The Best is Yet to Come
Lauren Kirby and Carson Monahan share their inspiration for House of St. Clair
by Andrew Dunkin
Photographs by Claire Schaper
Sitting down with Carson Monahan and Lauren Kirby at the sophisticated brick-and-mortar headquarters of House of St. Clair surrounded by sketches and fabric swatches, it’s hard to imagine that the pair launched the Austin-based brand only one year ago. Monahan and Kirby, who are partners in both business and life, moved to Austin from Michigan in 2014 and recently became engaged. In a single year the couple’s modern menswear brand has not only become a creative force in Austin’s exploding fashion scene, but has also spread beyond the city, expanding to stores around the U.S. as well as Japan and Europe.
Monahan made his start in product design at Fortune Goods, a small jewelry and accessories company. From there, he went on to develop what is now House of St. Clair. His designs, drawing on the rich history of textiles, reimagine classic male silhouettes of the ’40s and ’50s in the style of the ’90s grunge, skater and hip-hop movements that shaped Monahan’s childhood.
In her youth, Kirby developed a style all her own, finding inspiration in photos of old runway shows like Celine, Versace, Dior and YSL; she combined classic pieces with current ones to create contemporary looks. She later honed her skills as the director of production and an associate designer at Esby Apparel. Kirby’s current work for House of St. Clair reveals an affinity for iconic designs, but also ventures into modern avenues of style and utility.
We spoke in the couple’s East 12th Street office, where their simple white desks face each other.
Andrew Dunkin: Carson, many of your designs call back to the roots of the garment industry. Where did that inspiration come from?
Carson Monahan: This may sound cliché, but from my granddad. He was one of the first men that I noticed had style. And for me, growing up in the skate and music culture of the ’90s, style was important. He looked elegant no matter what the occasion. Those early influences are with me from season to season, but in our own twist. I’ll take a fabric like check tweed, generally used to make a suit or hunting jacket, and make a hoodie or an oversized shirt. It’s fun to take original influences in menswear and make them into something that speaks to our generation.
AD: How would you describe House of St. Clair?
CM: We combine classic with contemporary. I would consider most of our clothing as unisex. For example, many of our pants have a high rise that works well on women. With our tops, we don’t make anything that is super-slim, so on a guy, it’s more shapeless and draping, which also works well on women.
Our brand advocates for quality of product. It’s always been important for us to have everything made in the U.S.A., not only because we can easily communicate to somebody in California, Texas or New York who’s making our product, but also to ensure top quality control and well-paid partners. When we source materials, we want to know where the best wool comes from, the best corduroy, where the best denim mills are.
Lauren Kirby: Yes, because you can’t stand behind something, say it’s made the right way, and not be part of the process.
AD: Lauren, how did your experience at Esby lead you to join Carson at House of St. Clair?
LK: At Esby, I learned everything from marketing to branding to wholesale, production, design and even down to the finances. That base allowed me to hone in on my love of product development — concept to creation — and the making of the garment.
AD: Tell me a bit about your personal styles and how that reflects House of St. Clair?
LK: My design style is vintage and modern, masculine and feminine. It has to do with my love for old runway shows, vintage pieces, old music and movies. We both enjoy going to vintage and antiques stores to look for clothing, objects, books and art that inspires us. Sometimes it’s just one little detail on an item that we develop further and work around.
AD: I can see you two sitting at home, watching “Casablanca” and taking notes.
LK: [Laughing.] We really do that.
CM: For me, all the influences in my life, from grunge to hip-hop, jazz to electronic, have given me a lineage to draw from. Our style is a mix of the old and new, and I think House of St. Clair reflects that.
AD: What gave you the confidence to develop your personal style to what it is today?
LK: Dressing for myself. We too often dress for the people around us, but you feel most confident when you feel comfortable in your own skin. When I started doing that, I became more confident. And trying more-adventurous looks, because it’s fun to take risks in fashion. I love picking out outfits in the morning, wondering if things will work together, and then seeing them come to life.
CM: Neither of us has a problem with taking risks and wearing something a little different. I like to be comfortable and look good. Clothing is self-expression, so why not have fun with it? If other people think it’s weird, who cares? It’s just clothes.
For us as designers, we want everybody to feel good. I think it’s really cool when people can mix what we create through their own personal lens. We love to see our pieces help people explore their own style.
AD: What are you excited about, and what can you tell us about this spring line?
CM: This spring line was very inspired by our trip to Marrakech in Morocco, specifically the spice merchants in the ancient medina. It is a colorful and cultural explosion that truly invokes a lifetime of inspiration. You’ll find a lot of that color throughout the line.
LK: Many of the shapes we used were inspired by the clothing we saw there as well — a little boxier and longer, making it easy to wear for a variety of body types and during the hottest months.
CM: But I think we are really excited to introduce a women’s capsule in the near future.
AD: Anything you can tell us about it?
LK: Just … more to come!