By Elizabeth Varnell
Emily Smith has spent two decades refining Lafayette 148’s pared-back silhouettes favored by women seeking polished yet understated designs. These are pieces—from tailored blazers to off-duty staples—to build a wardrobe around. With New York City at the heart of the brand, and a constant source of inspiration, we checked in with Smith at her Brooklyn Navy Yard studio to get a closer look at what keeps this creative director inspired.
How would you say your work space informs your collections?
It starts with the light, the energy, the openness of it all and the possibilities that come forward. Our studio allows me to take in New York City as inspiration. From SoHo to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the art and architecture, the grit and beauty, the vibrancy and sensuality—it’s in these contrasts where creativity inspires us.
What is it like to work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a hub of creatives and manufacturers?
I loved the idea that this industrial space would have a new story and that we’re a part of it. The contrast is incredibly inspiring: a working Navy Yard next to modern studios that house makers and creators; there’s an element of grittiness but softened by the most beautiful light rising over the East River.
The number 148 was the line’s original SoHo address; are numbers still part of the story?
Our design studio is located on the 14th floor and our photo studio is on the 8th. Coincidence? Other brands have their founders’ names, we have our founding address. So yes, the numbers have taken on a special significance.
What do you listen to as you work?
I find balance in design the same way I find balance in my process. As with most creatives, I’m forever looking for Zen; a quiet space where I can dive into my thoughts. I love anything instrumental when creating—it helps me find a rhythm and focus. At the same time, hearing laughter from my team, discussing the collection and collaborating on ideas together is another side to the process.
The Spring/Summer collection, inspired by elevated utilitarian workwear is, in essence, a love letter to New York workers and makers.
I love playing with what is stereotypically masculine and finding ways to make it feminine; I am always inspired by makers, creators and builders. Our collection started with uniforms originally designed for industrial needs that have been transformed into luxurious fabrics and feminized through each cut. The collection is an ode to respecting good design, form and function through both tactile and visual beauty.
What about the nautical stripes, are they a nod to the Navy Yard itself?
As our team did some digging, we found interesting archival photos of women working in the naval yard during World War One. We found this so inspiring! A good nautical stripe gives depth to our story of workwear and uniforms, complimented by beautiful fishermen sweaters derived from the same mindset. For me, stripes are almost a new kind of neutral.
The patchwork American quilt is also evoked in this collection and, with it, the idea of something built to last, sans waste.
I love looking at new materials and processes that are, in some way, a more conscious approach to living on this planet. Quilts were made from leftover and loved remnants that are repurposed to create something new and beautiful. From the patchwork dresses—laser-cut and with embroideries inspired by Americana craft—to the new L148 Swim collection—made from recycled ocean plastics—the pieces were born from the same philosophy.