When I first saw Laura Choi, it was the final day of Burning Man, 2015. Illich and I were wandering out of the deep desert after a long art journey, and a vision of several fashionable women resolved out of the dust, walking towards us. One of these women flagged us down. Turns out Illich had met her before. You know this very cool woman? I thought. We chatted for 15 minutes, and she said, ‘Let’s get brunch back in New York.” Making concrete plans out in the middle of the desert seemed laughable, especially with someone so clearly out of my friend league. But I said yes.
A week later, Laura messaged us, confirming plans for brunch. Our friendship blossomed from there into one of mutual admiration.
That, in a nutshell, is Laura. Dreamy, yet dependable. Hard working, yet open to last-minute trips to odd places for meditation and self-seeking. Fashionable and well-connected, yet humble and easy to talk to.
Still, when she told me she was starting a fashion brand last year, I was nervous. It’s hard when a friend you adore tells you that they are embarking on an ambitious creative project. What if it’s…not good? How do you tell them?
Luckily, it turns out that Laura is incredibly talented, with a clear vision. And I am indeed obsessed with her collection, which launched for pre-orders last week. I’m a true super-fan. I want to live in it, play in it, work in it. Embody it. It makes me proud to call her my friend.
Par en Par is short for “doors wide open” in Spanish, and par also means a pair. The name expresses an openness to experience, a breeziness, but also duality. “The pieces are easy and relaxed, but there’s a lot of effort and thought that’s been behind them,” Laura says.
I’m at Laura’s apartment in Brooklyn, a large, minimalist space with palms trees and furniture in rattan or saturated colors. It’s the kind of tranquil apartment that you don’t give up, which is why I’m shocked when Laura tells me she’s moving to L.A. in September, after a road trip through the Southwest with former war photo journalist turned ethical fashion photographer Mukul Bhatia.
They started in Texas this past weekend, went to the art oasis Marfa, wandered through White Sands, and are off next to Santa Fe, Monument Valley, Las Vegas, and a week at Burning Man (where you’ll see her wandering in the dust in a white Playa Robe from her collection), before ending up in L.A., photographing her collection in in each new location. (Follow along on Instagram.) It’s definitely a work vacation. But that’s what she’s about.
“A lot of resort wear brands paint themselves as escapism, dreaming of the next vacation. What I want to invoke in others and myself is, how do you seek balance in your everyday? Relaxing and chilling out, but also working really hard towards something that you’re passionate about, so you don’t feel the need to run away to the beach.”
She says all this as she builds a salad for us out of kale and radishes we picked from her organic garden on the back deck, with a Turkish towel wrapped around her hair and one of her slip dresses on. This is how she lives her life. I’ve been wearing t-shirt dresses at home, but clearly I’m doing it wrong. I mention that I have a drawer full of beach-y stuff that is too over the top for New York City life. “The neons and the pom-noms is definitely not how I dress in real life,” she agrees. “I didn’t feel like there’s anything out there that spoke to my aesthetic on vacations, but, more importantly, in my real life.”
Each piece can be used in infinite situations, in infinite ways. “It’s like athleisure; that’s what I’m trying to do with resort wear. Pieces that you can wear from the office to the airport, and end up at the beach. Just throw on a bikini top and that is your beach outfit,” Laura says.
Laura always intended the brand to be sustainably and ethically made. “I learned during my time at Warby Parker, that there is a way to do business that is thoughtful about the entire supply chain,” she says. She made a consultation appointment with the sustainable designer Tara St. James to figure out what’s possible. “When I started to research, it became apparent very quickly that I can’t do it all. I can’t source domestically using organic fibers at the weight that I wanted at the price that I could pass along to the customer. I pivoted, considering factors like communities that I could work with, distance and freight, so where is the fabric being sourced and where can it then be cut and sewn, and that led me to India.”
She quit her job at Warby Parker last October and traveled to India on a sourcing trip, spending her Thanksgiving there. “I learned about khadi, the value of hand-woven pieces, how important it is to the country. There are networks of communities with looming machines that I could help support. It was perfect for what I was trying to do.”
The initial collection is grown, woven, sewn and dyed in India, with AZO-free dyes. All of the fabrics are organic and made at a place called The 100 Loom Project in Kerala, pictured here, except for the khadi cotton, an off-white fabric which has tiny flecks of cottonseed in it. It’s all in rich, solid colors. “Even the stripe, it’s more of a texture than a print, because those are the things you’ll want to wear on multiple occasions and across a long time. The prints I have in my closet will only make it one, maybe two years,” she points out.
A direct-to-consumer brand, it is priced from $38 to $218. More than fast fashion, but not luxury, either. “I didn’t want to spend three or four hundred dollars on a caftan, that I would wear once or twice and then I would have to dry clean,” she says. The cotton is machine washable, and good for layering.
“They say in India that khadi is great for cool and warm weather. It’s a breathable fabric that retains and dispels heat appropriately. When it’s cold in the city, I’ll bring a slip dress and the corresponding robe as a spring jacket.”
Laura should have no problem selling to her wide group of friends and acquaintances, progressive travelers who are trying to change the world through their entrepreneurship, but love a good party in a tropical location.
“Younger people are valuing experience more, and traveling more, but also trying to live minimally,” she says. “That’s where you get the capsule wardrobe. And they care about their footprint. Whether I’m in L.A. or Tulum, I’m noticing people are trying to connect back to nature and with that comes a sense of responsibility. That should transfer to what you’re putting on your body.”