Photograph by Brian Tarnowski. A Kelli Cooper Design.
To see our name in lights is, at the a core, a common goal for each of us. The dream has its equivalent in every profession, whether it’s to literally see your face on the silver screen, to be listed on the masthead of a large magazine, or to have your name on the door of your very own company. In fashion design, it is walking into a well-known retail outlet and seeing your designs for sale. For New Orleans transplant Kelli Cooper, designer behind the label Loretta Jane, that dream came true last spring when international women’s and home goods retailer Anthropologie picked up one of her dresses to be sold in select stores and online.
Photograph by Brian Tarnowski. A Kelli Cooper design.
Originally from Newhope, Alabama, Cooper is the truest form of a Southern designer,yet manages to omit overt Southern stereotypes from her collections. Though she loved fashion growing up, almost obsessively, she never really considered it as a viable career option. “I wanted to be a lawyer or a writer,” she stated. “Those are the only two career options I ever had in mind.” But going through the college catalog at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) in Nashville, Cooper noticed that fashion was an actual course of study and thought it was something she’d really want to do. “I was never really into school growing up. I actually hated it, but fashion school made me a huge school nerd,” she said. “I was an overachiever; I made straight As. I was finally doing something I loved.” Her passion would later translate into that very viable career she never knew existed.
After graduation, Cooper started working for an established and extremely well-known designer in Nashville. They focused mostly on formal wear, like custom wedding gowns and cocktail dresses for Nashville socialites. “This is where I really learned to sew,” Cooper said. “They teach you in school, but this is where I really learned construction.” Her experience included not only constructing the garments, but taking them apart. Making these alterations contributed to Cooper’s well-rounded high fashion construction education, which is evident at first glance of any of the pieces in her line.
Several years later, while working at a Hemline boutique in Nashville, Cooper launched Loretta Jane, named after her two grandmothers, with her fall 2008 collection. “It was only about nine pieces, but the owner of Hemline picked it up,” she said. The owner of that particular franchise shared the collection with other franchise owners, who also picked it up. “At the time, there were eight or nine Hemline boutiques, most of which carried the line. Now there are around 13, and I’m still carried in most of them,” Cooper said.
The Loretta Jane aesthetic is girly and playful and extremely high-end (without the hefty price tag). “My aesthetic comes from things I’ve always liked, and what I think looks good on most body types,” Cooper said. “I also don’t have a singular inspiration for a particular collection. I’m inspired by so many things, and am constantly sketching. I can close my eyes and a detail will come into my head, so I have to immediately sketch it.” When beginning to plan for a particular season, Cooper goes through all of her sketches and pull pieces that work together for the feeling of that season, and goes from there. “You know I don’t do florals for spring, for example,” she said. “There doesn’t have to be a theme.” If there were one, it would be gorgeously tailored, body-flattering pieces.
Though she grew up in the South, Cooper had never visited New Orleans until after she launched her collection. “I’d always heard about it, and everyone told me I needed to go, but I somehow never made it,” she said. It was after her first visit, on a buying trip for spring, that she fell in love with the city and decided to move. “As soon as I got out of the cab, I was like, ‘This is where I’m supposed to live,’” she said. “I’ve never felt that way before. New Orleans has so much character—I never want to live anywhere else.” Though not a particularly rare story for New Orleans transplants, it makes each one feel alive, like they’ve found their “home” at last.
Photograph by Brian Tarnowski. A Kelli Cooper design.
After moving, Cooper began taking part in New Orleans Fashion Week, showing in the organization’s first-ever event, and in each season since. “I love the whole team,” Cooper said. “They all do such an amazing job, and they’re so patient with me! They spoil me.”
It was through events like New Orleans Fashion Week that Cooper encountered the buying team at Anthropologie. A local designer representative with Showroom South told her that buyers from the store were interested in looking at her line. “It wasn’t a buying trip, but they wanted to look at everything from designers to artists,” Cooper said.
She remembers thinking it would be one or two people, but when she opened the door, there were nine people from Anthropologie waiting to see her collection. “They all piled in, and they were all adorable. I was so nervous! I’d been daydreaming about that day for a long time,” said Cooper. The buying team ended up taking one dress sample, which they picked up for spring. “They ordered 500 units of that dress. Production was a nightmare at first, but it ended up working out,” Cooper recalled. “I couldn’t believe all of it. I was so happy.” And Anthropologie, evidently also happy, picked another dress from the designer’s fall collection and currently has a few samples from her latest, spring 2014 collection.
Because it was a huge order for a small designer, Cooper has had to temporarily relocate to Atlanta to regularly meet with her manufacturer. “Every time something came up, I was having to jump on a plane to Atlanta, so I felt it was necessary to be here for a while,” she said. But New Orleans will always be Cooper’s home. Those of us who were able to watch her line grow over the past few seasons are so proud, and can’t wait to see what’s next for the up-and-coming designer.
The history of the necktie is as rich and colorful as the patterns that adorn them. Designers, actors and royalty in the 1920s and 1930s left a distinctive stamp on the tie that gives the modern man the opportunity