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Designer Laces Up Void in Evening Wear

November 07, 1986|BETTY GOODWIN

If Ann Lawrence wrote a self-help book, it could be titled "Design to Win." It would be based on her fail-safe method for launching her clothing label, which she put into action last year.

The 41-year-old businesswoman and designer hired a marketing firm to survey better department store buyers to find out which area of the women's clothing business hadn't been saturated and where a new designer such as herself could fill a void.

"I didn't want to do something at which I couldn't be successful," she explained.

As a result, Lawrence learned that there was a gap in well-made, well-designed evening clothes retailing for under $1,000.

"The consensus," she said, "was that there were enough super designers, like Oscar de la Renta and that gang."

Fortunately, evening wear had been Lawrence's forte ever since she went on an antique-lace buying frenzy in London in 1976 and started making one-of-a-kind lace wedding gowns and what she calls "occasion clothes" under her Lace Works label.

And if the market survey had said stores needed more sportswear?

"I wouldn't have done it," she said flatly during a showing of the second Lawrence collection at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. Prices ended up topping her $1,000 limit in the ball-gown category, she said, because it became impossible to make a ball gown properly at that price.

"Most important ball gowns are $2,500 or more, so we're still keeping our price points under the expensive market," she said. The most expensive ball gown in Lawrence's collection is $1,790.

Lawrence is partial to "fine, complicated" fabrics, such as silk taffeta, lace and ottoman, and flourishes, such as beading, feathers and fringe. Most dresses come in black ("everyone needs that black dinner dress"), white or red with accents of color, and many styles are classical enough to be worn for years.

Business-Like Approach

Now based in New York, Lawrence spent the past decade in Atlanta, Ga., with her husband. When he died in 1980, she took over his real estate-investment business, and she has concluded that her business-like approach to fashion came as a result of that exposure.

"I knew the pitfalls a lot of designers fall into. I knew that you cannot succeed and be undercapitalized, and I started with my own money. Because of my business background, I knew what had to be done to get to the bottom line."

Keeping her various companies going means working 60 to 70 hours a week. On weekends, she heads to work at Lawrence Ltd., a boutique she opened in Southampton where she is now building a home.

So far the hard work has paid off. "We're having an excellent season," Lawrence reported with assurance.

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