Lauren Rodriguez and Michael Freels on the power of partnership
“He’s my work husband,” laughs Lauren Rodriguez. The young designer is looking at Michael Freels, the other half of Lorod, the new brand reimagining American sportswear for the modern woman. The two make an undeniably strong duo – and it’s not just in their collection of utilitarian inspired suiting; they finish each other’s sentences with seamless grace, matching intelligent thoughtfulness with a supercharged desire to create.
Lorod grew out of the pair’s common love for vintage Americana workwear and uniform archetypes. The brand quickly became notorious for their stiff, zip-through denim with matching jackets and 70s-inspired suiting. It exudes a kind of rigid, boyish confidence that perfectly complements today’s feminism. It also fills a need for form and function, with every piece rooted in practicality and construction. For Resort 17, the design codes have evolved, but branding is nonetheless innate. It’s clear from the moment we step into their East Village studio and Lauren’s spotted great dane, Paisley, bounds to the door; no one does it quite like Lorod.
COOLS: When did you guys start?
Lauren: We started in the end of 2015, beginning of 2016. So we graduated and then took about six months or so to…
Michael: do different things
COOLS: Where did you meet?
LR: We both went to Parsons and we met our foundation year, [on] our first day of class. I ended up doing fine art and Michael did fashion and then we kinda came back together afterwards.
COOLS: What made you decide to start designing?
LR: We both just decided that we wanted to start making things. You go to such a specific trade school, and then you graduate and you don’t have any of the space anymore; any of the facilities, the professors and the space to create things and there’s just this desire to be making things and putting them out into the world. And for me, art school kind of turned me off from making art. Which [sort of] sucks. I just didn’t want to be making things and creating things that were so vulnerable and selling them and making it about trying to live off of art. So I had some odd jobs. Michael’s thing has always been fashion.
MF: Yeah, she pretty much said it. We were just creatively frustrated and Lauren was like, “I wanna make clothes and let’s do it.” So, it turned into a business.
COOLS: Where do you find your inspiration?
MF: So many places. Lauren is obsessed with vintage. Both of us are. We kind of looked at crossovers in our interests and it was in vintage Americana workwear, just the richness of the vintage clothes. So that’s sort of the starting point for everything; grounding it in these sort of archetypes.
LR: I think just functional clothing. I hate when I buy a pair of pants that don’t have pockets or are like super stretchy and don’t feel like real pants. I end up buying men’s vintage pants that don’t fit me at all and then spending like twice the amount of money tailoring them to fit me. I think that’s where we actually began, trying to accomplish that fit. Trying to create a pant that has the right amount of belt loops so that when you bend over your belt is not half way up your back. Or your phone can actually fit in your pocket, you don’t have to bring your purse. That sort of thing.
MF: But it’s still a creative process. We’re still abstracting references and, you know-
LR: A lot of research.
MF: It’s a balance between the two.
COOLS: The designs have a boyish sensibility. Is there an element of gender fluidity in what you’re making?
MF: I think there is, but the reality of fit is really important to us. There are binary structures that you have to follow. A woman’s body is what we’re tailoring to now, so its womenswear. But I do think we’re open to things.
LR: I love the idea of men being able to wear our clothes. I think that’s definitely something that we’re open to. But like Michael said, there are darts where your breasts are, your hips.
MF: We have a denim jacket with a corseted body, that wouldn’t really work for a guy.
COOLS: How does the city play a role in your design process?
LR: I think the garment district here is super important to us. I wasn’t exposed to it at all until we started doing this. It’s such a learning curve for me. But it’s so amazing seeing these individuals whose families have been involved with making clothes for decades. And I think just producing in the US is important to us. We met here, we went to school here. A lot of our connections that we’ve made are here.
MF: New York to us is our community of people. Like a friend who’s a milliner, working on hats with her, or a friend who’s a jewelry designer, collaborating with them, an artist that’s helping us with a print.
COOLS: Is everything produced here?
MF: Yep, in midtown.
LR: [For] this vintage Americana vibe we’re going for, it is important for us to actually accomplish producing it here in America; by the people who live here and fair labor and all that shtick. It’s also nice because its so new to us, we can run to midtown and check if a seamstress is doing something correctly, that actually everything is going the way you need it to be going. Instead of shipping off a bunch of fabric [abroad] and –
MF: Crossing your fingers.
LR: Hoping the sleeves come back the same length.
COOLS: You cast artist Jane Mosely in your first lookbook. Is she a friend of yours?
LR: Yeah, I met her through friends at Bard, [where she went to] college. She really embodies the woman that we’re going for. We didn’t want a little girl. I think that Jane’s androgyny-
MF: She’s a woman, she’s an artist…
LR: A creative.
MF: She’s not just a pretty little thing.
LR: Once we had the idea of using her early on, we started designing with her in mind as a customer. It was good.
MF: We love her.
COOLS: You guys have also done a lot of collaborations for past collections. Is that something that you’ll continue?
LR: Absolutely. Sort of the foundation of this company is grounded in collaborating with people and using our community and being able to have a platform where we can show other people’s creative work. There was sort of a moment after we graduated and I was standing around and thinking, ‘I’m surrounded by someone who writes for vogue, and someone who owns a store, and someone who makes jewelry.’ There are so many amazing young people that you can even just meet at the bar. And the idea of having a company where we can make what we love, and then incorporate our peers who we love and respect and who are super wildly talented to take part in, that is really cool. Also as a young brand, financially we can’t make a custom shoe or make custom jewelry, so having friends that are like ‘lets do it together. I have the resources, you design it. Let’s do it.’ It’s just a really cool collaboration.
COOLS: With see-now, buy-now, brands dropping off the fashion week calendar altogether, there’s a lot shifting right now. How does the current state of fashion influence you as young designers?
MF: Our strategy from the beginning was influenced by [these shifts]; in that we’re only doing pre-collections. [We want] to sort of stay out of the mess of New York Fashion Week, and really focus on the product and focus on a timeline that’s workable for everyone. For the fabric mills, for the factories, for us. I think that’s probably the biggest influence.
COOLS: Can you explain this new collection?
MF: It’s an evolution of the references we’ve been working with. I think we’re just having more fun. At the beginning, there was so much pressure on those ten pieces that we were making. [Now] we can sort of extract a bit more and have more fun. We’re incorporating more draping, and we’re incorporating this element of craft in the collection that is important to us but [we] never really got to investigate previously.
LR: Our first season was so about, I mean it still is, this casual suiting and tailoring. And we had these three or four sets that were these full looks that are sort of what people think of when they think of us now. And they’re very stiff and hard and tailored. And I think now were willing to combine softer, layered elements to it so its not so hard.
COOLS: Who is your ideal customer? Do you have someone in mind?
MF: It’s Lauren (laughs)
LR: I don’t know.
MF: We don’t want to box anyone in.
LR: We’re also so new. The resort season we’re designing now is a new approach than we were taking two seasons ago. It’s still grounded so much in what the foundation of the first season was, but we’re evolving so much that it’s sort of hard to pinpoint.
MF: I don’t think our work is necessarily about dotting all the i’s and crossing the t’s, but more so investigating these references.