A blue silk dress designed by DonkeyGirl in Missoula is slated to appear on an upcoming segment of NBC’s “Today” show.
DonkeyGirl is Julia LaTray’s clothing design label, and this year for the first time, LaTray opened a booth at the Saturday People’s Market. She sells casual clothing there, but she also outfits a mannequin in a shimmering fuchsia party dress as an example of the formal designs people can custom-order.
Guess whose eyes the shiny dress caught? Those of Tracey Lomrantz, contributing style editor for Glamour magazine. Lomrantz, on a cross-country trip with her boyfriend, landed in Missoula this summer because of her sweetie’s love for the movie “A River Runs Through It.”
“On our last day there, we wandered over to Julia’s booth at the festival, and I just fell in love with the pink dress she had on display,” Lomrantz wrote in an e-mail. “The color was beautifully unique, and it just called out to me! I’m very visceral about my clothing choices, and I was just drawn to this piece.”
So she ordered it.
At first, LaTray had no idea her customer was a fashion editor. Lomrantz asked LaTray to mail the dress to her work address at Glamour magazine. When LaTray learned Lomrantz wasn’t, say, the IT person there but a fashion editor, she got a funny feeling in her throat.
Then, she found out the dress would be on the “Today” show if Lomrantz got it in time, and she called for reinforcements. LaTray dialed her mother-in-law, Becky LaTray, a skilled seamstress.
“You have to help me. I have to get this dress out in two days and it has to be perfect,” LaTray said.
LaTray is more of an artist with a sewing machine than a seamstress. Friends reminded her that clothing designers typically don’t do much sewing themselves, and in this case, she didn’t. She dyed the material in her kitchen, cut the fabric, and turned it over to her mother-in-law, who sewed it up.
The dress went in the mail, and back came a note from Lomrantz.
“Hi Julia, The dress is PERFECT and I absolutely love it! I want to write a blog about it for glamour.com to introduce our readers to the fabulous DonkeyGirl.”
LaTray, also a painter, has been a rock ’n’ roll musician and a financial adviser. Her first design was sleek silver pants – complete, as it were, with a hole for each rear cheek – for the members of her all-girl band, Clovenhoof.
More recently, she started seeing items in secondhand stores that called out to her. She’d pick up a treasure in a misshapen piece: “That material is so great, but the cut is so awful.”
She’d transform them, and eventually, DonkeyGirl was born. The name comes from another one of her bands, Solid Donkey, and also because she relates to the animal. It’s a creature that’s not in a hurry, but she said it gets things done because it keeps plodding along.
This spring, LaTray won Project Selvedge, an amateur fashion design competition hosted by Selvedge Studio and Betty’s Divine on Missoula’s Hip Strip. Mary Ryan, with Selvedge, said LaTray has an uncommon combination of talents.
“There’s just so few people who can pull this thing off of designing and being creative and being in touch with what will work stylistically and actually being able to produce it and market it and make it happen,” Ryan said. “And Julia can do all of those things just with great style.”
She remembers how LaTray designed beautiful handbags from old leather skirts, “those turquoise skirts from the ’80s.” She’s a Renaissance woman, Ryan said.
LaTray sells her pieces online at DonkeyGirl.net as well as at the People’s Market and sometimes at Betty’s Divine.
She likes to accent feminine cuts and fabrics with hints of rock ’n’ roll, like leather trim or visible zippers or dull metal studs. She likes color, and her home studio nearly vibrates with deep pinks and loud blues and sun-soaked yellows.
The color drew editor Lomrantz, and she plans to wear her DonkeyGirl dress on the “Today” show on Sept. 28. DonkeyGirl isn’t the topic of the show, but the label will be featured in a post on Glamour.com after Lomrantz has a chance to interview LaTray.
“I’m the kind of editor who believes that amazing fashion can come from anywhere, and I love discovering chic pieces in unexpected places,” she wrote. “I wear thrift store clothes and I shop in the boys’ department constantly and I pretty much have no rules when it comes to what I’ll wear, as long as I love it. So discovering a new designer I’d never heard of in Missoula, of all places, really reminded me that style is everywhere, and you just have to keep a wide eye and an open mind.”
LaTray said she’s too cynical to see the order from Glamour as a big break. She’s been in bands on the cusp of being discovered, and then seen the opportunity fizzle out. But she still appreciates the recognition.
“It’s validating that someone who knows about fashion likes my stuff,” she said.
It’s even better when any woman at all loves a dress she made and will wear it and enjoy it, as Lomrantz plans to do. Said LaTray: “All my sketchbooks, all my prototypes hanging in my sewing room are nothing compared to just one woman, any woman, walking around in a dress I made. Isn’t that weird?”