Lepore in her New York office, before a wall of photographs that serve as her inspiration

Once the rigors of the twice-yearly New York Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week are complete, where might you find Nanette Lepore? At 1775 Collins Ave. “We’ve been going to The Raleigh since my daughter was one and a half,” the designer says (Violet, the offspring in question, just turned 14). “I’m a creature of habit—once I fall in love with a place, it’s hard for me not to go back. And everyone knows us there. After three months of really hard work, it’s a great, quick getaway.”

Indeed, it’s not uncommon to spot Lepore during such trips on Lincoln Road checking out the Sunday flea market or tucked into a corner of The Raleigh’s lobby, attempting to best Violet at the latest board game recommended by Crispy Soloperto, the famed hotel’s concierge. “It’s very sweet how she’ll surprise Violet with a new game,” Lepore says.

If it sounds like Lepore has become enamored of the South Beach lifestyle during these frequent sojourns, you only have to peruse her Spring/Summer 2012 collection for confirmation. This season, Lepore has crafted an artful mélange of neon brights and soft pastels, in breezy silhouettes that also put a fine point on the ladylike codes so important for spring (a tangerine sundress under a sleeveless overlay in pale blue lace was a particular standout). Were the sunny colors of South Beach an inspiration? Lepore doesn’t hesitate. “Oh, absolutely,” she says. “We had a lot of fun with the sort of Miami Vice aspects of the palette, taking those super bright colors and playing with the mix of the soft pastels against them.”

LEFT: Looks from Spring/ Summer 2012. RIGHT: Kristin Chenoweth in a velvet Jewel dress from Nanette Lepore’s Fall 2010 collection

Lepore also experimented with her fabrications, painting a layer of fluorescent color over some prints, which enhanced the well-saturated effect she was trying to achieve. “That wasn’t an easy process, but once it worked, it made the prints so sensational,” she says. “It was ultimately a really freeing show for me; the fabrics spoke so much that the clothing didn’t demand a lot of detail. The result was clean and simple shapes that felt really classic, like nipped-in waists on full skirts, which feels so right at the moment. The whole world has gotten a little more demure, away from edgy sexiness and more into the sweeter side of sexy. [This collection] shows that you can be ladylike and still make a bold statement with the colors and prints.”

Accessories and her Swim collection play into similar ideas, Lepore notes. “The Swim is so Miami,” she says. “I feel the same way about the totes; I pick one up and immediately want to head to the beach.” And while Lepore practices what she preaches—that is to say, the suitcase she brought to The Raleigh in late February was filled with her own collection—she admits that her transition from on-the-move New Yorker to laid-back Miamian takes at least one day. “I’m excited to wear the bright stuff, but I have to wait until the second day, after I’ve had a little bit of sun and my eyes have adjusted to the change in the light and the sky. Then I’m ready to put on these bright colors. But it’s also a great lesson as a designer: The climate isn’t always New York City; there’s another world of weather and color out there, and that really helps me design.”

She also gains insight into both the local culture and climate during what she calls “a must-stop on our first afternoon,” at her Bal Harbour boutique. “What I always discover is the great sense of family about my customers in that store in particular,” Lepore explains. “It’s not uncommon to see mothers and daughters shopping together, or whole families. I love doing clothes that are flirty and fun and fresh, and the colors are always bright, and that really does speak to the Bal Harbour customer.” That boutique also created a more effortless path for Lepore to debut her Swim line two years ago. “Bal Harbour showed us we had a year-round customer for Swim, which I’d been wanting to do for some time,” she says. “But you really have to be a specialist to get swimwear right. Luckily a great partner came along at the right time, Manhattan Beachwear, and everything fell into place.”

When we speak in early February, Lepore talks about the various projects on her plate—she’ll appear as a guest judge on Lifetime’s Project Runway All-Stars this month, and soon she’ll head to Tokyo to open a new boutique in that city’s Ginza district; the Manhattan-based designer is also endlessly passionate about her ongoing efforts to revitalize New York’s once-thriving Garment District. Even so, it’s clear her plans for post-Fashion Week escapes never stray too far from top of mind. “I’m really excited that Michael Schwartz has taken over [The Royal] at The Raleigh, and I have always loved The Room, a great, intimate wine bar off Collins,” Lepore says, and for a moment it’s obvious the pressures of an imminent runway show just completely fall away. “I can’t wait to check it all out.”

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