Latex is much more versatile than you think; just ask Laura Petrielli-Pulice.
On this episode, we're joined by Laura Petrielli-Pulice, a fashion designer who has designed for celebrities and icons of art and culture including Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, Beyonce, Katy Perry, and Dita Von Teese.
Her clothing has graced the pages of highly respected fashion magazines such as Vogue, W, Interview Magazine, and more.
Pulice was also runner-up on the Bravo fashion competition show Styled to Rock hosted by Rihanna.
Today, you can buy her clothing from her Shopify store, but her first website went live 20 years ago.
In today's episode, we'll walk through her journey.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: It’s a lot of pressure.
Kurt Elster: It is a lot of pressure. On today’s episode of The Unofficial Shopify Podcast, we are talking to an extraordinary and semi-famous fashion designer, clothing designer, who has been designing clothes for over 20 years. Laura Petrielli-Pulice showcases things on another level, and we’ll get to that part, but she has managed to tap into all levels of markets, and has grown a business creating handmade original designs in California with extraordinary materials, but they now, her brand, Vex Clothing, holds the status of being the world’s most trendsetting and creative fashion design companies.
Her designs have been worn by, get this, Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, and Dita Von Teese. There’s a slight hint in what we may be dealing with here there. Vex has also graced the pages of a variety of respected fashion magazines, such as Vogue, W, Interview Magazine, and more. It gets better. Are you not impressed yet? Pulice was also a runner up on a Bravo fashion competition show. Yes, we got another reality TV star here. Styled to Rock, hosted by Rihanna, if you saw that show.
Her garments are luxury latex attire. I didn’t want you to prejudge this on the basis that she uses an exotic material, latex, so I led with the celebrities and the shows and magazines and all that good stuff first. Laura, when did you get started with this? How long have you been playing with latex?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: I have been playing with latex for 20 years, maybe even longer, because I started messing around with it in college in the late ‘90s.
Kurt Elster: How did this happen?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: So, in Chicago, there was a store called the 99th Floor, and I bought my first rubber dress there, and-
Kurt Elster: What neighborhood was this in?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: That’s like Belmont area.
Kurt Elster: Okay, like near Belmont and Clark?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Where The Alley was.
Kurt Elster: Okay. Yeah, anyone who’s like ‘80s and ‘90s in Chicago as a teenager is well familiar with this area. This is where the cool kids went to be punk.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Absolutely, so I bought my first rubber dress there. My mom actually bought it for me. I probably was like 16, 17. Thanks, mom.
Kurt Elster: Look what she did.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: And when I went to fashion school in New York, that’s a whole other, like I had no idea what I was going to do in high school. They try and steer you in a direction of what you want to be when you grow up, and I had no idea, but I knew I liked to dress up, and just play with what I was wearing, so I decided to go to fashion school. So, I ended up in New York, and learned leather techniques, and I specialized in lingerie in design school, and then I found a latex designer that I interned with, and that is how I learned the craft of latex clothing.
Kurt Elster: I think there’s an interesting lesson here, and that’s like A, it’s kind of fundamentally ridiculous that we put this pressure on teenagers who are like functionally not yet adults, and they’re not children, and we’re like, “Hey, buddy. I know you’ve never worried about a mortgage, or particularly understand how interest rates work, but by the way, need you to figure out what you’re gonna do for the next 60 to 70 years.” Right now.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Seriously, it’s a lot of pressure.
Kurt Elster: And what you said was, “Well, I had an interest, and I had really a thing I wanted to explore,” so I think at that age, it’s the best thing parents could do to enable entrepreneurship, is be like, “Look, explore your hobbies and interests.”
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yes.
Kurt Elster: And that’s kind of like you flat out said, “Hey, my mom bought me my first rubber dress.” Well, look what that turned into. She bought you a rubber dress. At no point did she think, “Man, I’m gonna dress… She’s going to be dressing celebrities equivalent to Madonna.” Obviously they didn’t have Lady Gaga then. Right?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Right.
Kurt Elster: But that’s what that… That’s ultimately what kicked that off. Isn’t that crazy?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yeah. I never really thought about that. It is crazy. It is crazy. So, when I hang up with you, I’m gonna call my mom and thank her.
Kurt Elster: She’ll appreciate it, and then she’ll post that on Facebook for her friends.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Absolutely.
Kurt Elster: Okay, so you went to… You discovered this interest and passion. You went to fashion school, explored it, trained, then interned with a designer who worked with latex, and so you discovered like, “This is kind of interesting.” What was it that made you go, “All right, this is for me. I have a skill with this material.”
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: While I was working there, she hired me, and I just… I loved the material. I thought because I was going to fashion school… She was a fetish designer, so it was primarily just used for fetish interests, but me being going to fashion school, I thought, “Well, I’m gonna incorporate this in my projects and make it a more fashion-oriented material.” And I just, I really loved it. I don’t know. And I was good at it.
I can sew, and I’m really good at sewing and making clothes out of normal fabrics, and I dabbled in that a little bit, but it just… Everybody’s always so into the material that my latex clothing just sold so much better than the fabric materials that I was making.
Kurt Elster: At the time, I don’t know what impact this had, but today, in an age where we’re often wondering like, “Wow, is this Instagrammable?” The allure of latex is it photographs really well, like it’s this very… It shows these very primary colors really well, and it makes dramatic lighting, because it’s shiny. So, in your Instagram, it’s extraordinary, because it’s all these very striking photos from professional photographers, with huge A-list celebrities. It’s very cool.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Thanks. That’s all… I don’t handle the Instagram, thank goodness. It’s been many years, so I have to pat somebody else on the back for that one.
Kurt Elster: Well, it’s very cool. You’re working with latex, and then you’re incorporating these ideas you learned in design school, so you’re starting to combine like, “All right, this material that was relegated to fetish wear, and then combining it with these high fashion concepts.” Where do you go from there, and was that kind of a novel idea at the time?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: So, at the time, yes. I mean, there were some designers, like Thierry Mugler, or Jean Paul Gaultier, that were dabbling in latex, and those are major Paris names for the fashion industry, but I would path on to be kind of the first in the series of designers that would use it as more fashion-oriented, and kind of steering it away from the fetish.
Kurt Elster: What encouraged you to keep going? How did you know like, man, I’m onto something here, this is a good idea?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: I don’t know. I mean, when I graduated, so, my husband now, but my boyfriend at the time, we have been together since high school, so he was still in Chicago, and I knew that I didn’t want to stay in New York, so there was not much of a fashion industry in Chicago, so when I moved back, I was like, “Well, what am I supposed to do?” So, and the internet was just starting, so I started a website, and I made my first samples for the latex line while I was a senior in college, so that when I got back to Chicago, I could just launch it and see where it went.
And here I am now.
Kurt Elster: And what, when you launched this first website, when would that have been?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Oh my God. It would have been 1999.
Kurt Elster: Wow, so you’re… It’s cutting-edge stuff. That’s 21 years ago.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: When you say it, it seems so long. Yes. It was a long time ago. I mean, the internet, there was no Shopify. You had to code everything, and I don’t… I found somebody to help me, and oh, it was horrible. The pictures we took in my first apartment in Chicago, with like construction lights, and just some random model we found. It was horrible, and a friend of mine who was a lawyer who happened to have a camera took the pictures. It was so… It was really bad.
Kurt Elster: But that’s what you do. When you’re starting out, it’s like, “All right, what do we have access to? What can we do?” And like in 1999, it’s a lot harder to access a lot of this stuff.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Oh yeah.
Kurt Elster: The construction lights, that’s a great hack. I did that. 15 years ago, when I wanted to be a photographer.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: It was really… It gave really bad lighting.
Kurt Elster: It’s very harsh.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: It is.
Kurt Elster: And the color’s wrong.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yeah.
Kurt Elster: It’s not… and the halogen’s really hot.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: And I don’t even think I got any orders off of that website for many years, but I had it, just in case.
Kurt Elster: So, you’re doing the design, you’ve got your own brand. You’ve moved, you’ve got a website, and you’re not getting orders. Why keep going with this?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: So, I bartended. I was a bartender at Coyote Ugly.
Kurt Elster: Oh, cool.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: I worked for random designers, just making extra cash, and I don’t know, I just… I loved it.
Kurt Elster: You’re committed.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: I committed. I committed fully. And I wasn’t turning back. In my eyes, what else was I going to do? This was it.
Kurt Elster: I guess that’s a good point. It’s like, “Listen, I’ve gone this far. I might as well keep going and see where it takes me.”
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yeah.
Kurt Elster: Like it’s not a fail. Until you quit, you haven’t failed.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yes. Yes. And I still, to this day, think that. Well, what else am I gonna do? I’ve only done this for over 20 years. Who’s gonna hire me?
Kurt Elster: Well, at this point, I think you’re probably selling yourself short. I’m sure you’re a hot commodity. So, at what point do you end up… At what point does this business start taking off, where you go, “All right, committing to this was a good idea.”
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: I would say probably around 2009, 2010, I was doing it full-time. 100%.
Kurt Elster: So, it was just slowly stacking the bricks, building awareness.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yeah.
Kurt Elster: Okay.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: It feels like it was slow.
Kurt Elster: Yeah, I think that’s how it goes.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: You know, I’m good with slow and steady, because I have a… I always had this feeling that everybody that explodes in the beginning just disappears.
Kurt Elster: There is an advantage to it, building steadily, like it’s much harder to have curveballs come at you and then have the whole thing implode on itself, where if… When you have that like overnight success, you’re right, I think that does, that can take people down. When does the TV show happen? Tell me about the TV show.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: I can’t remember what year it was, but it was somewhere probably around that time, so 2011? I’m gonna guess. I have no idea. At some points, I tried to block out that whole time in my life, of filming. But they had approached me, that Rihanna was doing this TV show, and I ignored the first few emails, and they kept emailing, and then somebody called and they caught me on the phone, and I was like, “Yeah, I guess I’ll try.” And I had to submit a video, and then they called me in for interviews, and then they flew me out to LA, and then the next thing I knew, I was getting locked up in a hotel room, they took my cell phone, and I was filming for six weeks.
Kurt Elster: So, they’ve got this idea for a show that in concept is similar to… What’s the Tim Gunn show?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Project Runway.
Kurt Elster: Project… So, this is like a similar concept to that.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yes. So, and funny thing was the first season of Project Runway, I made it about three quarters of the way through that vetting process, so I could have been on that show, but I guess I wasn’t TV material.
Kurt Elster: They chased you on this show it sounds like. Like they recognized you and knew, “This is the person.”
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: They wanted latex on the show. I brought a good element. So, the concept was a very good concept, where the designers would be designing costumes for musicians, for rock stars. Where it I think failed in my eyes is that we didn’t have that many rock stars on the show. We had Kylie Minogue, and a few others, but… and Rihanna was there every now and again, but for the most part, we had a Kardashian that was going to the Grammys, and it was very random. It could have been much better.
Well, and I signed a lot of paperwork. I signed my life away, so there’s a lot of things I probably can’t say.
Kurt Elster: Oh, those NDAs have to expire at some point. That was 10 years ago.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: You know, who knows? I guess I met some really good friends and connections to the industry, which has helped me.
Kurt Elster: When you were on that show, at that point had you designed for celebrities yet?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: I had, but a very small amount.
Kurt Elster: And so, do you think this show was, like the big outcome from the show, was it PR or was it the network?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: I would say networking is that I met Mel Ottenberg, who is Rihanna’s stylist, and a really, really famous stylist, and we kind of became friends, so that’s… He helped me a lot. And recommended me for jobs, which is great, or hired me for jobs after, which is even better. I don’t think a lot of people watched the show. I did, visiting New York a couple times, had people stop me because they recognized me from the show, which-
Kurt Elster: Oh, that’s cool.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: It only happened a couple times, but when it does, you’re like, “Are you serious? Were you like the only person that watched that show?” But you know, I forget that people actually watched it, like people were into it, because it was Rihanna’s show. But for me, it was just like it was six weeks out of my life.
Kurt Elster: So, what’s the thing you think people would be most surprised by about a reality TV experience?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Well, they did take my cell phone. I had my business up and running. I had to hand it over to my assistant. I could not have any aspects of involvement in my business. It was just the TV show, so I had no… I couldn’t talk to my family. I had a daughter who was three at the time, and I had to unplug from everybody for six weeks.
Kurt Elster: That’d be very hard.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: It was very hard. It was really hard. When I finally got my phone back, I probably had about 100 voicemails from my husband, my daughter, and my family, like, “Are you okay?”
Kurt Elster: What did they not know where you were going?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Well, they knew I was going to LA, but that’s pretty much all they knew. It was very secretive.
Kurt Elster: I did not realize the level of secrecy and being sequestered here.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yeah. I mean, they picked me up from the hotel room, and I had to hand over any kind of telephones or anything that I might have had, computers, and that was it. Other than that, I mean being there and working, and being creative, and not having to worry about anything else in my life… They had catering, they had anything I needed was already taken care of. All I had to do was work, create, and concentrate on winning. That part of it I loved. I loved every minute of that. I had zero responsibility other than creating and being creative.
Kurt Elster: I’ve heard that about being on a set, is that it’s otherworldly in that everything is taken care of for you, and so it could be very seductive in that sense.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yeah. I mean, everybody says when you’re on set, “Hurry up and then wait.” There’s a lot of that goes on. It takes forever to do a two-second scene, so in that aspect, it’s pretty boring. But the parts that we were working, and making things, we were in the studio working probably 10 to 12 hours a day.
Kurt Elster: Wow.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: And at that point, there’s just cameras following you around. It’s not a big deal. But when you actually have to do the scenes where you’re on the runway, that stuff takes forever.
Kurt Elster: And so, the big thing to come out of this for you is like A, you’ve got the network, you’ve got some social proof there, like I’m sure that got dropped in many conversations, like, “Oh, I was on this TV show with Rihanna.” Like how do you not?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yeah. It’s something that I… In the beginning, yes. It's something that I don't even hardly mention anymore. It’s irrelevant now, pretty much.
Kurt Elster: I know. When you first brought it up to me when we were talking months ago, you were… It very much sounded like this embarrassing thing you didn’t want to mention.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: A little bit. You know, I guess if it would have taken off and it was more like a Project Runway, I would probably be a little bit more open about it. It was fun, though. It’s a part of my life. I’m not gonna hide it, but I did it.
Kurt Elster: I would have it like tattooed on my neck. Ask me about reality TV!
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: That’s a horrible thing to do. Don’t do that.
Kurt Elster: So, all right, so from that, that show, clearly that opened up doors for you.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yeah. It wasn’t like an explosion. Again, slow and steady. I made a couple connections. I made some really great friends, but I was still in Chicago, and I went back to Chicago, and it’s hard to be creative, and it’s hard to have a creative company in Chicago, in fashion. I was in the wrong spot.
Kurt Elster: And so, after the show, which that happened in LA, was that the time where you went, “Man, all right, I gotta go. We need to go to LA?”
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yes and no, so my husband and I talked about it over and over again, and we were going to LA a lot anyways, because my husband loves to surf, we’re always in the mountains, snowboarding, camping, so we would come out to LA a lot. Every three months, maybe. But it was many years till we actually did it, till he found a job and he was like, “Okay, we gotta go in like three months.” So, we have a house in Chicago still, and we just… We rented it out and left.
Kurt Elster: And how long ago was that that you moved to LA?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Three and a half years ago.
Kurt Elster: And at what point did you start getting access to and designing for celebrities?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: The minute I landed here, Beyoncé’s stylist, which I had worked for a little bit in Chicago, had contacted me and I said, “Oh, I just moved to LA,” and she goes, “Fantastic!” And then I did the whole tour. It was-
Kurt Elster: Whoa!
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: It was the first month that I had moved here, and then I’m not exaggerating, from that point on, I have been working with celebrities since.
Kurt Elster: And so really, it sounds to me like there are two core components to your business. It’s working with celebrities, making like custom couture for celebrities, so costume wear, stuff for touring, for shows, for magazines, and then even like social media, and then also, your direct-to-consumer sales, where you’re taking-
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yes.
Kurt Elster: Which comes first? Like are you reselling the pieces?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: That’s tough.
Kurt Elster: What goes on here?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: So, I have yearly collections, or what happens is sometimes it’s every two years, because I’m so busy sometimes doing the celebrity stuff, I don’t get to do the collections. And that’s what we sell on the website. And people can contact me for custom work via the website, as well. So, we have those sales, and then I have the sales for the tours, or the celebrities, or the custom work for that sort of thing, so it’s one entity, but it’s also two entities, because the sales that go through the website are through the website, and then I have the custom work that doesn’t go through the website.
Kurt Elster: And so, once you had Beyoncé is a client, which is wild, does that open doors? Are the floodgates open, come on in? What occurs next?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: So, before Beyoncé was Gaga, but I did Gaga when I was still in Chicago, so I did her whole Artpop Tour.
Kurt Elster: Wow.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Prior to leaving Chicago, and the funny thing is, is the girl that was running wardrobe, she went to Resurrection with me, and she happened to find out that I was doing latex and she happened to be working in the wardrobe for Lady Gaga, and she called me.
Kurt Elster: Oh, so this had nothing to do with all of this tremendous success. You just happened to go to the same private high school.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, she had heard that I was on a TV show, and she’s like, “Hey, would you want to do that?” And I was like, “Yeah. Totally in.” So, and we made this-
Kurt Elster: Who’s gonna say no to Gaga?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: I know, right? So, and we made this inflatable octopus costumes for her Artpop tour, which were pretty insane.
Kurt Elster: What’s the one piece you’re most proud of? The one where you went like, “That, we pushed the envelope, and that is the craziest darn thing I’ve ever made.”
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: 100%, it’s always Gaga. 100%. But yeah, the octopus outfits I did for Gaga, and the jacket I made her for her Enigma Tour in Vegas that she’s in now, are probably my two most favorite pieces ever created. And probably because those were pieces that we came up with, and I said, “How the fuck am I gonna make this?” I had no idea. And then we just kind of do it, and then when it’s done, you’re like, “Huh. We did it.”
Kurt Elster: You know, I love hearing about people’s creative mindset, and kind of how they approach things, because there are plenty of projects where people have approached us, and we go, “All right, we think we could do that, we’ve never done anything like that, the individual pieces and building blocks are there, so let’s just try and build it and see what happens.” And the person goes, “All right, well, you’ll build it and test it.” I go, “No, no. We’ll build it and then it’s going to break, and we’re gonna find all the ways in which it broke, and then we’re gonna build it again, and the second one will work.” And sometimes it’s actually really like, “Well, the sixth one is the one that did what we wanted.” And it doesn’t quite look like the first one, and that’s okay.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Absolutely. 100%. The first one, the first octopus outfit we made for Gaga, we had a leak, because it was inflatable. We filled it up with air. And we couldn’t figure out… I mean, there was probably 100 tentacles on this thing. I have no idea how many. And I had to put it in my bathtub, inflated, to see if I could find the air bubbles coming out. But then when we found it, we fixed it, but then there was water stuck in the tentacles.
Kurt Elster: Yeah, I was gonna say, I’m like would you stick this thing in a big tub, because I used to work at a bike shop years ago, and we would drive ourselves crazy, like what is in this tire? What is doing this? And you’d shove it in a tub of water and look for the bubbles.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yep. Yep. That’s what we did.
Kurt Elster: All right. You told me before in the industry how this works, like how do you get all this amazing PR? How does this work in the fashion industry?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: As soon as I started to get some traction with some celebrities, I was approached by a PR firm in New York, and what they do is they make sure that you get the credit that you deserve when celebrities wear your pieces, so when you’re reading a magazine and they name drop the designer that that celebrity is wearing, that’s a PR firm that contacts the editor or the writer, to make sure that that designer gets credit. So, unless you have one of those, it’s very rare that you will get credit in any kind of write up, so I signed up with that agency and then when I moved to LA, I decided to get another agency here, so I’d have an East Coast and a West Coast rep making sure that I was getting all the credit.
So, all the press that I have, that mentions Vex Clothing, is all in result to those two PR firms.
Kurt Elster: What’s interesting about your business is I think you have done a thing I’ve heard referred to as casting a luck sale. So, you have all these tremendous opportunities that have really just like fallen into your lap. You didn’t reach out to them, they called you. Over and over. But it’s because you have consistently put yourself out there and put yourself in a position where within your space, you almost became inevitable. Like if the topic, at some point, within your industry, if someone said latex, it was inevitable that your name would come up.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yeah.
Kurt Elster: And that’s a tremendous thing to be able to do.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: I know. It’s a little weird. I don’t think much of it. It’s just something that I do. I kind of, like I’ve heard this reference, the last probably couple months, where it’s called the imposter syndrome.
Kurt Elster: Imposter syndrome. We all have it.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: I totally have it. I totally feel like, “How the hell did I get here and why?” And that’s probably crazy for some people to hear, but I just do it because I love it, and I’m good at it, and I see other people and I’m like, “Holy shit! They’re amazing. How did I get here?” So, I totally have imposter syndrome. 100%.
Kurt Elster: Which I think teaches us that it never goes away, because you’re telling us, “Well, I just worked really hard at what I love, and people approached me, and now I dress Beyoncé and Lady Gaga in extraordinary clothes.” And you’re like, “Well…” Like what? I mean, at that point it’s like look, we’d have to invent an award to justify what you are, and even then, you’d be like, “I don’t know.”
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yeah. 100%.
Kurt Elster: That’s great. I’m sure that’s freeing for a lot of people to hear.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yeah, and you know, people are like, “Oh, what is it like to meet all these stars?” And I’m like, “I don’t care. I go in, I do my job, and I leave. They’re just…” I don’t know. I don’t think much of it.
Kurt Elster: Well, that’s probably a good thing, and I think if you’re a celebrity, it’s a relief.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Probably a good thing. Yeah.
Kurt Elster: They’re like, “Oh, thank God. Not another starstruck weirdo.”
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yeah, right. Well, I did bring my assistant to Vegas to work on Gaga’s show with me, and I looked at him, and I said, “Please be cool, okay? You gotta be cool. Because we’re about to go do her fitting. Just keep it cool.” And he was good during the fitting, but I thought he… After we left the room, I thought he was gonna pass out.
Kurt Elster: The first time I met Leno I basically was like, “Hi.” And then ran away. The second time I did much better, but yeah.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: See, I’m totally cool. I just, I go in, I do my job, and I leave. But it is nice to hear when the celebrities actually look at you and they’re like, “This is amazing.” Oh, thanks.
Kurt Elster: That does have to be cool.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yeah. That’s cool.
Kurt Elster: That’s the validation. That’s the thing that you have to look back on that and go, “Okay, clearly I’m not an imposter at this point.”
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: I know. I totally think I’m still an imposter. I don’t know if that’s ever gonna go away.
Kurt Elster: So, it sounds like a lot of very traditional fashion PR. A lot of social media stuff and some content marketing has largely driven the success of your direct-to-consumer business, where I could go on vexclothing.com right now, it’s a Shopify store, I could see, I could go through a gallery of all this extraordinary stuff, and then be able to purchase it direct from the site for myself. In case I’m like, “I really need a latex choker,” boom. I know where to get it.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Absolutely.
Kurt Elster: Is there more to it? Because what I love about this story is you’re just like, “Hey, I stuck to what I loved for decades, and it paid off.” Is there a missing piece? Are there hurdles I overlooked?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: You know, every day is a hurdle still. It’s a lot. It’s a very demanding job, what I do. I mean, the turnaround time for a lot of these celebrity pieces are just a couple of days, sometimes just hours, so there are some times where you’re working days on end just to meet a deadline, because they decided to change a color all of a sudden, or she decided that she was gonna do a surprise tour, or anything like that, and I have to be available and ready to be creative at the drop of a hat.
Kurt Elster: And how does that… Do you manage it? You’re able to pull it off? Does it stress you out? I mean, I would just like… I would have an addiction to Zantac, because the heartburn.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Well, it’s coffee all day, and then a drink at night. That’s like my standard. My daughter was reading some sort of TikTok video that she saw about Zodiac signs, and she’s like, “The Virgo one says mom,” and I’m a Virgo. She goes, “… that Virgos tell you they’re not stressed when they’re clearly stressed.” She’s like, “That is totally you.” I’m like, “It totally is.”
Kurt Elster: But I think the advantage to that personality type, where you stress a lot, and you worry about the details, it drives you. You don’t become complacent, because you’re always under this state of use stress that’s driving you to the next thing. It can be a good thing.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: I can deliver something, they could have worn it, and I’m still stressed. I’m still stressed about that outfit. Did she like it? Did it hold up? Anything. It’s just constant, like… Then, sometimes you create these craziness outfits that never get worn, never get to see the light of day, which is kind of depressing.
Kurt Elster: That is the hard part. Yeah. I’ve certainly… In the life of a creative for hire, the stuff that you build that was really cool and hard, and then for one reason or another, never makes it into the wild, you’re like, “Oh, that sucked.”
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Oh, man. Yeah. Totally.
Kurt Elster: You still learned from it, you have that tool in your toolbox, but it’s… You’re always disappointed. You’re like, “Oh, that one didn’t quite make it to adulthood.”
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yeah. Totally. I mean, because as a creative, you built it. It’s your baby, and it never got used. It’s just sitting in a storage unit somewhere rotting away. It’s kind of sad.
Kurt Elster: Is there one you could think of? There’s like one, there’s the one that got away?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: We just finished an outfit for Gaga for a video, and it was this very elaborate design, and then the night before the video, they’re like, “So, she wants it to be more simple and modern. Can you make something totally different, in a totally different color?” And I kind of looked at my… I have some freelancers that help me out, and there was four of them here, and I told them, you should have seen their faces. And I was just like, “So, we have to stop working on this one, and make a whole other one, but the other one’s simpler, so that’s good.”
But I did end up finish… I’m like, “I have to at least finish this.” We were almost done, so I can photograph it, so that one day, maybe, if she ever wears it, I will have a picture of it. If not, I have a picture of it just in case.
Kurt Elster: The one thing that just occurred to me, since you clearly… You are a celebrity within your own space. You have access to all of these household names and celebrities. Does this result in some weirdness? Do you get crazy emails? Do you get friends who are like, “Can you introduce me to Gaga?” Is that an issue?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: I definitely get people asking me for like tickets, or my daughter, she’s like, “Can I meet Gaga?” I’m like, “That’s not how it works.” Although I did get to bring her to a Katy Perry fitting once, but she was so busy on her iPad, she doesn’t remember it.
Kurt Elster: Oh, geez.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Right? I was like out of all the times, but she’s still young, so I’m sure she’ll have-
Kurt Elster: Yeah, that sounds like my kids.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: And I get people contacting me. A lot of emails wondering if they can buy the clothes that the celebrities have worn, not knowing that I don’t have them anymore. I don’t keep their clothes.
Kurt Elster: Yeah.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: They have them.
Kurt Elster: Yeah, they bought it, like they weren’t renting it.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yeah, so I get many of those emails. But you know what? I get more weird emails from fetish clients than I do from celebrity followers.
Kurt Elster: I can only imagine the bizarre requests.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: And that’s where my business is probably a lot different than most, is that I have two totally… I have the fetish clientele, and I have the celebrity clientele, and then I have a lot of people in between. I am all over the spectrum, so I deal with a lot. I have a lot of issues that most people don’t have to deal with.
Kurt Elster: Like what?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Well, you get the creepy guy, or mostly guys, but they are mostly guys that call, and they want to talk about what they’re into, and how I can help them, and I have to explain to them that I’m not a therapy service here. I actually make clothing.
Kurt Elster: Oh, geez. I mean, like let your freak flag fly, but within reason.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yeah. Absolutely. Or we’ve had some weird guys that we had to block that would just call, and like breathe heavily on the phone. Just creepy stuff. People asking for creepy things that I’m like, “This is a fashion brand. Just because I use latex doesn’t mean that I am creating these crazy sexual contraptions for your private life.”
Kurt Elster: Like for you, it’s a job, and it’s fashion. For them, it’s like a strange personality lifestyle choice, and they project that onto you.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: A little bit. I don’t know if they just need somebody to talk to. Sometimes I’m not quite sure. And it’s like out of all the latex designers you could have called, why did you choose me?
Kurt Elster: You know, honestly, I don’t know that I would have a phone number on my website, or if I did, it would just go to voicemail, and it’s like, “Look, we’ll call you back,” so I can screen the calls.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yeah, it’s hard, because I’m trying to have great customer service, but also I get a lot of creeps.
Kurt Elster: So, what about this business today, because this has grown into something quite extraordinary. What keeps you up at night about it now?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Keeping it going, making sure… Because there’s a lot of designers behind me that would love to take my place, and that’s very stressful. It’s very stressful to constantly try and be creative, and try and be the best, so that keeps me up at night. Making sure that things are running smoothly, that I… Up until this point, I have never missed a deadline. I’ve never been late. And I always… I will work 24 hours a day if I have to, to make sure that that happens. That I keep on track.
Kurt Elster: That reputation, that’s the thing that’s gonna keep you on top, because it’s both the creativity, the quality, but also the professionalism. They know they can count on you.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Absolutely.
Kurt Elster: And especially if it’s like, if you’re doing a video shoot, if you don’t deliver, okay, well now you have 20 to 40 people standing around potentially, getting paid to do nothing. So, you need like some real operators.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yeah. It’s a lot of stress. It really, really is. And then when there’s like January was pretty slow, and I was like, “This is it. We’re drying up. I’m never gonna work again.” And then for the last three weeks I’ve been on set, I’ve been creating crazy outfits, and not sleeping, and my husband’s like, “I thought you were going out of business.” What is wrong?
Kurt Elster: I know what that is. You mentioned like you’d learned about imposter syndrome not long ago. That mindset that you experienced, and I think everybody wrestles with this. I know I do. It’s called recency bias. So, the most… You’re not looking at the big picture, you’re just letting the most recent events color your vision of your entire business. So, it’s like you had a slow week, and then that suddenly turned into, “Well, all of January’s bad. Well, all of 2020 is bad. Well, now I’m going out of business.” And really it was like, “No, you just had one week in which people were like worried about Super Tuesday, and so they weren’t emailing you, but they were gonna get around to it.” Right?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yeah. I should have just been going on vacation and enjoying some time off, but that’s totally not what I was doing. I was probably emailing you, “What can we do to fix this?” I need help!
Kurt Elster: But again, it’s those… The people who have that high stress personality are the ones that get shit done, because they… You can either let the anxiety paralyze you, or you could use it to drive you forward, and you have 100% consistently been able to use it to drive you forward.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yeah. I do. Nothing… I have a lot of people telling me all the time how calm I am all the time, because I am. I’m cool and calm on the outside. It’s all inside, like go, go, go, get it done, what do I have to do next? I have calendars, I have pieces of paper, I’ve got lists, I’ve got notes on my phones, I have reminders going off, just so I don’t forget anything. And sometimes I still wake up-
Kurt Elster: Well, how else would you stay organized?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: I know, and then sometimes I still wake up in the middle of the night and be like, “I forgot to put a label in that jacket.” It’s 2:00 in the morning. I’ve been sleeping for hours, like why all of a sudden did my brain remember that I for sure forgot to put a label in that custom jacket we sent out?
Kurt Elster: Okay. I can’t say I’m that bad. I have not had those moments, so I’m somewhere in between. If you had to do it again, what would you differently? Like you’ve had a long career, and you went, you built it slow and steady. Let’s say you wanted to go back in time and tell yourself, “All right, here’s how you shave 10 years off of this journey.” What would you tell yourself?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: I would have found a partner. I totally would have.
Kurt Elster: Interesting.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: A business partner. What’s hard for me is juggling the business aspect of it and the creative aspect of it, because they’re both very demanding parts of the business, and sometimes I’m feeling that I am getting pulled in both directions, and not getting everything done 100%.
Kurt Elster: So, you’d want like someone to do operations and business development, and someone to be a creative director.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: I would be the creative director.
Kurt Elster: And you would be the creative director. Okay. I assumed, I didn’t want to-
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Yeah. Because everything, the aspect of the business, the website, the marketing, that’s me learning as I go, and I have made a lot of mistakes, because I went to art school. I didn’t go to business school. I have no idea what I’m doing.
Kurt Elster: You think that. You have the experience.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Well, now I do.
Kurt Elster: The revenue that says otherwise.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Now I do, but there was a lot of mixed, stupid stuff, that could have been avoided if I had the funds or somebody that knew what they were doing.
Kurt Elster: What’s the most common question you get from people?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Why latex?
Kurt Elster: Why latex? I think we covered that.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: We covered that already. That’s always the question. Or do I see latex being a fabric more mainstream?
Kurt Elster: Do you see latex as a mainstream fabric, potentially?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: I think it’s always gonna be more of an exotic fabric. It’s not gonna be denim. It’s not gonna be something that everybody wears to work. I think there is a time and a place for it, and I think more and more people are willing to dabble in it and try it out. So, I think that’s a positive aspect of it. Because it is, it’s a material like no other, and I say that because that’s why I got into it. When somebody puts on latex, it transforms the person, and I can’t think of any other material that does that.
Kurt Elster: If I wanted to be transformed, I wanted that one secret outfit, where can I go to buy it?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Well, my website, of course.
Kurt Elster: Which is?
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: vexclothing.com.
Kurt Elster: There we go. There’s the plug. vexclothing.com. vexclothing.com, and the Vex Clothing Instagram, I encourage you to check out both. They’re quite striking. However, they’re both PG-13, so I would not necessarily say like fire that up in your cubicle. Don’t do that. But they are worthwhile, especially the Instagram or her celebrity galleries. I mean, really cool just to see all of the celebrities you recognize in one place, all wearing just really dramatic outfits.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: You make it sound so great.
Kurt Elster: It is so great. That’s imposter syndrome talking. I’m certainly… I’m not dressing anybody in anything, let alone Lady Gaga, so I think it’s pretty cool. We’ll leave it there. Laura, thank you so much. This has been fascinating. Laura, thank you.
Laura Petrielli-Pulice: Of course. Thank you.