La Perla creative director Julia Haart wants to empower women by design
October 19, 2017: The Venetian Macao is the setting for the glamorous gala opening of Sands Macao Fashion Week, beginning with the global unveiling of La Perla’s spring/summer 2018 collection. The whole place is abuzz, with celebrities, assorted VIPs and models, each vying to be the best-dressed attendee on the exclusive black carpet.
Much of the excitement is centred around one person: Julia Haart, La Perla’s creative director, who is there in person to introduce the show.
At our meeting, Haart herself almost seems a contradiction. She’s physically small, but her personality bounces out of her; she’s effusive, full of energy, clearly raring to get out onto the stage and introduce her work to the world. “Everyone is very excited about tonight,” she says, beaming. “It’s our first show in Macao.”
She’s eager to talk about her work; I hardly get the chance to finish my first question to her – about the theme of La Perla’s new collection.
“The idea of this collection is stone,” she says. “Because if you think of a stone, it’s something that's hard and immovable and immutable… But if you cut a stone, you see that it has all these veins, this flow.” This juxtaposition, Haart says, is how she feels about women. “On one hand we're feminine: there’s that movement and that flow. On the other hand we're strong, we're tough. You cannot mess with us. So it was that melding of those two things that inspired this collection.”
It’s this philosophy – the idea of fusion of form and meaning – that informed Haart’s choice to unveil her collection in Macao. Haart says the city offers her company a specific opportunity: “In Europe, La Perla has been more well-known as a lingerie brand. In Asia we’re newer, so I am who I am – you don't say, ‘Oh but I thought you were this’.”
“Honestly, the way that the world looks at fashion – well, I have a different approach. My job in life is to make women feel and look beautiful. Every woman. And what makes us similar is so much more than what makes us different.” Her phrases are full of on-brand messaging, but she talks with enormous passion. “So next season we're having five different colours of mood because we don't have the same skin but we are all the ‘La Perla woman’.”
But let’s back up a little. How did this all come about?
The one thing that everyone knows about Julia Haart is that she appeared on the scene seemingly from nowhere – and at first glance her story is extraordinary. She was a high school history and philosophy teacher who abruptly decided to leave the classroom to get into shoemaking.
But there was serious motivation behind this move. The ingrained societal notion that fashion and comfort are diametrically opposed had, for some time, irked Haart.
“I'm small – I'm very petite – so I was always wearing insanely high shoes... and I wasn't comfortable. I spent my whole day in pain. I had slowly been growing this anger that I had to choose between being comfortable and being fashionable and wearing high heels. So I decided, 'I'm going to figure out how to make a
comfortable high-heeled shoe'.”
She left her old life behind and moved to the Italian town of Civitanova Marche to learn how to make shoes “from scratch. Yeah, seriously, I’d never made a shoe... And now I have two worldwide patents on my shoes,” she says, with understandable pride.
Haart made changes to the arch of her shoes and evenly distributed the pressure points so the weight of the body would be spread across the entire foot. “It makes the shoe so much more comfortable. And my heels also have a layer of gel built inside the shoe, so you're walking on this soft gel layer that cools your foot and is anti-shock.”
But how do you go straight from teaching to becoming an international fashion creative? Haart says it’s not as crazy as it might appear.
“I always taught in all-girls’ schools. And my job as a teacher, in my mind, was to make them feel stronger and more confident, and to understand what they were capable of and what they could achieve. What I'm doing right now is trying to change the way women wear clothes. All the things we’re doing go towards eradicating this concept of suffering for beauty; comfort should not be a dirty word.”
On the specifics, Haart is keen to talk about how La Perla has pioneered a new way to make stretch fabrics.
“If you take a beautiful silk thread and you wrap it in elastin, you don’t feel the silk. You feel it's a synthetic material. So we replaced one of the filaments with a filament of elastin inside the thread. The silky filament is around the stretch so you never feel it.” Haart says that through painstaking research and design, combined with new technologies, she has figured out ways to make things that appear luxurious and elegant feel more comfortable.
It was this innovative, free-thinking mindset that led to Haart’s elevation to the top of La Perla. And the position is something she says she’s more than ready for.
“I said, ‘It's about time!’” she laughs. “But honestly I've wanted to do the same thing to clothing... The fact that you can't move in clothing, or that you'll buy a dress but you can't breathe, or you can't reach across the table to get the salt because you have no mobility in your arms.” She says her place at La Perla was a match made in heaven. “It was serendipity.”
So that’s Haart the designer. But as a proponent of empowerment, who does she look up to? “I don't really look at other designers and say, ‘Oh, I wish I was this person or that person’. I look at strong women,” she says. She talks passionately about Ada Masotti, the woman who started La Perla in 1954. “In 1954, women were not starting companies,” she says. “There were not too many heads of fashion houses who were females in the 50s. In the 50s you were supposed to be the stay-at-home wife with the pretty apron and the two little children.”
She’s also inspired by Mae West, and quotes the actress. “She said a line I’m obsessed with: ‘I lost my reputation long ago and I haven't missed it yet.’ And that's how I feel. I don't care what people think about me. She was in her forties when she started her film career, which speaks to me because I was in my forties when I started my fashion career.”
But, I wondered, doesn’t the incredible level of attention her role has garnered all get a bit much?
“No,” she says, adamantly. “Really. I put stress on myself to make sure that I do everything the way I want to. But honestly it's been the best experience of my life. I love every minute. I don't feel pressure – I feel like I have so much I have to do; that I want to accomplish in my life. I feel like I'm just getting started.” She laughs. “Watch out world, here I come!”