ASOS x LaQuan Smith: Why the e-tailer's biggest collaboration is a win for us all

We flew to New York to meet LaQuan Smith - the designer loved by RiRi, Beyonce and Kim Kardashian - to discover his ASOS collab; a glorious love letter to in-your-face fabulousness, size-inclusivity... and leopard print
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LaQuan Smith is giggling at Joan Collins quotes when I meet him in his cosy studio in Long Island so, obviously, I love him immediately. That, and because I've already fallen head over heels for his good-time girl aesthetic; him being the merry, sassy purveyor of curve-hugging, off-the-shoulder dresses that make you want to get into all kinds of trouble. I'm so sold it's embarrassing.

Camo mini dress, Dhs360 and Camo boots, Dhs455

His tight-knit team - all about as cool, as New York and as full of energy as you would imagine - are laughing along too, talking over each other, pulling out chairs for me to sit on, moving rolls of fabric and piles of papers out of the way and getting the music on and the drinks out to welcome me in.

It's relaxed, but underneath it all, there's no mistaking the atmosphere. There's a hint of celebration in the air. They're excited - and for good reason. It's not every day you get to shout about a collaboration with a global player like ASOS. And despite showing at New York Fashion Week for the past six seasons, as well as having dressed a roll-call of celebrities including Beyonce and Rihanna, it's often partnerships like this one that finally cement an up-and-coming designer as a household name.

Leopard boots, Dhs360 and Striped shorts, Dhs170

"I want to get my name out there," he tells me, sitting on a couch next to rails and rails of the kind of badass leopard-print pieces that would make Joan proud. "This collection is the perfect platform to expand and maximise who I am as a brand." He's obviously got a strong business head on his shoulders. After all, you don't get to this point from sheer luck alone. Struck through with a tangible authenticity, LaQuan's label has still managed to tap into exactly the kind of aesthetic that women love to wear - and, equally as imporantly these days - to share, too.

Tartan dress

"I’ve been focusing on building the idea of what luxury is to me," he tells me. "ASOS has allowed me to be able to find a middle tier. ASOS is all about the 20-somethings, the sporty, the young, the energetic... all those different characteristics. So we combined that with the LaQuan Smith woman who is confident, lustrous and over the top. If you follow LaQuan Smith and you love the collections and the celebrities I’m dressing but can’t afford that $600 dress, then you can buy the $50 sunglasses from ASOS."

Leopard blazer, Dhs410 and Leopard boots, Dhs360

Accessibility is obviously key, but it's nothing without the killer designs driving people to want to buy them in the first place. I spy a black mesh long-sleeve cover-up peppered with rhinestones, a matching crystallised do-rag, and a very, very saucy spray-on black vinyl dress. It's so hot I practically blush at the sight of it. LaQuan certainly ain't scared of the tight, the short or the sheer. And just as well, too. It's celebratory and it's fearless; a siren call of "I wear exactly what I want." And most notably, this doesn't just mean if you're a size zero. Elements of the collection are designed across both ASOS Curve and ASOS Plus-Size ranges, too. It's a collection that is absolutely, resolutely feminist in its existence. 

Vinyl dress, Dhs311

"With the platform that I have and the women I dress, I am very much supportive of the #metoo movement," he starts. "But I'm supportive of a lot of protests that are happening for people of colour, for women or for actors in Hollywood. I think this is a time to be liberated, a time to speak up, and a very important time to be black. I’m from Jamaica, Queens, NYC. I don’t come from anything so it’s my time as a designer to step up to the plate, to have a voice and tell my side of the story as to where I think fashion should be going in the next decade."

Round of applause for LaQuan, then. But speaking of coming from nothing, how has he felt that has impacted his entire outlook as a designer?

Striped dress, Dhs311 and Ankle-tie sandals, Dhs265

"I began quite unconventionally and I think it sets the tone for my success because all my life I’ve been told no," he tells me of how he was famously rejected from fashion school, becoming the unwitting poster boy for making it to the big-time regardless. "I’ve been told I’m not good enough, I haven’t got the right degree, or this or that. I’ve had a lot of doors slammed in my face, so my career has been built on breaking barriers, doing what LaQuan Smith knows best, and that's to design my butt off, to go out and be inspired, to have fun, stay positive, write out a list of goals to achieve and to go out and really do it." 

Do-rag, Dhs105, Camo joggers, Dhs312, Bikini top, Dhs135 and Crystal coverup

Someone else may have been permanently derailed, but LaQuan exudes New York hustle. "It’s made me hungry," he says, looking me straight in the eye, "And it’s made me work much harder to get to where I am." But surely it can't have always been confident full-steam ahead? "With some of the hardships I’ve faced... we as humans start to internalise what we did wrong, asking, 'Was I not good enough?' We start to really pick ourselves apart, but at the end of the day, if you've put your best foot forward, all you can do is grow. I’m very spiritual in that way and it keeps me going because this industry is extremely hard. Don’t rely on your own knowledge; you have to put your faith in something else. The best advice my grandmother gave me was, 'What’s meant for you won't miss you.' The pathway is already done; you just need to take a leap of faith and go for it."

Leopard-print beaded gown, Dhs958

Turns out we can all thank Granny for more than just LaQuan's positive outlook; she was also the one who gifted him his first sewing machine at age 13. So does she come to his shows? "Of course!" he grins. "Every single season. Her, my grandfather, my mum, my dad, my little brother... the whole squad is there; they have their own VIP section! My family have always been so supportive of me. Even now, when I pick up the phone and say I’m having a hard time, they say, 'Keep a small prayer in your heart. You know this is what you’re destined for and you’re a lot stronger than you think,' and those words allow me to go to bed and wake up the next day ready to conquer whatever it is."

Photos: Supplied