The local clothing designer uses tango for inspiration for one-of-a-kind dance attire.
When apparel designer Margarette Laizure began showing up at local milongas (tango social dances) wielding a rack of her latest tango fashions, it wasn’t the culmination of a shrewd marketing campaign strictly to fill a niche.
It was because Laizure, a fresh-faced California girl, had recently discovered the allure of Argentine tango. The music “knocked her socks off,” and as she learned the dance, she needed something to wear. Thus she made and wore her own handmade, one-of-a-kind dresses, which prompted a fellow dancer to suggest that Laizure start a line of tango clothes.
For years Laizure had been creating classic and chic garments for women that sold at Bay Area boutiques. But being an independent designer didn’t come easy. Aside from a stint in Budapest where she got paid to illustrate and paint, her jobs were unfulfilling and unrelated to art. Often told by employers that she “didn’t fit,” they’d instead point at her self-designed outfit and say, “You should do that.”
It wasn’t until she lost her web design job in the 2000 dot-com bust that she addressed the voice she’d dismissed for decades: “You are an artist,” it kept commanding. “You must express that in the form of clothes.”
Growing up, Laizure had no particular pull for fashion. “Clothes were for playing. That’s it.” Plus, despite the fact that everyone in her family sewed — men included — she hated sewing.
Still, she obeyed the voice: In one frenzied night of sketching, she answered the fantasy to pursue costume design and by morning had produced a portfolio.
Soon Laizure was volunteering at an opera company as assistant costume designer. She took low-paid jobs at theater groups, studied apparel design at College of Alameda, and sharpened her skills as a tailor at Macy’s. She became in-house designer at a shop in Noe Valley and gradually expanded from there, experimenting and learning the fashion game. She then met Kim X. Mossman, a vintage fashion collector and mentor to emerging Oakland artists who founded La Clotherie cottage — a place for people interested in style to gather through pop-ups or private trunk shows. Laizure now works as La Clotherie’s in-house “couturière.”
Lithe and leggy, Laizure never felt a particular pull towards dance. But when she stumbled upon a tango class a year ago, she immediately knew: “That’s what I want to do.” Seeing a live performance by a Buenos Aries band left her giddy with possibility.
Laizure has the advantage of knowing the tango culture as she crafts the clothes, balancing sensual with functional, mixing colors and shapes. At the initial pop-up in May, Laizure discussed a waistband with one dancer while another took a silky skirt for a test spin. It passed. The customer appreciated its comfort and movement: “light and airy, like flying.”
Daniel Singer, a dancer and instructor, believes in Laizure’s approach. He said most tango attire comes from Argentina with a huge markup and without flexibility for modifications.
Tango is an intricate dance, and Singer estimated that mastery takes 10 years. That amounts to a lot of garb. Laizure’s got it covered: In launching the line, she aims to roll out a new design each month. She’ll still make the everyday clothes that people want. She’ll still do alterations and custom orders. But tango unleashes her creativity. “I want to make tango dresses like nothing you’ve ever seen,” she said.
Freshly motivated, Laizure is kneeling on the floor of the sunny La Clotherie Cottage, swiftly slicing through fabric with what looks like a pizza cutter. “This is what I’m meant to do,” she said, bouncing from one sewing machine to another, zipping through seams. “Make stuff out of stuff.”
Sensing that she’d be further along if she’d listened to the voice sooner, she encourages people to follow their inspiration. “And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”
Tango Fashion Pop-ups
Thu., Sept 12, 7-11pm, Allegro Ballroom, 5855 Christie Ave., Emeryville
Sat., Sept 21, 8 p.m.-1:30 a.m., Russian Center of San Francisco, 2460 Sutter St., San Francisco
Sun., Sept 22, 4-9 p.m., La Paz, 401 Van Ness Ave., Room 212, San Francisco
Sat., Sept 28, 4-9 p.m., Sycamore Tango Club, 635 Old Orchard Dr., Danville
Find these and other events at MargaretteLaizure.com/events.html.