Artist Interview: Something for us and the kids (Seema Sudan/liaMolly)

The Grace Sweater from liaMolly’s Spring 2011 line.

Wondering through the racks of Anthropologie, one brand of sweaters always jumps out at me. Whether short-sleeved for spring or warm and comfy for winter the vibrant prints and tactile textures of liaMolly always bring a smile to my face.

I quickly learned that Seema Sudan, the mastermind behind the line, is just as vibrant as her creations. I had a chance to speak with her by phone a couple of weeks ago with the goal of learning as much as I could about liaMolly in 45 minutes. Ms. Sudan was ready to fire information at me as quickly as I could write it down.

The first thing to know about liaMolly is that it’s a family affair. Ms. Sudan’s husband Sidney Berthaud runs much of the business side of the company. Their children, Molly and Liam, are the brand’s namesakes and provide both inspiration for and assistance with the designs. The family comes along on inspiration shopping trips, whether cruising through vintage shops or choosing buttons at a specialty store. I asked if the children help out with liaMolly’s annual children’s collection for Anthropologie.

“Absolutely,” said Ms. Sudan. Her daughter Molly helps out with sketching and ideas for the children’s clothing. The mother-daughter team often comes up with stories together to build the line behind one source of inspiration. One year they came up with a fantastical story about a girl who sailed across the ocean and landed on an island where monkeys came to greet her. This tale ended up turning into a book they wrote together. Another year a watercolor hummingbird painted by Molly ended up on one of the children’s line items. Son Liam is less interested in the designs but does put his seal of approval on the items.

Beyond the children’s line, liaMolly is best known for its bold sweater designs that incorporate vintage textiles, unusual designs and interesting shapes. The artisnal aspect of each sweater shows through in the accents — from embroidered sleeves to detail stitching to the buttons and sashes that finish the designs. The Spring 2011 line is inspired by journeys, the paths we take to get to our destinations. Overall liaMolly draws inspiration from sources as varied as jack cards, vintage textiles and walks through New Orleans, the company’s base of operations.

The Annabelle Sweater

The birth and evolution of liamolly begins long before the first sweater was released. Born in Montreal to parents of German and Indian descent, Ms. Sudan spent plenty of time travelling as a child. At age nine she was taught to knit by her Portugese stepmother. After high school in Nashville Ms. Sudan landed in New York City at Parsons. She was one of the few students in her class to work mainly with knitwear.

After school Ms. Sudan got her first taste of entrepreunership when she opened a boutique in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She saw other boutiques rise and fall and learned from the experience of owning a business. When too much time was spent as a buyer for the boutique and not enough as a designer, Ms. Sudan closed the shop and accepted a position at the Liz Claiborne company, and then at Calvin Klein’s CK division.

A few years later Ms. Sudan read an article about Anthropologie. When a chance to meet with their team presented itself, Ms. Sudan capitalized and ended up landing a job as a senior knitwear designer. Like many of the artists I’ve spoken to who work for or with Anthropologie, Ms. Sudan had nothing but good things to say. Anthropologie was a wonderful place to work according to Ms. Sudan and they were very accommodating to her family’s schedule. She had plenty of opportunities to travel while working for Anthropologie, all of which served as inspiration for her designs.

The Aimee Sweater, aka the Blueberry Season Cardigan ($198)

When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Ms. Sudan’s husband felt the tug of his home city calling. The family ended up moving down to New Orleans in 2007. Ms. Sudan left her job at Anthropologie behind but not her connections. When liaMolly was launched in 2008, Anthropologie was among the first stores to carry the line. Since then the line has added Bloomingdales and boutiques nationwide to its stockists. New Orleans is the brand’s long-term home, though.

“The community down here is amazing,” Ms. Sudan said. “They embraced us immediately and with so much enthusiam. I can’t imagine beind anywhere else right now.”

liaMolly participates in New Orleans trunk shows and may one day participate in trunk shows nationwide. “The women who show up are so smart and magical,” Ms. Sudan said. “They’re inspired by the pieces and in turn I’m inspired by them.”

The Babette Jacket, aka the Organic Chemistry Sweater ($248)

The production of each sweater begins with that inspirational spark. It could be a textile, a pattern, or even a color of yarn that serves as the starting point. Once the design is laid on on a sweater, it is sent off to the factory for production. liaMolly uses organic production materials and focuses on processes that create the least amount of waste possible.

Currently the company designs everything in New Orleans, and production is done by a factory in Taipei. But Ms. Sudan hopes to open her own production factory near New Orleans in the future.

“The machine used to make these sweaters — there are only a couple in America. I was able to find this small, family-owned factory in Taipei that has the machine. It’s a very expensive little machine! I’d love to open my own factory here sometime soon. It would be great to have the sweater created from start to finish right here in New Orleans.”

The Capuchin Monkey Jacket

Each season’s line takes several months to create. I asked Ms. Sudan who she designs for.

“Anyone who values high levels of craftsmanship,” she replied. “My customer doesn’t want a mass-produced, low detail piece. They want a piece with a story to it, something that is very special and well-made so they can pass it down to their daughter if they so choose.”

Ms. Sudan went on to say that she sees her sweaters like accessories, like a nice pair of shoes or a statement piece of jewelry.

“It’s one piece that speaks strongly,” she said. “It’s the finishing touch to an outfit; it’s tailored and exquisite and something you can feel good in.”

If you like the sweaters in this post, you can see more at the liaMolly website, currently featuring all the pieces from the Spring 2011 line. There are also three liaMolly sweaters are available at Anthropologie. Fans of the line should come back to EA around lunchtime, when a special contest will debut.

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