I interviewed fashion designer Lara Bly about how she used her vintage aesthetic and international perspective on fashion to create her label and open a new studio and boutique in Bethlehem. This piece was originally published on the Brown and White.
Using a vintage aesthetic and an international perspective on fashion, designer Lara Bly opened a studio and boutique for her label on South New Street in Bethlehem.
Bly graduated from the American College of London in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in fashion design and marketing. She worked in London for a year and gained experience in London Fashion Week before she moved to work in Los Angeles, New York and Beirut.
14 years ago, Bly moved to Bethlehem to do freelance and custom work until she obtained a studio in the Banana Factory, which she owned for eight years.
Once Bly found out a store space on New Street was available, she jumped at the opportunity and moved Lara Bly Designs into the space.
“I took it immediately, before I could even think,” Bly said. She bought it in January and opened in April.
Her location is ideal for attracting Lehigh students.
Holly Guinan, ‘22, said she enjoys shopping off campus and has taken the shuttle bus to do so, but she would prefer being able to walk to stores closer to campus.
“I online look, but rarely buy,” said Mollie Maggiacomo, ‘22, who doesn’t typically shop at stores, but said she would if they were within walking distance from campus.
Bly’s boutique is combined with her design studio, so customers are able to see her working. The walls are covered in Art Deco-inspired fabrics as well as paintings she created herself.
“I’ve been doing this for a lot of years, and so my aesthetic is very vintage-inspired. I love Art Deco and Art Nouveau, and so the paintings are mine,” Bly said. “It’s really just an evolution of who I’ve become as a designer over the years.”
She has done two art shows — one in Beirut and one in Bethlehem — and has ample paintings at home, which she uses to rotate in her store every three weeks.
“The goal of the business is to get bigger — this is just the start for me,” Bly said. “I’m 46 (years old), a very good age for what I do. I’m young enough that I’ve got plenty of years to go, and I’m old enough that people respect me for the fact that I’ve been doing this for 20 plus years at this point.”
Bly said she plans to expand her business nationally with online sales. She currently participates in Philly Fashion Week and hopes to eventually be a part of New York Fashion Week.
In addition to designing clothes, Bly said she wants to start offering free programs to Lehigh students, like teaching them how to sew or how to illustrate fashion designs.
Bly offers a 25 percent discount on all full price items for Lehigh students.
“You’re Lehigh kids, I want it to be affordable for you guys,” Bly said. “If someone came in and said they have a formal or a special occasion, I want people to know that I’m here and that I can make things, again at a lower budget.”
She said she is excited to design for a younger client and wants Lehigh students to be aware of her label.
“I want to be able to do things that are younger, that are a little more daring,” Bly said. “I have all kinds of designs because my mind is still young, so (younger customers) are the ones that will wear it and wear it correctly.”
She designs pieces for a younger clientele to feature in photoshoots and plans to expand on creating the designs by January.
“That’s very appealing to me, just having a younger person to wear cuter, shorter, more fun things,” Bly said. “It’s cute and made by a designer, and you’re not going to have a million people wearing the same thing.”