Most people know Dallas-raised designer Lela Rose for her fun, feminine collections as well as her burgeoning bridal empire. Rose was launched into the high-fashion spotlight when she dressed presidential daughters Jenna and Barbara Bush for their father's inauguration in 2000, and her commitment to dresses that delight has made her a favorite of Texas socialites and celebs on the red carpet alike.
In New York, however, she's also known for throwing the most spectacular dinner parties in town—taking her guests from the rooftops of Manhattan to downtown drag shows. Rose is sharing her social secrets in a stunning new coffee table book, Pret -A-Party, and to celebrate she stopped in Houston on Thursday for—what else?—a riotous luncheon and book signing at Tootsies.
Dressed in a pantsuit covered in her signature peonies, Rose spoke to Houstonia about the similarity between designing a fashion collection and creating the perfect party, as well as how to make any occasion special without breaking the bank.
Houstonia: So tell us about the book, Pret-A-Party.
Lela Rose: It's all about how to dress yourself, match your drink to your dress, dress your table—taking one idea and translating it to the table, the cocktails, what you're wearing, everything.
H: Speaking of cocktails, you're making one today, right? What is it?
LR: Yes! I'm making a Nor'easter, it's a bourbon cocktail with lime juice and ginger beer and it is dee-licious.
H: That sounds easy to handle at a party.
LR: You make a batch and then you just top it off with ginger beer. I am not about shaking cocktails for people. When I'm at my parties, I'm having fun and enjoying myself. I'm not running around. I cannot deal with complicated cocktails.
H: When you are creating the atmosphere or the theme of a party, is it the same kind of creativity that you use in designing clothes?
LR: One of the main reasons we did the book was to show people how to take one inspiration—maybe its a recipe, maybe it's some detail for the table—and use that to inform the menu, or the color of the drink, or what you're wearing, so everything kind of goes together. It's very much the same process as putting together a collection. It all comes from one inspiration.
H: Did you learn a lot about entertaining growing up in Dallas?
LR: My mother was a great cook and she always loved entertaining. We've probably taken it to a new level of craziness because we entertain constantly. My husband is always on drinks—he makes great cocktails, it's wonderful—and my kids do the dishes. We've got the whole house involved.
H: It seems like a lot of your party suggestions are really attainable.
LR: It's not like it comes out of a box, it's not about doing things that are hard or spending a lot of money. It's about creating special details—using baking twine to write out initials onto a plate. It's twigs wrapped in gold twine. It's empty wine bottles decorating the table instead of doing a floral centerpiece. The devil is in the details, but if you make sure it's fun for you, then it'll be fun for other people.
H: Are you always picking up things you think might make a fun detail?
LR: Constantly! I'm on my bike all the time in New York and I'm like, 'Oh, that looks interesting,' and I'll pile a bunch of branches onto the bike.
H: You are known for your bridal collections. I'm planning a wedding soon, do you have any special tips for me?
You need to get your friends together and have them throw you this bridal shower [featured in the book]. Everything was about something blue, so all of the china is stacked up around the table. I got white napkins—and you don't even have to know how to sew—you get these markers and write out the initials and everyone just stitches along them, so now the bride has a set of 20 napkins with her stitched initials that everyone made at the shower.
H: Is this the beginning of creating more of a lifestyle brand for Lela Rose?
LR: Yes, an entertaining lifestyle. I think everything we do is entertaining. The Lela Rose woman is someone who has a full social calendar. She's either the most sought-after guest or the ultimate hostess. Our clothes are for women who are going places and having fun. I'll design a dress and be like, 'Ooh, I have to plan this party to wear this.' I just think life is for celebrating. The book is about that, and the clothes are about that.