Edward Wilkerson, longtime fashion director at Lafayette 148, wasn’t too happy about the January warm spell in New York. “I have 10 amazing fur coats, and I haven’t had a chance to wear any of them yet! I just bought this great shearling at a resale shop and I’m going to wear it today,” he said during a T&S phone interview. “I don’t care how warm it is!” This is a man passionate about great clothes and all that goes into them: the art, the emotion, the inspiration. As a doyen of the New York fashion scene, he has quite the resume, one that includes countless late nights with Donna Karan, working with his idol Calvin Klein and a determination to make his mark in one of the most influential industries in the world. Read on to find out more about the fashion leader and his upcoming visit to our local Neiman Marcus April 14.
T&S: When did you know fashion was something you wanted to pursue?
EW: I always was interested in architecture and fashion. My mother taught art at a day care, and we would always doodle together. My imagination was in full swing from watching her. For high school, I applied to Manhattan Vocational and Technical and the High School of Art & Design, and didn’t get into the latter, but one of my teachers at Manhattan encouraged me to pursue fashion instead of architecture and helped me get accepted. After graduation, I attended Parsons School of Design on a scholarship.
T&S: What was your big break in the industry?
EW: I wanted a real job in high school so I could buy this red Calvin Klein parka and go to Europe. One of my teachers told me if I was serious about being a designer, I had to go to Paris. So starting on 34th Street, I took my portfolio into every building and stopped on every floor. I ended at 39th Street and landed a job at Anne Klein! That’s where I met Donna Karan and Louis Dell’Olio. Donna was my catalyst in fashion. I worked at Calvin Klein for a little bit. And then when Donna started her own line, I went with her. Everyone at Parsons would always rip my clothes apart because I couldn’t sew, and to this day, I can’t sew a stitch. But I excel in art and creativity, which has gotten me this far!
T&S: What were your style influences growing up and now?
EW: Growing up, it was my mother. She took me shopping with her all the time. Also, Diana Ross and Cher; it’s so funny I ended up working for very classic firms, but it was Cher’s glamour that attracted me. Traveling inspires me now; I’m a very visual person. When I go to Bali, palm prints appear in the collection. My most recent trip was to India—need I say more? I shot hundreds of photographs. There were so many influences that inspired me there: the land is so textural, the colors, the people, the attitudes. Even my neighborhood in Brooklyn has so many cultures and traditions; it’s a melting pot. I can sit on my stoop and be inspired by kids playing basketball across the street.
T&S: What’s your role as fashion director?
EW: I set the tone for the collection, and then we have an international team that implements it. It all starts with a trip to Europe to visit the fabric mills and lay our foundation. I’m a perfectionist. I could do 10 sketches and not be satisfied. I have to love a sketch to put it out there, just like I have to love the collection. If I’m not in the right mood, I don’t get good work done. I excel at night; Donna Karan and I used to work until 6 in the morning. When I started, I was the only one who did everything—and that was fine because when you love what you do, you’re not working.
T&S: What kind of woman wears Lafayette 148?
EW: She’s confident, modern, accomplished, well-traveled and knows what she wants. Our clients want a look that is clean, classic and with an edge.
T&S: How important is it to interact with customers?
EW: I love meeting customers! I’m inspired by hearing their thoughts. I’m the fashion director, but these clothes are meant for our clients. And I hope women embrace them as much as I do. I always explain the inspiration behind the pieces and how the company has evolved, and women appreciate that. I love it when they bring something that’s 10 years old because I may have forgotten about it; it just proves our quality.
T&S: What do you like doing when you visit St. Louis?
EW: I love the food in St. Louis! I always stay at The Chase and love the area right around the hotel. I attempt to go out for lunch and dinner so I can try every restaurant I want. And let’s talk about the architecture! I’m astounded by the beauty of the different homes. When I look at them, I envision my client living there her lifestyle, what she would wear, how she would entertain. And if you want to spend a day with me, we’re going to Cherokee Street. I’ve done a lot of damage on that street. Last time, I bought a vintage Calvin Klein book and a fur coat trimmed in leather.
Edward Wilkerson will make a personal appearance April 14 at Neiman Marcus, and his collection will be featured in a Mister Guy Women’s Store trunk show March 8 through 12.
Photo courtesy of Lafayette 148