“Hello.” “Goodbye.” “Fun?” “Enjoy!” These are just some of the words and punctuation marks that adorn the production output of designer Lisa Perry. From pillows and placemats to pretty A-line dresses, there is no question her brand is an exclamation of ’60s inspired style. Dots and circles, solids and stripes, flowers and rainbows, palettes of primary shades stand out amidst black or white stark backgrounds that structure a living space or an article of clothing. The interiors of her own homes (New York, Palm Beach, and the South of France), shared with her husband Richard, display this signature aesthetic, as does their museum-worthy collection of American and European Pop, Op, modern, and contemporary art. Perry traces the origins of her inspiration to suburban Chicago, where she grew up in a modernist home with mid-century furniture, frequented local thrift shops, and ever a tastemaker, still favors classic fare like hot dogs, Walker Bros., and Garrett Popcorn. It’s the town where she learned that color, like comfort food, can feed one’s feelings and emotions to serve what Perry calls “happy vibes.”
“My parents were part of the 1950s Beat Generation,” says Perry, talking about her father, an aspirational writer and painter, who later owned a textile firm, and her mother, a local Highland Park gallery owner showcasing crafts and works exclusively by college art department professors. Their adventurous spirit led to the purchase of a 1960s home in Riverwoods by architect George Frederick Keck (famous for his House of Tomorrow that debuted at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933), complete with a central indoor glass-encased swimming pool and pieces by American and Scandinavian makers such as Charles and Ray Eames and Arne Jacobsen. “My mom and dad were not furniture collectors per se but they understood and appreciated good design,” shares Perry, noting the influence simple and sleek lines had on training her eye. She selected Marimekko, the Finnish fabric house manufacturing bright and light prints, for her childhood bedroom. This was perhaps a perfect balance to her father’s abstract expressionist paintings that hung on the walls, the Missoni and Pucci caftans her mother wore, and the all-around “very liberal home” that Perry credits with forging her path. “My mom and sister were early feminists and supporters of women’s rights,” says Perry, and the importance of both social and political issues was central to the family hearth and to her own heart.
She moved to Manhattan and enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Technology, learning technical aspects of color dye and theories to apply in her future work at the NYC office of Dana Mills, the family business. “We did the type of furnishings for more commercial places like hotels where the curtains, bed coverings, and everything in the room matched.” Perry dabbled in acting, too, but once married with children, shifted her energy to volunteering at the hospital where her twins had been born, to studying psychology, and ultimately to supporting ways to change the imbalanced ratio of females to males in the Senate. She is a close friend of fellow former Chicagoan, Hillary Clinton, who also wrote the foreword to Perry’s book Lisa Perry: Fashion – Homes – Design (Assouline, 2019). “I felt that I could make a difference,” says Perry, and soon those efforts transitioned from hosting events to empowerment through entrepreneurship in dress and design.
“I first fell for Courrèges when I walked into one of the Paris boutiques on my honeymoon,” recalls Perry, citing her introduction to the streamlined and futuristic French fashions. Vintage became her trademark look and friends began asking where they could purchase the same. “These were one-of-akind pieces,” notes Perry, so with a contact in the garment district she made prototypes of her own vision. What followed were exclusive partnerships with high-end retailers Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys, among others, and stand-alone Lisa Perry shops on Madison Avenue and in the Hamptons. Easy flexible knitwear offered confidence and ease, or more directly put by Perry, “clothes to eat and sit in!”
She collaborated with artists Jeff Koons and the estate of Roy Lichtenstein, and created spaces filled with flavorful accents of her favorite M&Ms, Beatles photographs, and cozy space-age style seating. Perry wanted to outfit clients in both clothing and experience, and that expanded to a children’s line, tabletop objects, and as a result, a diversified price point and audience.
“I can find something great on any budget,” remarks Perry, as she now sets her sights on working with schools, daycares, hospitals, and possibly one day Pottery Barn or Target. While her retail outlets have closed, a few months ago she sold her first real estate venture of a Lisa Perry Home in Palm Beach, with architecture, artwork, and interiors all done by Perry. She has currently signed with an agency, TheEye, that she hopes will shift her oeuvre into those more public and institutional arenas. “I have two different personas: minimalistic and bohemian,” laughs Perry, discussing her love for clean and chic lines just as much as her old Levis and embroidery. It’s that mix of whimsical versatility and wholesome values that reveals her Midwestern roots, and maybe even a little secret into how she keeps turning those design dreams into reality.
For more information, visit lisaperrystyle.com.