Zibby Owens: Lisa Perry is an internationally renowned fashion designer. Assouline recently released her new book Lisa Perry: Fashion - Homes - Design. The forward was written by Hillary Clinton, text and photography by Robyn Lea. Formerly from Riverwoods, a Chicago suburb, Lisa graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology and went on to work for her family textile business before launching her own fashion brand, Lisa Perry Style. She currently lives in New York, North Haven, and the South of France with her husband.
Welcome, Lisa. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books.”
Lisa Perry: Thank you for having me.
Zibby: This is such a treat. I've been staring at this coffee table book of yours on my coffee table since it came out. It’s so gorgeous. I just love it. This hot pink circle is the best cover ever. Love.
Lisa: Thank you. I love it too.
Zibby: Tell me what it was like working on this book and collaborating with both Hillary Clinton on the forward and Robyn Lea on the photography and the text. How did you even start this book? Tell me the whole story.
Lisa: It’s really been an incredible process. In the back of my mind, I always wanted to have a book. To have all of my twenty years of design projects under one cover would be a dream. Then there was an event at my home here in North Haven that the Assoulines were invited to. They were walking around the home, I'm sure as they always do because they have a ton of incredible books on every subject. They said, “This is really beautiful and interesting. How much did you have to do with this?” I said, “I love design. It really is my passion. I love home design.” It piqued their interest. Then they went to my apartment in the city. They said, “What else do you have? Tell me about your world.” That's really how it came to be. They said, “We'd love to do a book.
Zibby: So cool. They didn't know about even your fashion business either, or they knew about that too?
Lisa: Yes, they did. The event we were doing was for one of their books called Dinner with Jackson Pollock, which was really, really cool. It turns out that Robyn Lea did that book. That's how it came to be. I met Robyn. You immediately fall in love with her. She is Australian and so warm and so wonderful. I wasn’t sure if it was the exact right fit. She does food. She did these beautiful, beautiful books, but close-up shots. When Martine Assouline suggested Robyn, it took me a minute. I loved the idea of working with a woman. Then we immediately connected. It was the most incredible experience. People have said to me, “Don't do a book. Don't ever do a book. It’s so much work and time. You don't have any control.” It was the complete opposite experience with Robyn and with Assouline. It was amazing.
Zibby: Did she sit you down and interview you? How did she get all the background? Did you walk her around all of your homes and explain? There's a lot of information there.
Lisa: We did all of that. We first started with all the homes. She started with the Hamptons home. We have a home in the South of France that she came to twice. She came to the city apartments. She lives in Australia. She was really, really flexible and just a pleasure. Then the added bonus was that she’s also a writer. She helped do all the text. It was incredible. I could not have had a better experience. I highly recommend it.
Zibby: [laughs] All right. Will do. Tell me about Hillary Clinton writing the forward. It was interesting how she said her father had started in the textile business. You're both from Chicago suburbs. You have all this stuff in common. Tell me more about that.
Lisa: I go back twenty years with Hillary starting on her ’98 senate campaign. I am an incredible fan and admirer. She was the person that I immediately thought of. The thing that people do not know about Hillary is she also has a love and passion for design. I was fortunate enough to visit the White House when she was there as first lady. She would show us the sculpture garden and the home. You could tell it was something that she was really interested in.
Zibby: How cool would it have been if you could've gotten into the White House and made a Lisa Perry Style White House.
Lisa: That would've been the best.
Zibby: Right? How cool would that be? That would be amazing.
Lisa: That was a dream in the back of my mind, absolutely. Beside the fact that we have that connection to Chicago, and our fathers who were both in the textile business, and the fact that we both love Chicago hot dogs -- very, very important.
Zibby: Just the two of you?
Lisa: Just the two of us.
Zibby: It’s a unique love. [laughs]
Lisa: That's right. It was incredible. I really only thought about Hillary. I kept crossing my fingers. She has her own book coming out. She had, obviously, a lot on her plate.
Zibby: A lot going on. [laughs]
Lisa: A lot going on, always. I was so thrilled and honored that she decided that she would write it.
Zibby: Tell me about how you originally got into the textile business. I know this was your family business.
Lisa: It was. That's exactly how that happened. I worked, as my brothers and sister did, we all worked in the family business, and my mom.
Zibby: From what age? How early were you recruited to help out?
Lisa: I would say during high school. We all helped out. It was a natural progression. When I decided to go to FIT, my major was textile technology. It wasn’t fashion. Even though I loved fashion, it was really to learn another side of the business and to learn about the dyes and the printing of fabric and really a more technical area. I left to go to New York. My parents probably knew in the back of their minds that I wouldn't return to Chicago. That’s what happened.
Zibby: How did you end up launching your own line? How did you go from technology, learning the ins and outs, to then this amazing visually arresting unique style that you brought forward?
Lisa: Really, it was about the fact that I didn't go back and work in the family business. Then I got married and had twins. There was a long span for me from school to going back to work. I started to fall in love with -- I don't know exactly how it happened -- vintage fashion. I actually know how it happened. It was on a trip to Paris. It may actually have been on my honeymoon. I fell in love with the store Courrèges. I loved the style. I fell in love with everything about the sixties. I became very focused on this era. People would know Pouchi and Courrèges and Pierre Cardin and Rudi Gernreich and Saint Laurent and the greats of design in the sixties. I became very focused on it. I was first doing the fashion. Then when we bought a new apartment in New York City, I decided to also expand my love to the home. We did a very focused apartment. Then we expanded to art. It really became my whole world.
Zibby: At what point did you open the store on Madison Avenue, which I'm so sad is no longer there?
Lisa: Yes, that was really, really fun and a great store. From my vintage collection, people, they were always commenting on what I was wearing. They would mention, “What designer is that?” I would always say it’s vintage. Enough people said enough times, “You should really do something,” because you can't find it. There's one piece in a vintage store. It’s not like I could send somebody back to that store. I thought about that. It went back to my love of textiles and fabrics. The gray designs, my vintage collection, it was really about how incredible the fabric was, and the design of course, but a very simple design. It’s very clean and classic. I said, okay, let me try it.
This was in about 2006. I decided to call a friend who I knew was also a vintage collector but may know somebody who could help me make some samples. That's really how it began. I wasn't planning on turning it into a business other than doing it for friends from my loft in SoHo. Instead, a great retailer called Jeffery, which some people know -- he has a store on 14th Street in New York. He saw my ten samples. He said, “I want to carry your collection.” I was like “No, no, no. I don't know what that means. I'm not doing that.” He said, “I’ll hold your hand through it. I’ll make it painless. Let's do this. You have a great focus here. This could be really good.” That's really how it started. Then I started selling in Bergdorf and Nordstrom and Harrods and Bloomies and then moved to Barneys where my line is carried exclusively.
Zibby: Tell me about your use of color. You say in the book how yellow’s your favorite color. I don't know if it still is. It was mentioned. All of these pops of color, even in those guest rooms in your North Haven house, how each one is the red or the green, they each have their own little pop of accent. How color really improves people’s lives and what your thinking is behind your choice of color.
Lisa: I believe that through experience and also in having my own stores and working in the stores and working with customers, I saw that every time I put on one of my signature colors like the book cover, that hot pink, I would literally witness a transformation of people’s mood. They were resistant. They were saying, “No, I could never wear hot pink.” Everybody in New York walks in in black and gray and very neutral colors. I said, “Just try it.” I would witness that transformation. It was something very striking. It’s not like I didn't know it because I'd always been a lover of color. It was tested time and time again in my store with customers. Moving it to the home space, I love white with pops of color. That really is the best combination, just a beautiful white palate and then adding color. More recently, I got into primaries. I love primary colors also. I call my love of color, it’s more pure colors. I was never a fan of dusty rose or dusty blue. I really like pure, saturated color. That is something that we embrace in clothing and in home products and in the way I design also, homes.
Zibby: I've interviewed Ingrid Fetell Lee a couple times, both on the podcast and in person. She wrote this book called Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness. Her book and her message have stayed with me and I feel like applies so much here. She was a design student originally and then broke down all these different categories into the elements of design, how they affect you emotionally. She broke it down into things like play, and things like circles, and if you have different pops of color and circles. Anyway, everything she said in her book is what you do. [laughs] I should've brought you copy. I’ll send you a copy. You're the embodiment of her whole philosophy. She was like, “You don't have to go to a yoga class to make yourself happy. You don't have to do all this internal work. Sometimes just your surroundings are enough to create the kind of happiness that people strive for their whole life.”
Lisa: I love that. I definitely want to read that book. I agree. I don't know about not needing any --
Zibby: -- I took it too far.
Lisa: I would like that, no yoga, no exercise.
Zibby: I'm not saying -- oh, gosh. [laughter] Yoga is still good.
Lisa: We love all the yoga people.
Zibby: Keep doing yoga. I just mean if you put a hot pink circle in your room, you will be happy immediately. [laughs]
Lisa: She's absolutely right. It has been my philosophy. I don't even know where that came from. I do have this passion for circles and geometric shapes. Again, I think that it’s about feedback from my customers and people who love my design who say that they just put my circle placemats with the words happy, fun, joy, love, on their table in a house that probably is mostly neutral. They put this on the table. Every time somebody walks through their kitchen or their dining room, people smile. Their kids decide every night, which different place to sit at. “I want to be at happy tonight. I want to be at fun.” These small elements, it can be a small thing. It doesn't have to be a whole environment. We see that it definitely brings joy. Ingrid is absolutely right. We’re kindred spirits. We should probably meet.
Zibby: You should meet. It’s so neutral in the room we’re in right now. In New York, our house is full of color. I find most people who come over say to me, “You're so brave,” because I have all this hot pink. Why am I brave? I don't even understand. Thank you. I have hot pink in my living room. I used to have this hot pink bathroom. Kyle, my husband, loves color. You see people respond to it.
Lisa: You used the word brave. It is a fear. It’s a fear in people of going out of their comfort zone in everything in life. It translates to home as well. It’s very safe to stick with neutrals. It’s brave to add color. We’re brave. We’ll take it.
Zibby: Tell me about this new thing you're working on where you're designing homes. Tell me where you're taking your home design passion now.
Lisa: It’s a very exciting project. In my book, it shows six different projects that I've worked on for myself and my family. It resonates a lot with people. People love the style. Not everybody knew that I had this passion. Most people know about my fashion business and my tabletop accessories and other home accessories. This is something that I have always loved. There's enough people now over the years that have said, “I love your style.” When you hear that enough and you have this entrepreneurial spirit that I have, and I love working, I said, what can I do now?
I decided to do these Lisa Perry-branded homes. I’ll find a home that is kind of my style to begin with, although I know I'm going to be changing it a lot, as I always do. It has to have the bones. I love a flat roof. I love symmetry. I love big, open spaces. That's been my signature, to get into a house and if it has lots of walls and small rooms, I’ll immediately take all the walls down and open it up. That's where I start. That's my blank canvas. This business is something that uses all of my skills, everything that I love. I’ll buy a home. I’ll renovate it. Then if it has some existing cool features like a beautiful travertine floor, I’ll work with that. If it has some moldings that are interesting, I’ll work with that. If it doesn't have anything interesting, I’ll start from scratch. So far, I've looked in many cities and bid on a lot of things. I really have just found one that I wanted to start with. I have a prototype now, almost ready.
Zibby: Where is it?
Lisa: In Palm Beach, Florida. I think that in the next couple months, anybody listening can buy it.
Zibby: Wow. That's so cool.
Lisa: It’s really been fun. I've searched for a year and half, found vintage furniture, did some new furniture. I have done all the art. I had a focus on women artists to start for this first project. Some are artists or the people I've heard of. Some are some new artists that I discovered. I’ll put in some Lisa Perry accessories. It’s been really, really fun. People, they can see pictures on my Instagram.
Zibby: That's really neat. Have you thought about decorating, not buying the house to begin with, but decorating for other people who already own their houses?
Lisa: I have thought about that. I have been asked. That is a straight-out no. I make very quick decisions. It’s something that's really important to me. That's not something that a lot of people do. I don't think it’s a process that I would love. I really would like to do it and have somebody walk in and fall in love with it, and all they have to do is hang their clothes up in the closet.
Zibby: Maybe you should sell the clothes. It should come with...
Lisa: I've curated the closet with some really fun vintage clothes. They can have that too.
Zibby: Oh, my gosh. I'm coming to see this house. If you don't sell it within two seconds, I want to come see it.
Lisa: It’s really, really been fun.
Zibby: That sounds great. Is that one of your secrets of success here? Everything that sounds fun, throwing yourself into it and trying it? It sounds like a theme.
Lisa: It actually has been. I feel when a woman puts herself out there to work, it’s a big deal to work and build a career. If you can, it should be something you love.
Zibby: Especially, it’s your own brand. It’s not that you're just out there working for -- it’s all you.
Lisa: Yes. It’s my name.
Zibby: It’s your name. It’s your vision.
Lisa: That's one of the most interesting things that I found out about this whole business. I don't want to jump too far ahead, but this thing about what advice --
Zibby: -- Let's go right there. That's perfect. Bring it.
Lisa: I've had to think about this a lot because it is a question in different articles and stuff that I've been interviewed for. The thing I'm most proud of over the years is I built a brand DNA, and not everywhere in the world, mostly in New York. If somebody says Lisa Perry, an image comes to their mind. It’s something that is important in a brand. Young people starting out, if they have a focus, if they like the twenties or they like the fifties or whatever era they like in design, if you stay focused and you're not all over the place, you will become known for something as long as it’s not to narrow. I'm also willing to branch out. In my sixties design, it’s not like I'm still doing a little shift dress with white go-go boots and long earrings. You make it modern for today. This is a great way to be able to build on a brand. If I was going to design a bicycle, I know what that's going to look like -- whatever it is, an iPhone cover, anything, lighting -- because it stays within a focus. We have a strong DNA. That is really important advice. Narrow in on something and stay with that.
Zibby: Love it. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast and sharing your experience and for the production of this beautiful book, which is really mouthwatering.
Lisa: Thank you. It was my pleasure.