by Ami Kealoha
"Is this doing what it's doing in the best possible way?" asks Brett Lally. It's a typically down-to-earth query from the 31-year-old designer as she describes the design process driving Borne, her East-Village-based line of women's clothing and accessories now in its second season. Lally's unconventional approach to fashion (a family friend's quilting techniques are the extent of her formal training) eschews vanity in favor of functionality and a resulting sense of identity, an M.O. she says grants her "real freedom." She cites this practicality as the natural outcome of honestly observed art-making, part of her studies as an undergrad before she took on design gigs with men's streetwear in Los Angeles.
If all this sounds too Cali-crunchy, it's not. Named for the discipline, strength, and heritage of Lally's great grandmother—a bridge and house still bear the Borne moniker in the designer's native Cape Cod—an East Coast upbringing plays an equally defining role in Borne, a sensibility Lally refers to as "mystery with manners." The literary allusion to Flannery O'Connor is fitting, given Lally's childhood on a 60-acre farm in rural Virginia and the way literally buttoned-up Americana mixes with whimsy in her designs.
Modern cuts and playful, almost tomboyish styles update a folksy high plains bent and staid blue blood references, such as plaids and argyles, prairie tied collars, leather-covered buttons, and punchy candy-colored stripes in wools, velvets, tweeds, and silks. The upshot is a line that's both eye-catching and sophisticated, a meeting of men's-influenced tailoring and softer, feminine details scoring the label praise in the pages of Lucky, The Fader, and Jane, among others, and keeping Lally busy around the clock to fulfill production for places like Steven Alan, Barneys New York, and Dane 115.
Borne's flirty elegance hints at a new American fashion vernacular, a hybrid of old and new, colonial East meets pioneering West, and understated, casual charm. As Lally puts it, "I like to think that my clothing can operate in multiple worlds." With a Spring '06 collection in the works that Lally suggests will aim for a more "clean and even handsome" dressed-up look, we predict she'll follow her own unofficial credo, doing what she does in the best possible way. That earnest proposition, guided by the "fierce matriarch" represented by Lally's ancestor, is an apt parallel to her winning sartorial combination, hopefully lending Borne the staying power of its namesake.
Designer Brett Lally reinvents American elegance, fusing New England prep and California cool under her new label Borne.