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Fashion Talk with Laura Byrnes: Exclusive Interview with Pinup Girl Clothing

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Located in the heart of California lies the best selection of vintage designs and representations of the retro era, Pinup Girl Clothing. As one of the best places to shop, they offer an extensive selection of timeless classics that have been modernized to captivate your inner and outer hauteness. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with the woman who started it all, the amazing Laura Byrnes. Here is what she had to tell me...

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(Q) Hello Laura. How are you? It's great to finally talk to you. I am a big fan of your work. First and foremost, I just want to say that everything at Pinup Girl Clothing is just so fabulous. It's almost as if it brings me back to a different time. The timeless designs are classic, but yet have such a modernized appeal to them which I truly love.

Hello Sarah. I am great. Thank you so much.

(Q) For all of those fashion fanatics reading this interview, can you tell them a little more about Pinup Girl Clothing? I am also curious to know, what inspired you to create this store? Tell me a little more about this...

We started in 1997, but we didn't launch the website until 1999. I was pregnant with my first daughter in 1996 and I received some baby clothes from my aunt for my baby shower. I thought they were gorgeous and adorable. It turned out they were homemade. I was so intrigued that I decided that I wanted to make clothes for my baby. So, I had my husband's mom give me a couple of sewing lessons, so she did. After I learned the basics, I decided to get a sewing machine and just started progressing from there. So, at first I was just making baby clothes. Once you learn how to make a pattern for baby clothes, you tend to learn more from there. Babies are great to start on. I truly recommend that if anyone wants to sew, definitely get a baby.

(Q) Hahaha, that is so cute. I love this story!

They are little barrels with arms and legs. You don't have to worry about their shape. You can learn from there. I didn't start out using a lot of fabrics, while learning to sew, so in case I would mess it up because if you mess it up, you can start over. So, from there, I started making my own clothes. It was the late 90s and I'm a punk rock chick, and I couldn't find anything in the stores that fit my style, so from there I decided to make clothes for myself. I have been into fashion since I was 13. From that point, I actually got pretty decent. I was starting to make my friends clothes. It just kind of snowballed from there. The first 2 years, one of the reasons we didn't launch the website was because I was very busy, doing commissions for people. I was making clothes. I really enjoyed swing dancing designs. If you have ever watched the movie Swingers, it is pretty much the precursor to big pinup, vintage scene that is happening now.

It just kind of grew from there. So, then I launched the website. We grew really slowly. We were making clothes custom up until about 2003, I think and then we switched to production. We did that because we were getting so busy and at that point we were losing money. Trying to do so many custom pieces, it took too long so sew each piece and we only had 6 in-house seamstresses. They were constantly busy. We did everything from clothes for burlesque dancers to swing and exotic dancers, you name it. So, we just kind of grew from there. It's interesting, I remember getting interviewed by a local paper about vintage inspired clothes. They called me up and proceeded to ask me questions. One of them was something along the lines of "what are you going to do when this trend is over?" and I told them that I don't think that this is a trend. There is always going to be a market for well fitting, classic, high quality clothing that flatter people's figures.

(Q) Most definitely. It's "in" forever. I agree with you.

Exactly. So basically, the classic 50s silhouette has actually never gone out of style. It's been reinterpreted, but there has never been an era since then when the basic shape disappeared. Even what Dior was doing with the wasp waist. If you read his biography, you will realize he was born in 1905 and his mother was a Victorian woman. And she in the early turn of the century would wear corsets and very structured clothing. Dior was inspired by that. You know, the corseted waist and he just put full skirts on everything along with the corseted waist. That was his innovation. The fitted bottom full skirt, fitted waist, aesthetically has not gone out of style since the 50s. Maybe in the 70s people were going in another direction, but even then you could find the wrap dress. But that is how we started.

(Q) I have to tell you Laura, I truly love that you got so in depth with this. When it comes to fashion, you truly know what you are talking about. That is so impressive.

Thank you. I am obsessed when it comes to fashion. I take it very seriously.

(Q) You know, I can tell by not only talking to you, but looking at your website and your work. It shows in your work, as a result. So, I wanted to tell you that I am amazed at how gorgeous the designs are. I wanted to ask you, currently, what are best selling pieces right now?

We have a lot. We actually got to a point where we had to separate the lines. Internally, we have a category called "Classics" as these are styles we cannot keep in stock. They sell out so quickly. We started to budget to keep those in stock as much as possible. I would say the top sellers would be the "Monica Dress", which I find amazing because if you look at the Monica it is this super sexy, fitted wiggle, cocktail dress and you think to yourself where would I wear that? It is our top seller right now.

My "Laura Byrnes Trousers" were a sleeper in the beginning. At first I think people were afraid of them because it's so hard to find a good fitting, pair of pants. I think women wear jeans because they will accentuate and mold to your body over time. Denim tends to give over time, so it kind of keeps that shape. People buy denim because it's easy and they can get it to fit. It is really hard to find a pair of good fitting trousers. I just want to say that we are so lucky to have such a strong social media following. We interact with them, as much as they interact with us. We love our customers as much as they love us. When the customers started posting photos of themselves in the trousers, it was amazing to see. The woman in the 2X looked amazing and the woman in the extra small looked amazing. I love to see women of all sizes wear them. We did the trouser in about 9 different colors and patterns so far, I think.

The "Vamp Dress" along with the "Vamp Top" which is a basic wiggle dress, with a cute bra top. We can't ever keep it in stock. So, to be honest, we have quite a few top sellers, but the trousers, the Monica dress, the Vamp dress, and top come immediately to mind.

(Q) That is amazing. I was going to tell you too that I absolutely love the Birdie Dress, the Jessica Dress, the Heidi Dress, and the Vamp Dress along with the Gia Dress. All gorgeous. I wanted to ask you, where do you get the inspiration to name these dresses?

The very first dress I named was when I realized I had to go into production. I had to stop making custom because I was going to produce my very first line of dresses. I had to choose 6 or 7 styles at that time, so I was sitting with a friend of mine at a diner actually. We were talking about how we wanted a basic dress. The "Nettie Dress", a cute little sundress with spaghetti straps. The woman I was having dinner with was named Jeanette, but we called her 'Nettie' for short, so I am drawing out the dress. She says to me that she always wanted a dress made out of the candy dot. You know, the candy sheet of candy dots? Well, I thought it would be so cute to have little dots of all different colors. So, she came up with the print for the very first Nettie. That was when I said to her that this will be called the Nettie Dress. So, we named that particular dress after her.

I love it because usually when manufacturers do a design they give it some sort of weird letter or number designation. I am a very visual person and I am terrible with spreadsheets and numbers. I can do geometry and all of that abstract math. I find it easier to identify the dresses by names. So, we started naming them after models, friends, and even customers. The "Heidi Dress" is named after pinup model Heidi Van Horne who was modeling for us at the time. We have so many dresses named after our models. We have a "Micheline Dress" as well as a "Masuimi Dress" and much more. The "Ella Dress" is named after a customer. I've named a dress after my sister, as well as, my mom. A lot of our dresses are named after people we know, etc.

(Q) That is amazing!

Yes, it is a great way to identify the dresses. We also try to envision the person inside of the dress. Sometimes it will be a classic celebrity. For instance; the "Sophia Dress" was named after Sophia Loren. The "Rita Dress" was named after Rita Hayworth. So, we imagine and envision the woman in the dress and that is basically how we kind of do it. It's very creative and a lot of fun. It's also very easy to remember.

(Q) Wow, that is amazing. I wanted to tell you that your styles are so cute and timeless, but I truly see a modernized appeal that is so unique and haute.

I am always inspired. In fact, I have a ton of reference material. I actually collect old magazines, catalogs, and so on. It's very easy to open up those books, take a look at a vintage dress, and copy it. But to me, it's well, 2014. Hahaha. There is a lot of variety and different styles out there, but I find it easy and fun to take them and update them for the modern woman. Sometimes the styles from that generation were odd. If you look at the sleeves on some of the dresses from that time, you will notice how some are almost down to your elbow, so it's not really a half sleeve or even a quarter length sleeve. I don't know what kind of sleeve it is. So, when I see a beautiful vintage dress and I get inspired, the first thing I correct are the sleeves.

(Q) That is fantastic. You are truly talented.

I don't want to sound arrogant, but I consider myself to be a designer. I learned to make patterns and from there, I executed those patterns into my designs. I don't consider myself to be a manufacturer.

(Q) You know, that doesn't sound arrogant at all because you are just telling the truth.

Well, sometimes women kind of get shamed for telling the truth. I don't know if you have ever noticed that.

(Q) I have noticed that. I think that definitely has to change.

Initially and also as a designer, I have had some dresses that were very close to inspirational pieces. Sometimes you look at something and you think you can do something to better to it. To me, if you are going to call yourself a designer what you need to be doing is taking your own inspiration and creating your own items. It is ok to base it on anything. No one creates something from nothing. When I read about Christian Dior, he was heavily influenced by my other favorite designer Charles James. He isn't as well known because he was very difficult to work with. Dior had the personality. Charles James was an engineering genius, but he was difficult. He always came in after deadline and over budget. When you look at Charles James work 10 years before Dior, you can see what Dior took inspiration wise and as a result, he credited him. So, to me everyone takes inspiration from something or someone. You want to be identifiable. When you see a woman walking down the street wearing our dresses, you can tell it's our dress. We wanted the dresses to be modern, but also harken back to its roots and original silhouette from the middle of the century.

(Q) That is amazing. You know, I wanted to tell you that the first thing that I noticed about Pinup Girl Clothing is the fact that you have collections, as well. Everything from 'Party Glamour' to 'Spring Fling' etc. I am looking at all of the dresses and they are so original, so classic, and so unique in a sense where it's current and haute. I also love the fact that you use all different kinds of patterns too. I also love the fact that you use models with all different types of body types, as well. There is nothing more shameful and sad than fashion and brand discrimination.

I have a little problem with that, with discrimination. I hate hearing when it does come up. When mainstream designers are asked about it, they always come up with the crappiest reasons. They are just cop-outs. They say "well, that's the sample size and that can't change." Why do you have only these models that are tiny? The magazines say "well, we have to use a size 0 because the samples from the designers are a size 0." It is just wrong.

(Q) I agree with you 100% Laura.

It's like a whole entire circle jerk just circling the drain. They always go with a size 0 and don't know why. I'm sorry, but you know why. You know why? I will tell you why. Because it's all about high-end fashion and the only people who are buying it are very rich people. Very rich men, in particular with their very rich girlfriends or wives. Do these very rich men require their women to be that size? They are dressing their trophies. The consumer, the average woman who is buying clothing is all different shapes and sizes and that is the reality of it all. I recommend the book "The Theory Of The Leisure Class" by Thorstein Veblen. He is the man who coined the term conspicuous consumption and he speaks about this in his book that whenever the elite do something, everyone below it starts to copy it because they want to be seen as better than they are and it creates this kind of feedback, this kind of pattern of the only thing anyone ever wants to do. Then, people are scared to change it. Going back to the models, if they use a model that is a different size (say a size 10) than the average model (a size 0), what is going to happen? Well, the truth is the woman who is the size 10 will be happy and she is going to look at that size 10 model and know how the clothing is going to fit her. To me, it's logic and has always been logic.

(Q) That is so amazing and I have to point out that I love the way that you think, as well. You definitely lay it out there in a sense where you can speak for the vast majority of status quo society. We live in this society where people believe a woman should be a size 0. Sometimes even lower than that to look beautiful.

Women should be "screw you". We don't sit there and criticize men. We don't sit there and say in order for men to be accepted they should be this height or this size, etc. No one sits there and criticizes the man if he doesn't have a wash board stomach. It just doesn't happen, you know. The fact is, women are pressured. When a woman starts criticizing another woman it is one of the most damaging things ever. This creates tension among women and how they view each other. Then, they try to police and judge other women. When something goes against what is accepted as normal, they find themselves feeling inferior. When society in general turns against someone because of how they look, that is wrong.

(Q) Most definitely.

When I started my company, I didn't start it to become rich or famous. Sure, it was nice to have the means to put food on the table and a little bit of money into my daughters college fund. I didn't come from a family with money. I started it because I just wanted to be secure and just be happy. I also started it because I wanted to make other people happy. In fact, that has always been the ultimate goal for me. I want my customers to be happy and it certainly doesn't make them happy to only see one type of woman to represent a brand. You hear all of these people making excuses for why this is happening. So, I felt that if I was going to do this and I was going to sell clothing in all different sizes, I had to put my money where my mouth is and feature models of every single size.

The same goes for ethnicity, as well. I see people who make excuses why they won't use a model of a certain ethnicity. To me, that is an element of racism there. They are afraid of using a model who is not white is going to bring down their brand. "Oh no, it's going to appeal to the urban people" and so forth. No, it is not. Use the Latino models, use African American models, use everybody. Using all ethnicities will bring you a lot of customers and I welcome anyone and everyone to shop with us.

(Q) That is so great. For all of those fashion fanatics and enthusiasts reading this interview, what would you like them to know? What is next for Pinup Girls Clothing?

We try not to think too far ahead. We are always constantly creating something new. This year has been all about polishing everything. We are working effectively, as well as, efficiently. Getting everything done that we need to do. Our customer base in the last two years has really expanded. It has been great, but does take a toll on our production capacity to keep up. So, this year we have been concentrating on increasing production and so, we do look ahead, but we kind of let our instincts and our customers guide us. For instance; we hear from customers "well, why don't you have this?" or "why don't you have that?" One thing that is coming up soon is that we are launching a maternity line within the next couple of months.

(Q) That is amazing!

I was pregnant in 2012 and in 2013, so every time I posted a photo of myself in Pinup Girl, fans and customers would ask for a maternity line. Some of the clothing already works, however; once I got a little bigger, I had to alter some of the styles. And as a result, everyone suggested that I start a maternity line. So, that is what is coming soon and I am very excited about it.

We would also like to open up a couple of new stores. That is on the back burner right now. It is something we want to focus more on in the future. We are kind of just letting our instincts guide us. We also don't believe in growing super quickly.

For more information about Pinup Girl Clothing, please visit www.pinupgirlclothing.com today.

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