HomeFashion‘The work ethic here is unbelievable’: Meet the Irish fashion designer who...

‘The work ethic here is unbelievable’: Meet the Irish fashion designer who worked on Jill Biden’s presidential inauguration outfit

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When the Irish Olympic team parades at the opening ceremony on the river Seine in Paris on July 26th, it will be a proud moment for the athletes and the young Irish woman who has designed and manufactured each of their costumes from head to toe.

New York-based Dubliner Laura Weber has been busy designing and producing each garment with her team since she successfully tendered for the task more than three years ago. The collection, with separate outfits for the opening and closing ceremonies, amounts to about 2,000 items, customised for athletes and selected officials. In a city famed for its fashion, Weber hopes it will be a fitting tribute, not only to the athletes but to Irish fashion design.

“The 2024 Olympics marks the 100th anniversary of Ireland competing in the Olympics as a free state, which also took place in Paris in 1924. I feel it is really important to capture the Ireland of today, to push the boundaries and to elevate our athletes at this time,” she says.

Best known for her elaborate and beautiful embroidery and embellishments, Weber has followed a lifelong passion from her childhood in Rathfarnham that has taken her through the National College of Art and Design in Dublin through summer work at London Fashion Week for several years before moving to New York in 2013 to work in the garment district at the age of 22.

“I wanted to work in a major fashion centre. I felt I had experienced London and I didn’t speak Italian or French so New York was a natural choice. I didn’t know anyone in the industry, but I am a hard worker and I feel that hard work gets you a long way in this business.”

Weber admits that had she known how difficult it would be to establish herself in New York, she may not have chosen this path but has no regrets. Her early years involved hard graft and getting to know every aspect of the garment industry that she could while working in a manufacturing unit.

“I was the first to show up every morning and the last to leave at night. They eventually decided to give me a set of keys to the building. I put my head down and was always hungry to improve my knowledge. Every lunchtime, I would go to a different colleague and get them to show me how different machines and computers worked.”

With her reputation for talent in embroidery and embellishment growing within the industry, Weber had the confidence to go out on her own in October 2019, founding LW Pearl — a couture, premium service to fashion designers. Working initially from her apartment, she says that she did not initially have a well-crafted business plan but there were plenty of offers of work at the time.

“There were boxes arriving at the apartment every day and machines everywhere. My husband eventually said to me that it was time to get my own workspace so I took a unit. Then Covid-19 happened but I had enough business to make it through.”

A key turning point came at the end of 2020 when she was approached by the designer Gabriela Hearst to work on the presidential inauguration outfit for Jill Biden.

Weber and her team embroidered Hearst’s dress, coat and face mask for the First Lady with elaborate designs including a flower for each US state and territory. Every bead, stitch and stitch direction was prototyped and approved. “It was a labour of love involving weeks of work,” she recalls.

The resulting publicity resulted in a spike in Weber’s public profile and her business has thrived since. She numbers high-profile names including Rhianna, Kaia Gerber and Lily Aldridge as well as designers like Marc Jacobs, Proenza Schouler and Thom Browne among her collaborators.

Weber is active in the design community in New York. She is a fellow of the Tory Burch Foundation, a community of passionate entrepreneurs from a wide range of industries, and works with the Garment District Coalition to promote the district’s manufacturing and artisan businesses. She is also active in an Irish-run group called Women with Ambition.

Weber met her husband, Joseph, through the industry and they married six years ago. They rent an apartment in the Garment District, just a few minutes’ walk from her studio which Weber says is a “blessing and a curse” as it is tempting to stay working late.

Work is often all-consuming, she admits. “Work is my life, there is always going to be a blur there,” she says. But in her downtime, she enjoys visiting art museums such as the Met, Guggenheim and Whitney and says she has also built a very supportive and like-minded network of friends in the industry.

“The work ethic here is unbelievable and I don’t think I have ever met so many highly motivated people as I have here. There’s inspiration and opportunity at every corner. At the same time, fashion is not the glamorous life that it is made out to be in the movies. It’s intense, not for the faint-hearted and it can burn people out because of the expectations placed on you.”

When her schedule allows, she makes about three trips home to Ireland a year. The recent decision of her sister Julie to move to New York to work in the film industry has been a bonus in terms of retaining family ties.

While she thrives on the energy and intensity of working in New York, Weber misses the relaxed and self-deprecating nature of Irish people. “That and the fry-ups,” she adds.

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