely thought I was going to do something health-related. But then, when I wasn’t in class, I was on Tumblr and blogs and looking at fashion magazines. So after I graduated, I moved to Austin and decided to give myself a year to try to get into fashion. Why I didn’t move to NYC, we’ll never know, but it ended up working out! I worked for Billy Reid for a year and then for Esby apparel for four years in product development / design. Esby was a huge learning job for me, and it was so much fun. Stephanie, who started the brand, is one of my best friends now.”

Who / what has been your biggest inspiration?  “Who inspires me? Strong, creative woman like Phoebe Philo, Jil Sander, Helen Frankenthaler, Diana Vreeland, Grace Coddington, and Joan Didion. But, in terms of what, I think my biggest inspiration has been the want to prove myself. It’s been a huge motivator. I want to be better all the time, and I think I’m constantly competing against myself. So, I wouldn’t say I’m my biggest inspiration at all, but I’m definitely pushing myself the most.”

What does a typical work day look like?  “It’s seriously different everyday. Whether we have our head in production spreadsheets or creating mailers or packing and shipping wholesale or in NYC for fabric meetings or in L.A. for sample fittings, it’s always changing. 90% of it is very unglamorous. We spend a lot of time in excel. [Laughs]”

Typical work lunch?  “Either leftovers from the dinner before (most days honestly) or Juiceland to-go. They have really good, easy lunch options. I love their Spring Roll Bowl and Vegan Gyro.”

In such a competitive industry, how do you keep up with the Jonses?  “What a good question. With social media, it just exacerbates this need to ‘keep up’. I definitely feel this way and some days it’s worse, but as I get older, it keeps getting easier to stay focused on my own hustle. I think because I couldn’t afford designer brands in college, I started finding vintage pieces. And, from there, it became a hobby that I loved to do. I think I realized I don’t need to keep up, I just need to do what I want and love to do. And, that shines through.”

Keys to productivity?  “Working out has really helped me with this. I have anxiety, so working out in the morning has helped me stay focused during the day. I am really big on lists. They help me to not feel overwhelmed and start the day. I used to multitask a lot, but I started reading more and more on how it reduces your efficiency. So, now I try to focus all of my attention on completing one task at a time. So far, so good.”

You’ve been traveling a lot for work, any tips on working from another city?  “I realized as I was writing this that I’ve been gone every month this year. I’ve always traveled a lot for work, but this year has been pretty wild. We showed in Paris this June, and it was my first solo trip abroad. It was tough selling at market all day and then keeping up on emails and social media and marketing in between. And then at the same time, trying to have some free time to explore. I think what I’ve found works the best is keeping a schedule. That way, you stay focused, but still allow some social time. If you usually work a nine to five, then work nine to five and save the late afternoons for yourself. I found the best way to get to know a city is to walk around. So, I usually walk to a cafe and work from there. Then, go to lunch somewhere else and then walk to another cafe to work. That way, you’re still involved in the day-to-day of the city, but you’re also working. Then you get the evenings free to go to dinner! If I’m traveling for more than a day or two, I try to tack on an extra day to go to museums and have a free day to explore and get inspired. It makes it so much more fun.”

Can you tell us how you remedy being in a creative funk? What puts you back on track?  “I hate when this happens. I try to mix up my routine. Walk my dog on a different route, go to a different park, cook different food, listen to different music, watch new movies, buy a new magazine, look at old runway shows. Just something to mix up what I’m doing. It usually helps shift my perspective and look at it all differently.”

Any advice to other women looking to start a career in fashion design?  “I would say just be willing to learn it all. I think the most helpful thing for me was that I started at a really small company. It allowed me to learn every facet of the company which was extremely beneficial. Working for someone who cares and is willing to mentor you and teach you is obviously not always easy or for everyone, though. But, no matter what, just learn it all, soak it all in, and be willing to bend and move with the changes. Go the extra mile and always say ‘yes’ to opportunities for growth. Good luck!”

Any exciting biz news or projects on the horizon?  “We are launching our women’s collection this fall! It should start to arrive around early September. We are so excited!”

Written by: James Kicinski-McCoy

James Kicinski-McCoy is the 40-something Founder and Editor-In-Chief of The Bleu. She likes tequila, picks fights with her husband so she can have the bed to herself, and is trying to figure out that work / life balance.

1 Comment

  1. Olive

    July 29, 2019 at 6:47 pm

    For Austin people, I recall during the campaign for the Austin paid sick leave ordinance that Book People was against it – i.e. against a city ordinance mandating a modest amount of earned paid sick leave for employees. I take my business to Book Woman and HPB.

    Reply

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