Steele, Lawrence 1963–
Lawrence Steele 1963–
Interest in Fashion Began in Childhood
Lawrence Steele is poised to become a shining star in the fashion world. He set out on his own in 1994 to make his mark in the fashion world. Each year his prospects improved as he progressed toward his goal of operating a major fashion house bearing his own name in Milan, Italy.
Steele was born Lawrence Dion Steele in Hampton, Virginia. He was the second of four siblings of an Air Force musician, a jazz saxophone player. The family spent time in Spain and in Germany as well as in the United States when Steele was growing up. He was raised in the Baptist faith, and he sang in the church choirs.
Interest in Fashion Began in Childhood
Steele was interested in fashion design even as a child. He was inspired by the similarity between his own middle name, Dion, and the name of the noted designer Christian Dior, but Steele’s appreciation of fashion design, even as a youngster, was more than superficial. Ralph Lauren’s designs fascinated Steele because they were exceptionally functional and appropriate for the lifestyle of the American woman. Steele spent time in Japan after he grew up. He left home, in the hope of starting a career in that country, but he returned to Illinois to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. He graduated from the institute, gravitated directly to Italy, and adopted that country as his second home. In Steele’s estimation the quality of Italian clothes was superior to all others.
Upon his arrival in Italy, Steele apprenticed with Franco Moschino for five years. In 1990 he went to work for Miuccia Prada and remained with her for four more years before setting out on his own in 1994. In an interview with Michad Specter for the Neu; Yorker, Steele acknowledged that there was much to learn. He contracted to have his clothes manufactured by Casor of Bologna, a company he worked with closely during his apprenticeship at Prada. Casor is a family firm, owned and operated by the Cassoli family. The company was pleased and eager to enlist Steele as an independent client. Indeed, Steele’s clothing generates a substantial percentage of Casor’s yearly revenue.
Collection Garnered Praise
Steele first showed a collection under his own private label in 1994; his designs were well received. Harper’s Bazaar included him in a list of up-and-coming “hotshot” designers. Essence commented that his label was “well on its way.’:Initially Steele’s designs took a flamboyant flair, but in 1996 he showed stark black ensembles with sharp lines and again the clothing solicited praise. In tima he developed a signature style that emphasized practicality and stark simplicity and focused on the female form. In search of a trademark style, he shunned lanky-shaped clothing and avoided bi-sexual “androgynous” lines in deference to glamorous and sensuous designs that enhance the female figure, especially the upper body, and put emphasis on the waistline. His reputation spread quickly throughout Italy, Germany, and Japan. Fashion editors called more frequently to learn o:his plans for each upcoming
At a Glance…
Born on July 7, 1963 in Hampton, Virginia; parents are William Anderson (air force musician) and Winifred Delores. Education: Art Institute of Chicago, BA, fine art, 1985.
Career: Moved to Italy and apprenticed with Franco Moschino, 1985-90; worked with Miuccia Prada, 1990-94; started own collection in 1994: LSJD Collection, White Label, Blue Label, Lawrence Steele Design.
Address: Office —Platinum SRL, Via Seprio 2, 20149 Milan, Italy.
show. High-profile models volunteered to appear in his runway shows in anticipation of the media exposure that a Lawrence Steele showing might generate. Steele was particularly flattered to develop a close working relationship with Manolo Blahnik, the famed designer of stiletto-heeled shoes. Blahnik, in fact, designed a shoe called the Lawrencia after Steele. Steele was duly flattered, as he told The New Yorker, “Now I can go home and die.”
In 1998 at age 35 years old, Steele’s design house supplied four separate clothing lines. His main brand was called the “white” label, and he offered a sportswear line known as the “blue” label. He also featured a line of knitwear and a line of shoes. Steele’s reputation rests largely in his ability to juxtapose fabrics successfully. At one showing he used the theme of “industrial luxe,” and showed shimmery textures and designs inspired by space-age technology. Alberto As-pesi subcontracted Steele to create a uniform design a commercial airline. By 1999 Steele’s fashion house employed ten workers, and for three consecutive years prior, his business increased by 20 percent. His gross sales totaled $15 million in the late 1990s. Name recognition in the United States was slow in coming for Steele, although in 1999 his designs were sold in ten U.S. stores, and new retailers began to call. Prominent actresses including Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan contacted Steele to purchase his designs. Madonna called to inquire about wearing his clothes when she contracted to appear in a cosmetic advertisement. The increased exposure for Steele came at a time when other popular American designers closed up shop in the United States for lack of business, while others downsized their North American operations.
Designed Wedding Dress
Two major events occurred in 2000 that brought more attention to Steele. When Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt wed in July of 2000, the bride wore one of Steele’s designs. But this was not the first time Aniston wore his design. She chose to wear one of his creations to the 2000 Oscars.
Steele also debuted a new line of everyday sportswear for men and women in the fall of 2000. He explained to WWD, “After spending so much time defining my own line, I started thinking of going sportier to include pieces that don’t fit into my signature collections.” The new line was targeted for people aged 20 to 40.
Steele is a perfectionist, a classic trait among his peers in the fashion world. He eschewed the stressful lifestyle of the high fashion industry, but acknowledged a willingness to endure the pressures in return for a chance to develop his business into a fashion house of great distinction. He questioned his own ability to survive in the rigorous and high-pressure world of haute couture, but over time he came to accept the importance of an assertive attitude in business dealings. His preference is to lead a quiet life out of the media spotlight, and he retained the services of an American publicist, Sara Kapp. He is a soft-spoken “workaholic,” but he enjoys a good science-fiction video…. Thrillers are his favorite.
After 13 years of living in Milan, Steele speaks fluent Italian and owns his own penthouse. He reveres such designers as Madeleine Vionnet and Coco Chanel, and is particularly fond of Charles James. Steele identified strongly with his African-American heritage and noted to Specter that his dark appearance made him somewhat of a curiosity in Italy when he first arrived in the country. But more are interested in Steele’s meteoric rise in the fashion world.
Who’s Who Among African Americans, 14th Edition, edited by Ashyia N. Henderson, 2001.
Elle, September 1998, p. 350.
Essence, November 1999.
Harper’s Bazaar, January 1995.
New Yorker, March 22, 1999, pp. 97-103.
Newsday, January 29, 1998; March 4, 1998; October 15, 1998.
Washington Post, March 5, 1998.
WWD, April 12, 2000, July 27, 2000.
—Gloria Cooksey and Ashyia N. Henderson
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