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Laura McLaws Helms

We first caught a glimpse of Laura’s apartment on instagram, and immediately knew we had to get in there to shoot. Inspired by her love for EVERYTHING vintage, this fashion historian schooled us on everything from eBay to Etsy.

Can you tell us about your background and what initially sparked your interest in fashion?

I think I was born interested in fashion, a gene passed down from my rather fabulous grandmothers. Being born and growing up in Manhattan in the 1980s also contributed to my fascination. When I was seven we moved to London, which in the early 1990s was caught in a deep recession and the complete opposite of the over-the-top decadence that had so defined 80s NYC, once in London I started learning about subcultural fashion and collecting vintage clothes. Though I originally thought I wanted to study fashion design at college, I went to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts for photography. At that time I had decided that fashion, and fashion history in particular, was just a passion and not something I could make a viable career out of, but after a few years in the photo industry I went to FIT to get my MFA in Fashion & Textile Studies.

What exactly does a fashion historian do? Is there such thing as a typical day for you?

Everyday is different for me. As a fashion and cultural historian I write books and articles, give talks, curate museum exhibitions and also work as a consultant for brands and designers. I also co-own a magazine and website, Lady, and am writing and producing a film that will start production in a few months. Some days I’m home all day writing with a few Skype meetings sprinkled through, while other days I’m running around to appointments, researching in the library or on set for a shoot.

When did you become interested in vintage clothing specifically?

All of my first murkily recalled memories have to do with historic clothes. When I visited my grandparents in Geneva, my grandmother and I would go through her closet as I asked her questions about each piece that she had collected through her lifetime. In the garden she would help me cut out Tom Tierney’s historic paper dolls and hand-glue sequins and beads on to them. From her I learned the beauty and quality of vintage clothing on a very intimate level, which was reflected in a more public scale during my first visit to the Victoria & Albert’s costume collection when I was seven. This fascination easily transferred to my own closet and I started wearing vintage when I was around 10, picking up things at car boot sales and secondhand shops around London.

What is it about vintage clothing that you love, and what is your favorite fashion era or style of clothing to wear?

At the core I am deeply interested in all aspects of history, wearing vintage is an easy way to immerse myself in a world gone past. I’m attracted to clothes that tell a story, weave a fantasy, recall a myth. When I step into my closet I feel the presence of the many stories intertwined into the garments, those of the designers and makers, the original owners, and those of my imagination. While I collect from every era, my favorite years are 1967-1973 when fantasy and historical revivalism reigned.

When I was working on my PhD I did quite a lot of work around production chains and I have always been very interested in learning the methods and makers behind the clothes I wear and write about. It’s impossible to not look at the vast disparities between how clothes used to be made (even mass-market ones) and how they are now, and not be appalled at the effect the clothing industry currently has on climate change and also the human rights abuses. For the reason of sustainability alone I find it very important, personally, to wear solely vintage.

Where are your favorite places to shop for vintage pieces?

I do almost all of my shopping on eBay and Etsy, though I sometimes buy from auction and dealers. I enjoy the hunt for a good deal and find scrolling through eBay for hours to be a totally meditative experience.

Your blog, Sighs & Whispers, has such beautiful and unique images. Where does your inspiration come from?

I gather inspiration from everywhere, magazines and books on fashion, photography, interiors, architecture, crafts, cooking, gardening, porn, etc. Whenever I’m caught in some heavy energy and feeling uninspired, I pull out of my 1000s of magazines at random, start flicking through them and soon I am rejuvenated with ideas for all kinds of new projects.

Can you tell us about the projects you’re currently working on?

I’m co-writing and producing a film on the fashion designer Thea Porter, who in 2015 I wrote a book on and curated an exhibition on at the Fashion & Textile Museum. After some delays that should go in to production at the end of the year. I have a few exhibition and book projects that are in the works and hopefully can be announced soon. A few years ago I did quite a lot of work on the costumes in Dynasty, I will be revisiting this research in a talk next month and hopefully a larger project.

With Lady, we recently launched our website so I have been working on content for that, every week we are posting new short films by Richard Kern, which are just beautiful. I’m also slowly writing a novel!

Between writing for your blog, working on exhibitions, and being a fashion historian and consultant, how do you find time to unwind? What do you do to stay balanced?

I feel at my best when I have a lot of time to myself, which really calls for me waking up super early and taking advantage of the quiet morning hours.  As soon as I wake up I do 20-40 minutes of kundalini meditation, after a few years of being interested in it I’m slowly diving in deep with great results so far. When I miss a day of meditation, my mind is much more scattered and less focused. Then I pull a tarot card for the day and journal. Combined with daily workouts, half marathon training and frequent baths, all of these tools provide me with a great sense of balance and calm.

What are your beauty and self-care rituals?

The single most important ritual I have found for health and beauty is hot lemon water first thing every morning. I drink it throughout the day for clear skin and good digestion, and recently started adding collagen to up my protein levels.

What does beauty is wellness and wellness is beauty mean to you?

As a historian it is impossible not to see how every aspect of culture and the world is interconnected, this macrocosm is reflected in the microcosm of our own bodies, and back. When we make decisions that care for ourselves, these choices can result in positive changes within us, in our outward appearance and for our planet.

Top 5 picks from CAP?

In Fiore’s Complexe de Fleur: All of Julie Elliott’s products are sublime, but this one is really a dream (especially when mixed with a few drops of In Fiore’s Comfrey Solution before bed).

Dr. Alkaitis Nourishing Treatment Oil

Moon Juice Sex Dust: The perfect mix of tonic herbs to regulate hormones, I add it to all my smoothies.

Shiva Rose Moon Rose Salts

Mahana Coco Infusion