Brooks Luby is one of the most experienced and recognized fashion designers in Denver. She began her training attending the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, and has since done everything from owning her own Cherry Creek North boutique for 22 years to opening a private atelier in 2001.
Today, Luby is celebrating 45 years in business with her namesake label, Brooks LTD. Although she’s known for specializing in custom tailored gowns and special-occasion ensembles for women of all ages, shapes, and sizes, her business has recently expanded to include a limited ready-to-wear collection. Read on to find out more about Luby’s career, what it means to her to be a modern-day couturier, and how she’s fighting ageism in the fashion industry.
5280: You studied at FIT in NYC and trained as a couturier; can you please explain a little bit for our readers what’s involved with this type of training?
Brooks Luby: Learning the trade of being a couturier takes a lot of hands-on experience, practice, and ultimately finding a way of making garments specific to your aesthetic. There are rules of the craft that are learned, and after one knows the tricks of the trade, you can apply these techniques to your own work. My favorite way to learn was actually by looking inside high-end garments to study how they were made, and then utilizing those approaches on my own. This also taught me to always take into account that the inside of a garment should be as appealing as the outside. Another tip I garnered over the years was that making prototypes eliminates mistakes on a finished couture piece.
Are there specific designers or fashion eras that inform your work?
Most definitely. I find that the silhouettes of the 1920s and 1930s continually influence me, like sleek silk dresses with drop waists. I also love the classic designs of Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent, as well as the clean lines of Japanese designer Issey Miyake. Lately, however, I feel influenced by the work of Donna Karan for Urban Zen, partly because of her aesthetic, but also because of the way she creates true lifestyle pieces. Today more than ever, our lives are very active, and we do so many things in a single day, from working out to social outings and attending special events. We want to be able to wear our well-made clothes throughout the day, and not just look at them sitting in our closet.
Do you think women designers are able to bring a certain combination of intelligence and functionality to fashion that’s different than their male counterparts?
Absolutely. I know for myself, I think about my own body when I’m designing, so as to engineer certain parts of patterns to adapt to a woman’s body and needs. I think it’s really important to have women as part of the garment design process, as our body types are different than a male’s. It’s crucial to have that authentic perspective in design. Functionality has always been a large part of my aesthetic; it brings reality into play, and I believe in reality in dressing. I do have a love of avant-garde clothing, though, and occasionally I try to incorporate subtle flair without going too far over the top. I always keep my audience in mind.
I know earlier in your career you sold your work through your own boutique; what made you want to close your store and work in an atelier setting instead?
My atelier is an extension of modern day retail, because in today’s world, one must adapt to the customers’ needs. I work by-appointment only, as I’ve learned over time just who my customers are, and how and why potential clients seek me out. The traditional storefront concept is unnecessary and—in fact—too distracting for the real work I do; clients want my individual attention in a quiet environment.
What are your main challenges as a modern-day couturier?
My biggest challenge is educating the public on the value of handmade, “slow fashion,” and why it’s priced accordingly. I think in this day of fast fashion, modern women don’t understand what goes on inside of a garment in order to make it fit properly. I have so many women who say, “It’s really a simple idea.” Simplicity is the most difficult look to achieve. Minor fractions of an inch make a huge difference, as well as the drape of the fabric. It is a precise, specific craft that takes many years of trial and error to come up with the correct proportions for a good design.
Let’s talk a bit about your latest RTW collection; can you tell me a bit about your inspiration?
Of course as a fashionista who loves well-made clothes, I have an inner desire to create lifestyle apparel that I also can wear day-to-day. When I do a ‘limited edition’ collection, I am thinking about my own lifestyle, or that of my friends—where I go to yoga or other exercise routine, and then rush off to work where I need to look fashionable. I love to do this by layering my Brooks LTD ready-to-wear pieces over my workout clothes.
What kinds of materials and silhouettes do you work with?
My ready-to-wear uses materials that are comfortable, drape well, and have bold pops of color. I tend toward silhouettes that are flowing; they graze the body in just the right places, which is so on-trend right now, yet is also a timeless and flattering look. A lot of my pieces are made with natural cotton jersey or Italian wool, using small-batch, independent production. For my jackets, I also like to add artful elements of surprise; for instance, my hand stitching has become a trademark.
Do you feel it’s even more important now to stick with your own fashion point of view or do you try and stay on top of fashion trends?
I believe that there is a balance to be struck with trends, and that you need to be current with the industry to a certain degree. As a designer, and for my runway collections in particular, I do pay attention to current market trends. But fashion can be overwhelming, restrictive, and non-inclusive for many. I eliminate what I believe is too trendy and come up with my own viewpoint. I listen to the needs of my clients, and adapt my designs to what I hear.
I know you’ve become active with regards to the issue of ageism; was there a flash point for you around this issue or just a slow creep?
My involvement in this cause developed naturally through my own experience, and witnessing longstanding clients move through life cycles, yet still desire (and deserve) to be seen, honored, and respected. The women I know are at an age where they’ve found a way of expressing themselves and embracing their bodies and innate beauty. The movement against ageism is a manifestation of this, and I am happy to have a voice in it. I feel very inspired by people like Ari Seth Cohen and his blog, Advanced Style (Editor’s Note: Cohen will be in Denver signing copies of Advanced Style at Wild Flowers, 1201 Madison St., on November 14 from 5–9 p.m.), which has brought so much mainstream awareness to the cause. Recently I was honored to have my couture designs presented in a runway show for the mayor’s Diversity and Inclusion Awards, which was hosted by Mayor Hancock’s Commission on Aging. This was definitely a high point for me in my career, and I was grateful to be recognized for my work in the aging community.
It seems that as an industry we’re finally starting to discuss how fashion needs to address women throughout all stages of their life.
My role as a designer is to help all women feel beautiful, and included in the conversation of fashion; to work with the individual’s needs to help them feel like their best self, no matter their life stage or shape. Each one of us is unique, and I am able to enhance or conceal as desired through the placement and manipulation of the fabrics I choose, and through unique design elements. As our bodies shift with time, we can adapt to our current needs, while remaining fashionable, creative, and intriguing.
What’s next for you? Any new collections, collaborations or product launches coming up in 2020?
In the immediate term, I am collaborating with jewelry designer Andrea Li for my upcoming trunk show. Her pieces are unique, and nicely complement my designs. To celebrate my 45 years in business, I’ll be extending a special discount to clients, both old and new.
As I finish each collection, I always seem to find inspiration for my next venture. During the creation of my last collection, I came up with some great headpieces that have really been a hit. My friend Judith Boyd from the blog StyleCrone is a master with headwear, and she was my muse for my newest piece, “The Judith.” I plan on doing more of this kind of work— it’s fun for me, and feels like an extension of my past work when I did headpieces for my brides. I enjoy these kinds of spin-offs, using sustainable textiles and upcycling my luxurious fabrics. Plus, I welcome collaborating with others, as I believe that working together creates a synergy that otherwise wouldn’t happen. Creatives empowering creatives!
If you go: Brooks Ltd. & Andrea Li Jewelry trunk show takes place October 25–26, Acme Lofts Building, 1616 14th St., 303-573-3801, brooksltd.net