Lawren Michele Charmed Iris Apfel from Air Force Base Roots
Lawren Cappelletti was happily living at Vandenberg Air Force Base, near Lompoc, Calif., with her husband, Michael Cappelletti, who serves in the Air Force, but in 2016 she thought that she’d make a few changes. She would return to school, pursue an arts degree and start a fashion line. It was no pipe dream.
In 2016, she was accepted into Syracuse University’sCollege of Visual and Performing Arts. When she graduated in 2018, fashion icon Iris Apfel personally chose Cappelletti’s designs to be honored with the Iris Apfel Award.
During this time, Cappelletti also was awarded a $5,000 stipend by the New York–headquartered Fashion Scholarship Fund. She, along with model Coco Rocha and “Project Runway” winner Christian Siriano, were among the guests of honor at FSF’s gala reception in January 2018.
“The cast of [the Netflix series] ‘Orange Is the New Black’ was two tables away. I forgot to eat my food,” Cappelletti said of the event.
Instead of using her FSF connections to get a job with a prestigious fashion company or retailer, Cappelletti used her stipend to start her self-named line, Lawren Michele, last year. She also returned to Vandenberg Air Force Base, where her husband is a flight chief who monitors the radar, airfield and weather systems.
“He is supportive of any crazy idea that I have. He says, ‘What do we have to do?’ Without that support, it would be difficult,” she said.
She currently produces Lawren Michele with sewers living in the Central Coast towns of Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo, Calif. Limited runs of her fashions are available on her direct-to-consumer channel, lawrenmichele.com.
On Nov. 10, she will produce a pop-up shop at the Bodega Los Alamos wine bar in the Central Coast’s Santa Ynez wine country. She also is considering selling wholesale again. From 2013 to 2015, she briefly worked with a showroom in Boston to wholesale the first run of her Lawren Michele brand. This venture was placed on hiatus when she earned her bachelor of fine arts in fashion design from Syracuse.
It is uncommon for recipients of an FSF scholarship to start their own businesses, said Peter Arnold, FSF’s executive director. The great majority of FSF scholars choose to pursue jobs at fashion retailers and brands that partner with the FSF program. Cappelletti wanted to be her own boss and has not changed directions, he added.
“Lawren makes her own patterns, she makes her own samples, and she is the customer,” Arnold said. “A second sample set is worn by her, washed by her, tested by her. Lauren’s approach is very hands-on.”
Her emerging line already has some pieces that have been repeated, including the sleeveless Elena dress. “It’s an easy dress to wear,” she said. “It features ruching on the sides and the shoulders. It also has pockets.”
The Paulina dress is made out of a soft, breathable cotton. It features a double-collar detail and deep pockets.
“I make sure that my big, fat cell phone fits in there,” she said of the garment’s pockets. “As a girl, it’s hard to find pockets. If you do find pockets, they are so shallow it is offensive.”
Cappelletti’s past designs gave an alternative to dresses. One of her student designs was called “His Girl Friday,” which was inspired by the 1940 film of the same name starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell.
“Her character was very strong and well dressed. In many scenes she was the only woman,” Cappelletti said. “I wanted to outfit a woman who could keep up with a room full of men.”
A large overcoat and zoot suit–inspired trousers are part of the sold-out “His Girl Friday” collection. Cappelletti also created bronze buttons, hand-stamped copper labels and laser-cut leather pieces for the line. She released the designs before she graduated Syracuse, for which she won the 2018 student-design award from EFI/Optitex fashion-design software.
Retail price points for her Lawren Michele line range from $98 to $170. Her next steps include using more-sustainable fabrics in her line and expanding her brand’s size range.