a talk with laurs from laurs kemp

following a recent editorial post about her designs, we decided to contact laurs kemp in order to discuss the female gaze, brand philosophy, workwear overalls and vegan eats in portland.

firstly, how has your day been?

it has been a top-notch day! my partner and i played our usual game of "what kind of restaurant/bar/cart would you open?" over brunch and i think we came up with a real winner!

do you have a morning ritual – what do you do when you wake up?

it is my life goal to nail down the perfect morning ritual. here's what i've got so far. i go to dance class and then i have coffee and fruit while i either read or listen to a podcast. i always intend to go to the studio at like noon, but i end up going later in the afternoon. i probably need a proper schedule, but i have different stuff to do everyday so i don't know how i could swing that.

can you tell us how laurs kemp, the brand, started?

i studied fashion merchandising in my home state of arkansas, and worked in corporate design for a spell. five years ago, i moved to portland and after working retail for a while - and making clothing on the side - i quit my job and officially launched my line. i worked out of my home for about 6 months, until i became the designer-in-residence at backtalk for a year. i now have a studio in inner se portland and sell at select shops, local pop-ups and of course my website, laurskemp.com.

we’ve read that you find inspiration in cinema- where does your passion for film come from? any inspiring movies to recommend?

i always watched tcm as a kid and would sketch items inspired by those films. i discovered foreign and arthouse films in college (thanks to the criterion collection) and became obsessed with the idea of creating a mood with clothing. the more i explored the more obscure deep cuts i would find! i watch at least one film a day (via mubi, filmstruck, fandor, etc.) - my favorite thing is to recommend films! right now, i'm inspired by the avant-garde outfits worn by characters in the "art scene" in films from the 1980s and 1990s, like "bad influence" and "i've heard the mermaids singing." movies with complex female leads seem to be overall the most inspiring for me: opening night, mademoiselle, girlfriends, variety, daughters of darkness, and ms. 45. and as always, anything by eric rohmer or jacques rivette.

as we browsed through your collection, we fell madly in love with the arlo workwear one-piece. can you tell us more about this item and how it came to be?

i went down a rabbit hole of photos of artists in their studios throughout the 20th century and became obsessed with creating the perfect pair of "overalls" but also adding in the breezy feeling of a jumpsuit. i wanted to create my ideal studio uniform (tons of pockets for tools, iphones, etc.), but also the perfect thing to wear when you're running errands... or at a pop-up ... or meeting someone for coffee. this was probably the most thought-out garment i've ever designed. and as for the name of the piece... i love the name arlo and when i realized all the letters in "arlo" are in the word "overalls" then that cinched it!

your latest editorial, shot by alexis paschal, features beautiful, diverse women. what is your thought process when it comes to designing body-positive wearables? what inspires you in the female gaze?

the photoshoot with alexis, josie and juell was one of my of my favorite collaborations ever! i absolutely love to meet up with inspiring local artists, makers and model and just see what happens when we put our heads together! i could say i had some political agenda by choosing a certain type of person for a shoot, but honestly that's an afterthought; i just love to collaborate with interesting, fun people!

to me, the "female gaze" is simply imagining a world where the toxic "male gaze" no longer has power and you can create your own narrative rather than being subject to, or reacting against, someone else's view of the world. i already love creating certain silhouettes - lounge jackets, roomy shirtdresses, breezy jumpsuits - and i find traditional sizing on clothing rather arbitrary and inconsistent. most of my pieces can fit a range of sizes, so some of my labels will say S/M (small/medium) or even just "large-ish."

any cool projects or new pieces you’re currently working on?

this summer, i'm attempting a zero-waste repurposing project. i'm using all the random bits of fabric and vintage clothing i've been hoarding over the years to make small batches or one-offs that i've mostly been posting to instagram as "flash sales." i've also been experimenting with using my collected scraps (from making pieces in my "official" collection) to create patchwork fabric that i plan to make into garments as well. repurposing is my favorite type of designing, so hopefully i can find a way to integrate it into future collections!

what keeps you focused while you’re working – what’s your mood music?

i mostly listen to podcasts while i work - my favorite murder, how did this get made?, you must remember this - but when i have some studio wine, i will indulge in some occasional karaoke. my faves are usually brenda holloway, judee sill, big star, the cleaners from venus, and arthur russell. also, i recently made a playlist called "the last of the red hot lovers" that I believe you can find on my spotify!

when you’re not working, what do you like to do?

as i mentioned before, i watch tons of movies in my free time! i have a "personal" instagram account @_staircasewit where i post about what i'm watching. right now, i'm posting an on-going double-feature series called "deep cu(n)ts" about under-appreciated films involving under-represented groups (women, lgbtq, poc). i'm hoping for a part-time job as a professional film curator/recommender!

any favorite spots in portland we should check out?

i'm always on the lookout for vegan eats, so i highly recommend off the griddle for diner food (i hear my favorite brunch place, a.n.d. cafe, is about to reside there as well), and van hanh for vietnamese food (prepared by buddhist nuns!) if you love a thoughtful wine program, definitely check out dame. and movie-lovers should follow church of film, portland's premiere venue-hopping film society!