Over the last few seasons Lafayette 148’s creative director Emily Smith has cited paper and old-fashioned mail, rooted in the past lives of the brand’s namesake building as a paper factory and a former post office respectively, as inspirations. For fall 2023, she set her sights on a different building—the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Branch—but funnily enough ended once again on paper goods (that would be books) as inspiration.
“We started with the Brooklyn Library, which is in our own backyard and we felt that it was really beautiful, especially with Toshiko Mori, who redid the architecture,” Smith recalled at the brand’s showroom. “The wood panelings, the books, they spoke to us. And from there we took a journey to women authors that came from America and are under-celebrated.” The facade of the Brooklyn Library features an iconic grid design that references 15 important works of American literature, only one of them written by a woman (that would be Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women; who Smith featured in one of the pieces of the collection, hiding quotes from her book in the back of the cream pleated and hand-embroidered knitted evening dress).
Lafayette 148’s team is given free reign in the creative process, which is always evident in the interesting manner in which the season’s inspiration finds its way to the clothes. The only print in the collection, a golden and tonal “fan” motif on a black silk dress, is in fact an open book dipped in paint, used as a stamp. “It’s that literal, but you can’t really tell,” Smith explained, a slight grin at the ingenious nature of her team. Elsewhere, a slightly oversized tan car jacket looked like a cable-knit sweater, but was actually a “cable jacquard.” “The original idea came from the sweater and we thought, ‘let’s make it into a woven,’” Smith added. It was worn over a white button down shirt and roomy trousers for a vaguely collegiate effect. (Actual cable knit sweaters were embroidered with ribbon for a delicate and subtle embellishment.)
There was a subtle overall academic vibe throughout the collection but Smith and her team are actually never that literal—the closest they got was a roomy cream v-neck sweater with thin contrasting stripes running across the ribbed waists, cuffs, and collar. Lafayette 148’s signature paper-thin leather shone in a long coat pieced together with thick stitches (a nod to bookbinding), leaving a slit of an opening between the pieces. The same slits played a starring role on an otherwise prim black shift dress with an a-line skirt; placed vertically on the chest they added visual interest and hinted at the body underneath. “I like having an open and release,” Smith said, following the lines of the dress to the open skirt, “It’s our version of sexy.”
Also their own version of sexy: a mid-calf tawny coat made from the softest shearling that begged to be touched. A cream curvilinear cashmere coat with a single button closure worn over a knit skirt—an inch or so of the ribbed hem visible underneath—and a brown sweater draped over the shoulders, also held its own kind of sensuality in its rounded shape and soft textures.