Studio Visit: Commune and Memoir

The city is a very tough place to describe. It’s often coined the “city that never sleeps” or a “concrete jungle where dreams are made up,” and if you asked most people to describe NYC in a word, they’d probably say loud, busy, fast-paced, impolite or exciting. But the founder of new NYC-based brand Commune and Memoir, Laura De Valencia, has a different opinion. This Barranquilla-raised chick didn’t grow up in New York, but she definitely has a unique perspective on how to describe the center of the universe. “I grew up surrounded by vibrant colors and one of the largest carnivals in the world, exposed to a mix of cultures and a convoluted political scene,” Laura explains.

Laura De Valencia

Commune and Memoir is a cool new brand that’s taking word play to a new dimension. Laura describes New York with 8 adjectives [Galvanic, Spectral, Idyllic, Abrasive, Pervasive, Inexhaustible, Fervent and Elusive] and puts them on a black or white tee. They’re crisp, modern and an ultra cool piece to add to your closet, mostly because it goes with just about everything! Laura attended design school and law school, so it’s safe to say she has a way with words — and how they look. She says of the brand, “It’s a conceptual brand that aims to describe New York in one word. It pays homage to the city and its poetry, to the literature of everyday life, to the flaneur and the modern observer.” Read on to learn all about Laura’s start, her favorite word and her go-to places to eat and shop in our fine city.

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Tell us a little bit about Commune and Memoir.

The contradiction of my life is starting Commune and Memoir which is all about broad vocabulary and well-spoken English when English is not my native language. The brand involves an aspiration of eloquent speech; the struggle of the immigrant with a huge appreciation for language who is obliged to interact using one that they don’t dominate with confidence; the excitement of discovering that some words rooted in Latin that are common in Spanish also exist in English (even though they are rather uncommon in everyday conversation/small talk); or just the nostalgia of speaking fluently and unselfconsciously.

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Which is your favorite word?

From the collection, I have to say “elusive.” It is a very personal interpretation of a city that has seemed so far away. And even now that I live in its very heart, it feels a little distant, almost as if I can’t quite grasp it. Hopefully other people can relate to that feeling.

What inspired the actual design of the shirts? What inspires you, in general?

I started with intricate illustrations of the words, but when I was thinking about the brand aesthetic I ended up going for a more timeless, decanted and clean approach. In general, my inspiration comes from a variety of disciplines. I have respect for fashion design, sensitivity for poetry, curiosity for philosophy. I try to keep my eyes open looking for beauty, perplexity and literature in my own life. A lot of ideas stem from those observations.

What’s next for Commune and Memoir?

I see Commune and Memoir as a concept more than a product. I certainly don’t want to be limited to t-shirts and would like to focus on collaborations to expand the product line. More cities are also on the horizon: Barcelona, Amsterdam and Cartagena (Colombia) to name a few.

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How do you choose the words you feature?

I have long lists of words that I have been jotting down over the years. The selection process is very intuitive and it involves a certain anxiety, but it is obviously the best part of this project. I constantly think about getting other people involved in the word selection process. I would love to see New York described by Paul Auster in one word. Why not?

What other designers do you look up to? 

I have always admired graphic designer Maria Rogal for her social impact in Latin communities, Jessica Walsh‘s boldness, Isidro Ferrer‘s playfulness , fashion designer Phoebe Philo since her Chloe days, the guys from Mono Diseño (Colombia) with their fresh perspective on urban design and paraphernalia.

Is there someone you would love to collaborate with? 

There are many designers, thinkers and multidisciplinary brands I would love to collaborate with. The brand Carpenter’s Daughter comes to my mind. I would love to see our words on one of their aprons!

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Describe your favorite outfit.

I have discovered that I can feel comfortable wearing a variety of different styles, from clean and bold to what Colombian fashion writer Vanessa Rosales describes as “Caribbean chic.” However, my daily uniform consists of Gap boyfriend jeans, crew neck sweaters, a soft cashmere scarf and black Doc Martens.

What are the top 3 items on your fashion wish list?

wish list

I have been trying my best  to shop less frequently and invest on timeless pieces with better quality. My current wish list includes:

  1. Dieppa Restrepo Penny Loafers, $255 This NY-based brand made me fall in love with oxfords when they were not even trendy for women. Their quality and colors are one of a kind.
  2. Vince Asymmetric Leather Trim Vest, $425: This black vest is a great candidate to become a closet staple.
  3. Illesteva Milan Sunglasses, $300: I love these sunglasses.

What do you like to do on your day off?

NYC has so many options. It is quite the unceasing city. It all depends on the weather. During the summer I am always trying new restaurants in Brooklyn or Queens, catching up with the art scene in Chelsea galleries or relaxing in Central Park. My days off in the winter usually include wine, cheese, a good book, the latest edition of The Gentlewoman, Downton Abbey and a good meal cooked by my husband.

If you could have lunch with anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Nothing would be more surreal than reuniting with my grandfather. He planted the seed of Commune and Memoir in my heart and I would love to tell him about everything I am doing.

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What is your favorite restaurant in New York?

I was recently impressed by Claudette in the West Village. The experience, the service, the interior, the lighting and obviously the food.

What is your guilty pleasure? It can be a food, tv show, hobby…

Irrational amounts of truffle cheese, Felicity re-runs, fashion magazines and Instagram.

What are your favorite stores in NYC?

Usually the ones I am not expecting to encounter during a random walk. I love La Garçonne, Duo, Oak, Cloak & Dagger and all the little vintage stores in Brooklyn.

Out of everyone in the world, who would you be most excited about wearing a Commune and Memoir tee?

It would be an unprecedented honor to see Maria Popova [of Brain Pickings] wearing any of my t-shirts.

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Pick up your own Commune and Memoir for $30 right here.

Photos by David Goddard // Styling by Diana Hernandez