Lisa Iacono is not just an up-and-coming fashion designer in New Orleans, she’s also the founder of Nola Sewn, a business that produces and sells the looks of designers from all over the Crescent City. Born and raised in Ohio, she attended the University of Cincinnati for fashion design. The institution is rare for its unusual, but undeniably valuable, co-op program that requires each student to fulfill a total of six quarter-long internships, meaning that every other quarter the students are working in the field. As a result students graduate in five years instead of four, but gain many worthwhile experiences in the process. One of Iacono’s internships was working for the dress designer Suzanne Perron, a New Orleans couturier
Working for Perron opened up Iacono’s world and taught her how enjoyable work can be when you have a true passion for it. “When you’re working for somebody and they’re doing something for a reason that’s outside of, you know, getting to the next tax bracket,” started Iacono. “When you watch somebody be totally obsessed with their work and you watch other people reacting to it, suddenly you think that maybe in the future, you could achieve that level of meaning in your work.”
After graduation, Iacono moved to New York City, an experience that was both chaotic and exhilarating. She got a job working for American Eagle, which attracted her because of the experience she would gain in the corporate world as well as the opportunities to travel. Her job included communicating with clothing factories from all over the world, and she was even given the chance to travel to Hong Kong to work for the Product Development Team that coordinated their development (sampling, pattern-making, etc.). Although Iacono loved working for them and appreciated the company’s “amazing leadership and all of the great people to learn from there,” she started to feel overworked and run-down after a year of working and living in the tough corporate atmosphere of Manhattan.
After breaking her hand during a skateboarding accident around that time, Iacono worried that the injury would impair her ability to make clothes. It was then that she had a major epiphany—in all the time she’d been working for American Eagle, she’d barely made any use of her hands. “I started to realize that I wasn’t doing the things that I had hoped to do with fashion—I was doing things that had nothing to do with the reason I studied fashion in the first place.”
Upon realizing this, Iacono reconnected with Suzanne Perron and made arrangements to return to New Orleans for a while, in order to “reset her batteries.” She subletted her apartment in New York, expecting to come back after six months. However, she never ended up going back, except to move out. She loved working with Suzanne, and the charming southern atmosphere of New Orleans captivated her. “I learned so much from my experience in New York, and that’s what has allowed me to be dual-functioning down here, so of course I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Iacono said. “But the pace and attitude about life that New Orleans has personally suits me better.”
After working for Perron for a few months, the couturier started pushing Iacono to fulfill her dream of starting her own line. So, after doing some research and finding connections, she found a business partner who was willing to start up a clothing business with her. They dubbed the company “Nola Sewn,” aiming to produce and sell not only Iacono’s collections, but those of local designers as well. According to Iacono, the process of running a business in addition to designing and creating her own line “has been a total ride. We have between 5 and 12 clients in motion at a time; every day we have fittings, and we always have different people in different stages of product development. We have a constantly revolving door of clients, sewers and products, but we just keep going with it!”
The team expands and contracts as it needs to; on average they have about five people working every day. The team members also support and push each other, which Iacono finds very gratifying, especially when preparing for NOLA Fashion Week. They started working on the Iacono line for this year’s fashion week almost a year in advance. “Our clients are our first priority, especially when it’s crunch time, and that’s the only way to achieve both,” Iacono explained. In terms of this year’s collection, she thought it was the best collection yet. It consisted of a total of 16 looks, inspired by a forest-toned palette of dark pine greens, rubies, and some golden tones, and then injected with a black presence to “give it a story.”
Iacono believes that designers are influenced by each other, as well as what’s happening in the world and in the media. “I think it’s so interesting that designers will be across the earth from each other and working on something very similar, and I think that comes from whatever has just happened,” she said. “We’re all aware of when we’re pushing off of something and onto the next stepping stone. That consciousness of what was behind us, even just a moment before, is what’s springing us into what’s next.”
At this point in her career, Iacono is trying to get more into designing separates. After working with Perron, who focused on high-end gowns and evening wear, Iacono has transitioned to making clothes that are more accessible to the general public. “Wearing certain clothes can be transformative and empowering and can really change your day,” she wisely stated.
Although her clientele is eclectic, Iacono generally pictures the woman who wears her clothes as a very classic, but also very edgy dresser. “It can go both ways,” Iacono said. “It’s all about balance and tension, and striking the perfect chord. My hope is that by balancing the collection with all of those elements, it’s going to attract many different types of girls. It could also be the core wardrobe for the person who has the same brain as me.”
Having two businesses going at once—Nola Sewn and her own clothing line—puts a lot of pressure on the young designer, who is only 27. However, she expressed that it is important for the main focus to go into running Nola Sewn. She explained that if Nola Sewn wasn’t running smoothly, she couldn’t work on her clothing line because she is a client of her own business. Moreover, she feels an enormous amount of pride and satisfaction in running her business. “It serves the city, it serves the fashion community, and that is a huge source of joy for me,” she said with a smile. “My long-term goal is to find a way to do it all, and so far, that seems to be the way things are going. We’ve turned out three collections for Iacono, and this one is so great and so strong that I think we will be able to carry on with both companies.”
To see more of Iacono’s work, including her current and past collections, visit her website.