Last month, I told you how my treasured Byron Lars baseball vest inspired me to track down Byron himself. As I said in that post, Byron was one of the precocious New York-based male designers who won great acclaim in the late ’80s and early ’90s, only to go out of business before the ’90s were over.
Byron ran into trouble after he licensed his designs to a company called San Siro Inc., which sold unauthorized Lars products to discounters. Byron won a court order in 1997 barring San Siro from continuing to sell product under his name, but his business had already suffered and he closed it that year.
After that, Byron started designing a line for petite women. Petite, plastic women. No, not Hollywood starlets! Mattel hired him to design a line of limited-edition Barbies.
Byron and Barbie are still an item, but real women can get a piece of Byron too. In 2001, he started Byron Lars Beauty Mark. I interviewed him by emailA while he traveled in China for work. Here’s a lightly edited version of what Byron had to say about Beauty Mark, his ’90s fame and Barbie.
Byron Lars Q&A
WendyB: Many ’90s articles mentioned your gorgeous smile. What makes you smile nowadays?
Byron: Everything really. There’s so much to smile about and for which to be thankful: good health, a wonderful family, awesome friends, talented and committed coworkers/friends, Starbucks in China … you name it.
WendyB: Describe Beauty Mark.
Byron: Beauty Mark is a contemporary priced collection with cuts and an aesthetic that are more indicative of the kinds of collections most could only dream of affording. It has the same integrity of design as my original namesake collection of years ago but, because of price point reaches many more people.A This fact is a little ironic because of the vast difference in visibility of the two collections. My first higher-priced collection met a lot of fanfare as far as publicity was concerned. But I was disappointed to meet so many women who professed their love for my clothes and who I would have loved equally to have been wearing them, who would also confess that they simply couldn’t afford them and therefore had to settle for merely trying them on at a store and dreaming in the mirror. It was so sad to me that the same woman whose energy inspired me and who were inspired by my clothes, would probably never have any in their closets.
Byron (continued): Beauty Mark, on the other hand, while virtually flying in under the radar without the hoopla of a seasonal runway presentation, has continually gained steam and sales on the strength of the clothes alone … sans hype.
WendyB: What does the name Beauty Mark mean to you?
Byron: Beauty Mark is about clothes that make you look better…it’s that simple. They often accentuate the waist, perk up the bust, flatter the booty and leave a girl standing in the mirror feeling quite taken with herself.
WendyB: How is the Beauty Mark line aesthetically similar to or different from your original namesake line? How does the experience of designing and selling compare?
Byron: The aesthetic is exactly the same as my previous collection, only less expensive. This means that a wool blend may replace a cashmere or a cotton fabric may be sourced from Turkey rather than Egypt but, at the end of the day, the look and (most importantly) the make is the same. Designing remains the same, an absolute blessing while selling … not so much.A Don’t get me wrong, we are selling, and well for that matter (thank God), but the atmosphere has become a lot more brutal as the stores get increasingly demanding while committing to orders later and later, leaving design companies to project production on sheer guesses.
WendyB: I understand that your original line came to an end after a dispute with the company that licensed your name.A How does that experience affect your business strategy now?
Byron: Unfortunately, the setbacks that I’ve experienced are typical in this business. The key to surviving is to get up, pray, dust yourself off and keep it moving.
WendyB: What’s your life like now? Do you travel a lot on behalf of your
business? Do you have a “typical” day? How/where do you show your collections?
Byron: My life is really quite boring. It takes a lot of man hours to make these clothes to keep my girls happy and although I really love it, it’s not the stuff of which page-turning action novels are made. I do travel for work, twice a year to both China for sample development and Paris to shop for fabric and some domestic trips for the occasional trunk show at some of our store accounts.
WendyB: What’s your signature piece that all my readers have to have?
Byron: A curve huggin’ white shirt is a must-have.
WendyB: Which is your favorite Barbie?
Byron: I wouldn’t want to make any of them jealous so I would have to say that they’re all my favorite.
WendyB: Is it true that your interest in fashion started when you made a pair of baggy pants for yourself? If you were going to make something for yourself now, what would it be?
Byron: While it’s true that all this started from a pair of pants that I made for myself, I’d probably be walking around in a barrel with suspenders if I had to actually sew anything for myself again.
WendyB: Describe your personal style.
Byron: Relaxed utilitarian.
WendyB: I still have a ruffled “baseball” vest of yours that I got at a sample sale back in the day.A I’m haunted by the fact that I never got the long-sleeved jacket version. If you happen to find one in a size small in the back of your closet, will you give it to me?
Byron: You are too sweet but no, I don’t have one of those…not even in archive. Sorry, but if I ever make anything similar again, I’ll make sure to get it to you.
WendyB: Will it help or hurt my case if I promise to be your best friend in return for that jacket?
Byron: Definitely help.
WendyB: What’s the #1 lesson you’ve learned from your years in the fashion industry?
Byron: It ain’t what you promise, it’s what you deliver that counts.
Ain’t that the truth! Thanks for chatting with me, Byron. Y’all can click here to find out where to buy Byron Lars Beauty Mark.