He’s king of Queens design

St. Albans resident LaQuan Smith stands in front of three of his designs now on display in "The Black Dress" exhibition at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery. Photo courtesy of Peter Tannenbaum
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His grandma taught him how to sew on her old Singer. And, while other kids wished for Playstations, he asked Santa for a Kenmore sewing machine and some nice fabric.

Working from his 150-square-foot bedroom studio in St. Albans, he had visions of fashion shows swirling in his head.

Today, at 25, celebrity go-to fashion designer LaQuan Smith is living his dream on fast forward.

Traveling between his home and his Long Island City studio, Smith has been busy working on his fall 2014 collection, fulfilling orders and building his brand.

“I’m always in Queens. I feel more comfortable here,” he says. “I can create better, and it’s quiet. I had a studio space on Canal Street in 2012, but it just didn’t work for me. The adrenaline rush of Manhattan crowded my creativity.”

While Smith is known for dressing celebrities like Beyoncé, Rihanna and Lady Gaga, his line of simpler, sophisticated designs and signature classics — like full, frilly skirts and slim-fit dresses — is well within New York City fashionistas’ reach. Esti’s in Brooklyn and Patricia Field in the Bowery both sell his clothing.

During the most recent New York Fashion Week, his head-turning, military-inspired creations were all the rage on the runway in Chelsea, as the sounds of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s, “I Can’t Stop,” played in the background.

“I wanted to do something with a sort of hard edge that had a utilitarian aesthetic… but also adding a Josephine (Baker) jazziness, to add femininity,” Smith said.

His highly provocative styles, like sexy blue and black lace and see-through sensations, had more of a hard-core vibe, for sure.

And for men, think edgy cropped pea coats, slouchy pants and bright turtlenecks.

“I’m evolving and maturing a lot as a designer. When I first came into the business at 21, and had my debut at Fashion Week 2010, I met Andre Talley,” Smith said.

Then editor-at-large for Vogue, Talley helped promote the young talent, telling the New York fashion press, “I’m here to embrace an African-American designer for his debut, because we need that diversity in the fashion world.”

When he’s not tweaking details on mannequins in his studio and telling production how he’d like his samples cut, or asking his personal clients what they want, Smith has been traveling the globe.

“Last year, I was invited to come to Belgrade, Serbia. I met the U.S. ambassador’s wife and showcased my designs at her private residence:

In 2012 he met the U.S. ambassador to Fiji, where his collection was part of Fiji Fashion Week.

“The feedback was absolutely phenomenal,” said Smith, who is going to share his talents in Montenegro in July.

“I’m just an average kid from Queens, so for me – when I travel and have these experiences – it’s inspiring, and I feel like I’m inspiring other people. I’m learning about different cultures and lifestyles, and that’s important because it helps me grow as a designer.”

Smith’s talents have also drawn attention off the catwalk.

A new exhibition, “Black Dress: Ten Contemporary Fashion Designers,” now at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery through April 26, celebrates the creativity and entrepreneurship of both established and up-and-coming black designers.

The show, developed and co-curated by Pratt Institution of Fashion professor Adrienne Jones, includes pieces from Smith’s fall 2012 collection showcased in Madison Avenue-style shop windows.

Jones said it was time that someone highlighted the accomplishments that designers of color have achieved.

“The message is directed to the fashion industry and the lack of black representation in the industry,” Jones said. “Whether we’re talking about models on the runway, or the scarcity of black designers showing during Fashion Week, we are blatantly overlooked.”

“Black Dress” designers draw on a surprising history of black fashion design in America, dating back to at least the 1860s, when Elizabeth Keckley became sole dressmaker for Mary Todd Lincoln.

According to Jones, today’s designs are steeped in the cultural legacies passed down by Keckley and Ann Lowe — who designed Jacqueline Bouvier’s 1953 wedding dress for her marriage to John F. Kennedy — as well as by the tailors and dressmakers who designed and sewed for other politicians, slaveholders, and members of high society in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The backstory

As a brazen teen, Smith crashed parties and fashion shows, decked out in his own stylishly quirky designs, as PR, until he was finally noticed.

Before he could say, “Alexander McQueen” — one of his favorite designers — he managed to get his foot in the door, with the help of a publicist.

Incredibly, he wasn’t accepted to the Fashion Institute of Technology, or Parsons School of Design, but did attend the High School of Art and Design.

“I’m very optimistic about what I do. I kind of go with the flow, move like water,” Smith said. “I work very hard. I’m very dedicated, and very thankful. It’s important to be smart, have a clear direction, a clear sense of what you want to do.”

If You Go

“Black Dress: Ten Contemporary Fashion Designers”

When: Through April 26, Mondays to Saturdays, 11 am to 6 pm, Thursdays until 8 pm

Where: Pratt Manhattan Gallery, 144 W. 14th St., Manhattan

Cost: Free

Contact: (212) 647-7778

Posted 12:00 am, April 12, 2014
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