Everyone knows Harvard University is a hotbed of innovation, invention and creativity, but business or technology-based endeavors are what usually come to mind — not lingerie.
But that didn’t stop Laura Mehlingher, a Harvard grad with a BA in English, from creating quite a buzz on campus with her line of intimates in the only one-person fashion show there in recent memory. Top that, Zuckerberg!
Mehlinger’s young label, Lola Haze, derives its name from Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov’s classic novel of a seductive pubescent girl — which also happened to be the subject of Mehlinger’s undergrad thesis.
But it’s not just literature that inspires Mehlingher; she is influenced by her travels around the globe as well as art and pop culture. The result is a truly unique lingerie collection that reflects the vast pool of sources from where she derives her artistic inspiration.
For instance, Lola Haze’s SS2011 collection, Cancan Now!, references the works of French painter Toulouse-Lautrec as well as the “surrounding culture of fin de siecle Montmartre,” a district of Paris that was known primarily during the early 20th century as the artistic hub of the city. “I love the expressive force of how he captured movement and silhouette. There’s a mood of joy and a larger-than-life quality in his paintings, even as they verge on decadence and satire,” Mehlinger says.
What is fascinating about Lola Haze is that this label is truly Melingher’s own work of art; a label that she produced and crafted in 2008 out of her own vision and without any investors. Under her careful supervision, the label soared, grabbing the attention of Victoria’s Secret buyers (where you can find her items at select locations), and most recently as the official lingerie gift bag sponsor for the international Emmys. Talk about the opportunity-of-a-lifetime for a newbie label!
Last week, Mehlinger presented Lola Haze’s F/W2011 collection across the pond at the London Lingerie Collective trade show, where she undoubtedly dazzled prospective buyers. In fact, demand for the fall collection (which was inspired from her trip to Laos and Thailand) is so high that Mehlinger will be adding a pre-fall collection.
After viewing her S/S2011 collection I can attest that if you’re in search of ordinary, cookie-cutter lingerie then you better search elsewhere — her whimsical pieces are meant to be worn and showed off. And how could you not want to parade around in pieces that combine ruffles with floral appliqués or playful peek-a-boo cut-outs, all in mood-lifting punchy tones?!
Mehlinger’s muse is a woman who is playful yet sophiscated, innocent yet seductive, and it’s these juxtaposing attributes that she brings to her design aesthetic.
“I love lingerie because it dances between public and private domains,” she says. “It can be a woman’s own secret that makes her feel special or something beautiful for display.”
Based solely on the standout quality of her newest collection — seriously, is anyone else offering a fur-trimmed silk chemise (below)!?!? — 2011 is likely to be a breakout year for Lola Haze. And why not? Mehlingher has tapped into what women really want — lingerie that is comfortable yet avant-garde, whimsical yet sexy, streamlined yet feminine.
Yes, this young lingerie designer has earned a strong A+ in my books!
Below you’ll find Mehlinger’s responses to our Bright Young Things questionnaire, followed by a peek at some of her irresistible S/S2011 offerings!
How long have you been in business?
Were you profitable in 2010?
What plans do you have for new products/collections in 2011?
For Lola Haze’s Spring/Summer 2011 collection, “Cancan Now!” I wanted to capture the lightness of spring air and the electricity of summer heat. I was inspired by aspects of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s art and the surrounding culture of fin de siecle Montmartre. I love the expressive force of how he captured movement and silhouette. There’s a mood of joy and a larger-than-life quality in his paintings, even as they verge on decadence and satire.
I referred to specific fashion details of the era, like the shocking underlining in cancan skirts, which I wanted to reinterpret in a modern way in the Cancan Chemise. But the collection is a look forward, not backward. It is a celebration of the modern woman, cancanning her way through Spring and Summer 2011, full of beauty, play and vitality.
For the Fall/Winter 2011 collection, I was inspired by a recent trip to Thailand and Laos, where I was entranced by the intricate ornamentation of sacred places – and especially the gold! Lola Haze’s Fall/Winter collection is shimmering with rich colors, luxurious fabric, and golden charms for every woman to treasure.
During my travels, I loved that every golden temple was a community’s greatest expression of artistry and its sacred keepsake — part of every member’s heritage. I wanted to channel that feeling. For Fall/Winter, Lola Haze drips with the warmth and luxury of gold. In addition, the collection includes classic, rich colors like black, plum, and ivory in a variety of fabrics and silhouettes to suit a woman’s every mood and whim.
How do you hope/plan to grow your business in 2011?
I’m excited about building an e-commerce business in 2011. So many customers contact Lola Haze looking for specific items that are not sold in stores near them, and I’m looking forward to being able to offer them a whole range of goodies.
Additionally, I’m introducing Lola Haze’s Fall/Winter 2011 collection to the London market, which will be an exciting expansion.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in launching your label?
From a design point of view, coming up with new ideas is the easy part and a joy. Having to edit down ideas I love into a cohesive collection takes discipline and is always a little heartbreaking.
Aside from that design-specific challenge, it’s been a challenge to forge a path for the business without having a model to follow or partners to consult. I love the autonomy of running a small business, but it comes with the challenge of having to figure out all decisions, minute and existential, on my own without a lot of guidance.
What is your most popular design or product?
Rompers and teddies have been very popular as a category, and the Signature collection, in black, petal pink and metallic mesh, have been bestsellers year-round. The Launderie Bag to protect delicates in the wash and for storage has been a great accessory and fashion piece as well.
Business-wise, what are you most proud of?
I started Lola Haze with only a vision, and no investors. I’ve been involved in every step of the process and made it profitable within a year.
How will you define success for yourself?
I think this is an ever-evolving definition. I hope my goals, like my designs, continue to change and grow. For now, I am simply loving every time a customer gets to slip into Lola Haze and feel just a bit more special.