The Spirit of Paris Lives in Tucson

Tucson, Arizona is a town in the middle of the Sonoran desert with deep ties to the Old West. It may come as some surprise, then, that the spirit of Paris lives through a fashion designer who calls Tucson home.

Part of the diorama at The Presidio in Tucson
The action of the Old West is captured in a diorama located at the Presidio San Agustín del Tucson Museum.

Born and raised on the East Coast to a family filled with milliners, artists, craftspeople, and tailors, Laura Tanzer has fashion design engraved on her DNA. For a time, she “lived and breathed fashion working on Seventh Avenue” in New York City. But it was Tucson that drew her in twelve years ago and it is Tucson where she has been able to express her greatest passion while achieving her greatest success.

Tucson itself has some similarities in spirit with Paris. The people are proud of their history. The town has an eclectic blend of modern and historic architecture. And the community supports its artists, designers, and musicians with passion. It’s no wonder then that, like Paris, creative spirits such as Laura’s are drawn from all over the world to call this place home.

Midcentury Modern arches in Tucson, Arizona.
Midcentury Modern arches beckon as relief from the desert sun, but they are also an invitation to follow the pathway that leads through historic Tucson.
Artwork in Tucson.
Artwork is everywhere in the Tucson. This one, when read together, reads “Wander is Wonder.”
Art coop in Tucson, Arizona.
This building at the end of an historic walk through Tucson contains dozens of artists and purveyors of local cuisine.

From “Wild Emptiness” to Success

To paraphrase Laura’s grandmother, Tucson is “wild emptiness.” In this way (among others) it is vastly different from The City of Love. Still, Laura opened her design firm in 2013 with some traditionally Parisian values. For instance, she sees the human body in all its forms as a work of art that expresses itself through fashion. She uses every aspect of life as a source of creativity, including that “wild emptiness” of Tucson. At the same time, she leans into the art and habits of sustainability, which have taught her to seek out natural fibers, come up with no-waste solutions, and hire local talent to help create her designs. These are characteristics of the way things used to be. Laura makes them work for today’s world.

In addition, her studio is open to women who want to come “play.” They find pieces that express who they are from inside out. In the process, they get to know Laura personally and she them. They support and inspire her designs in the same way that the women of Paris support and inspire the designers there. It is a symbiotic relationship that can only be found in the Old World traditions of a community supporting the artists and business owners who are also neighbors and friends. This means better quality and better fit for the women purchasing Laura’s designs. It also ensures a truly sustainable community in terms of a richer local economy where jobs are created and fewer resources are wasted.

Laura Tanzer Designs Post Modern Contrappunto collection and the bottoms are from her Basics collection. Both were featured in her award-winning show.

Designer Duds for a Parisian Wannabe?

A few weeks ago, I received an invitation to go play in Laura’s studio in the historic train depot in downtown Tucson. Before I arrived I was curious about whether such designer pieces could work in my day-t0-day life. Although my life is busy, it is mostly casual. Regular readers know that I have trouble finding the balance between casual and elegant. I have an addiction to denim. Plus, designer clothes are supposed to be only for special occasions, right?

Not so fast.

During our time together we spoke about all aspects of Laura’s designs, including her basic pieces, such as the pull-on slim leg pant you see in the photo below. These pants come in different colors–black and gray are available in different lengths on the website. They’re so popular Laura is working on boot cut and straight leg styles as well.

The pull-on slim leg pant is made with viscose that is the perfect weight–not too thick and not too thin. It is stretchy without losing its shape after hours of wear. And it’s not so tight as to create a muffin top. They have the softness of sweatpants but they offer the structure and sophistication of clothes that are at ease at work and on special occasions. In my opinion, they are the perfect balance of casual and elegant.

An Award-Winning Collection

As amazing as her basic pieces are–and they are awesome–it was especially exciting for me to play with her collection known as Post Modern Contrappunto. She won the Emerging Designer of the Year award at Phoenix Fashion Week in October of 2016 for this collection. It is a combination of seemingly abstract prints on silks and cottons atop a foundation of luxurious fabrics in black, white, and gray. I fell in love with this beautiful blue top shown in the photo below.

At first glance, the top appears to be an abstract design. Look closer and you can make out the top half of a row of buildings.

The front of a top designed by Laura Tanzer for her Post Modern Contrappunto Collection.
See the building windows and telephone polls in the design?

On the back of the shirt is the bottom half of those same buildings. Another close look and you start to realize those buildings line a canal in Venice.

Back of a top from the Post Modern Contrappunto collection by Laura Tanzer Designs.

Laura took the photo used in this design during a trip to Venice. When she was ready to make clothes with it, she had it blown up and digitally printed onto cotton voile. She then cut it in half to create the front and back.

This top is extra special with its personal story, unique design, and sensuous fabric. Being so special, I wondered if I could weave it into my everyday wardrobe. There was only one way to find out: Pair it in different ways to create more casual and dressier looks.

Sandals

The top itself needs no more embellishment from accessories. The design is enough for me. The easiest way to experiment with whether it could become a regular part of my wardrobe was to change the footwear. I started my experiment with sandals shown below. Even with their dressier heel and shine, sandals automatically signal a more casual look in my mind.

Similar style here.

Putting it all together, I was enchanted. I looked in the mirror and thought of a hundred different places I can wear this outfit this summer. To name just a few: Concerts in the park, dinner with Hubby, an upcoming Neil Diamond concert(!), lunch with friends, and a theater festival I attend in the summer. I’d even feel comfortable wearing this to go shopping and to the hair salon!

When Sandals Won’t Cut It

There are times, especially in Seattle, when sandals just don’t cut it. Either the situation calls for closed-toe shoes or it’s drizzling outside and I don’t want to get my feet wet. So I tried a different pair of shoes with a “wear anywhere” kind of mentality.

Similar style here and here.

I like the sandals a little better, only because I like the comfort of those shoes better. But either the flats or the sandals work to create an easy, breezy, elegantly casual style.

Take It Up a Notch

Next, I thought about the times I need to throw on a sweater or jacket. Even though I don’t like the idea of covering up the artwork, I often need an extra layer to stay warm, even in the summer. Rather than turn to my usual casual jackets or cardigans, I dressed things up a little with a cream-colored tuxedo jacket and a pair of heels.

Although the jacket covers up the beautiful design, you can still see how the lovely cotton voile drapes elegantly beneath it.

You may recognize these heels from recent previous posts here and here. If interested, purchase similar here.

Dressier still?

There are occasions in summer when I need something just a little nicer. Summer has always been the hardest season for me to style “dressy” because I am such a layering type person. I almost feel naked without a scarf or jacket. In addition, it’s hard for me to let go of the idea that black is the only color I can wear to special evening events. But black in summer often feels heavy and makes me feel invisible. I don’t have to worry about that anymore!

Check it out:

This skirt was on the chopping block heading toward my Poshmark Closet. When I got Laura’s top home, I took a look at her website where I saw a model wearing the long-sleeve version of the Venice top paired with a white maxi skirt. With that in mind, I was inspired to create this outfit to wear for fancier evenings out.

How easy is that?

My only accessory is a bracelet and I don’t even think I need that. 

Remember the dress that used to make me feel like a star? Every single one of these outfits make me feel like a star, one who knows how to pull off street style, to balance casual with elegant. It’s sort of breathtaking, really, that I can feel this good and be so comfortable and at ease with just two foundational pieces.

From Tucson, With Love

Laura Tanzer infuses her designs with a love for what she does. I also argue the spirit of Paris gets worked in there as well–a Paris that existed before fast fashion came to be. Although her prices can’t compete with discount retailers, longevity of construction and timeless design make them cheaper over the long-run.

My invitation to Laura’s studio included a significant discount on the outfit seen in these photos, but I am a loyal customer now and will happily pay full price knowing these pieces will last me for years. (And we all know I keep my favorites for a very long time.) The cost spread out over those years is far cheaper than if I bought something new off the rack at the mall.

In addition, I got to know the designer and even met one of the women who literally made the clothes on my back. I received a custom fit for my petite body and got feedback from the designer herself about what colors and shapes work best for me.

Finally, the money I spent with Laura goes back into her business. It allows her to pay her local workers a living wage while continuing to design with materials that are easier on the environment. I even know what she does with the scraps! (She creates tote bags and scarves and gives the smaller pieces to local schools for craft projects.) By supporting Laura, I came away feeling like a rockstar and I got to be a part of something bigger than me. It’s a glorious feeling.

For more about Laura’s designs, visit her website. Her collections and accessories are available for sale there and you can connect with her personally, even if it’s long distance.


Affiliate link disclaimer: Please note, I received a discount for the outfit I wear in this article. I did pay for it, however, and I own it outright. In addition, some of the links on my website may be affiliated with companies I am associated with. By clicking the affiliated links and purchasing from those stores, I might receive a small commission. This commission supports the work I do and I greatly appreciate your support!

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  • I think part of the love for these outfits, is that color on you Sherry!! The soft blue just makes you glow!
    And I think my favorite of all of these is the one with that maxi skirt—it’s so glamorous, yet simple!! (And you body looks like a million in it!!)
    What fun to actually get to go meet the designer and see how she works!! That’s a field trip any fashion blogger would love!
    Jodie
    http://www.jtouchofstyle.com

  • What a great post. You introduce us to a talented artist, show us pretty outfits and give interesting information. I have a relative who lives in Tucson which prompted me to visit it twice. Nice place.

  • The colors and pattern in this top are so beautiful and you really DO look lovely in pastels Sherry! I also love the fact that a cityscape is hidden within the watercolor feel of the print. Although the buildings line a Venetian canal you could pretend it depicts a rainy Seattle day !

  • What a great article! After reading this should I ever end up in Tucson I know I will need to visit her atelier.

    I must say the last outfit with the maxi skirt was by far my favourite. It made you look 6 ft tall! So very chic.

    bisous
    Suzanne

  • Hi Sherry!
    I was so delighted to meet you – I’ve been following your Instagram forever!
    And so glad you found lovely things to wear at my atelier. Jodie and Marilee are on it – the colors are perfect for you! And pairing that top with your maxi was a stroke of genius.

    We would love to host your next blogger meet up!
    Hugs,
    Laura