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The Designer In The White Glasses

Larissa in her design

One can find Larissa Muehleder in any room by looking for the girl in white-framed glasses. Last month while on a mutual friend’s boat, I met Larissa in her bright frames which glowed against her red neoprene dress and fierce afro. The red dress spoke for itself: it screamed femininity, individuality, and freedom. “I designed it myself, I am a designer,” she said. She exuded a familiarity, something I immediately recognized as a byproduct of her mixed heritage — her mother, Nigerian, and father, from Austria.

So I sat down with the Austrian-Nigerian girl in the white glasses as she spoke about her label, Muehleder. According to Larissa, Muehleder is a brand for the original woman. It’s an affordable luxury brand that doesn’t require the sacrifice of comfort for good fashion. Larissa straightened her glasses, “We pay attention to how the fabric moves on the female body, pieces that make you feel comfortable eating a whole cake.”

While Larissa is currently in the process of creating a more sustainable material, the use of neoprene fabric is key in her designs. Although the soft fabric is extremely versatile and known for its lightweight mobility, it is also chemically produced. The production of neoprene emits cancerous toxic gasses which contributes to ongoing issues with climate change.

The business started out of necessity and the need to survive in New York City. Having moved from Austria to Senegal to Paris and ending up in New York with her mother, Larissa grew up living the immigration life. This meant that Larissa could not get regular jobs because her immigration papers weren’t always readily available, so she started doing custom wear at 16 years old. Larissa explained, “Because of the (immigration) setback, I had to find a way to make an income and work around the system. I have never worked for anyone ever since.”

Larissa’s talent can be traced to her mother, who owned a boutique in Nigeria, and even further to her designer grandmother. After Larissa learned sewing at the High Schools of Fashion industries, as well as the Fashion Institution of Technology, where she learned marketing and merchandising in New York City.

Cardi B with Larissa

Building a label like Muehleder was not an easy task, especially in a fast-paced fashion capital like New York City. Like most businesses, Larissa’s brand took time and she was open about many mistakes that young designers often encounter. She described sending clothes to alleged stylists in the industry and never hearing back from them. She said, “I put a lot of money into Ponzi scheme (fraud) fashion shows that promised us buyers would show up.” She added that young designers should find ways to collaborate or find internships with established designers to get a foothold in the industry.

After building a reputable clientele list, Larissa has designed and styled notable celebrities like Issa Rae, Cardi B, Zendaya, and Tiwa Savage. With the current climate in America, Black creatives are getting more recognition for their work, catapulting Muehleder to new heights. The brand enjoyed its highest sales in June, the official month dedicated to Black liberation in America.

Larissa revealed that she always dreamt of owning a boutique in Lagos just like her mother, but with the effect of the pandemic on the fashion business, virtual consumerism has taken centre stage.

While most people would consider Larissa to be “mixed-raced”, she refuses to be labelled as half of anything. In regards to her identity as both a Black and White woman, she states, “I am a whole person. I feel like when I accepted being whole and not half of something. I accepted myself.”

As Larissa continued gushing about her love of eating suya out of newspapers, it became clear to me that the girl in the white glasses is open to whatever the future has to offer. She looks forward to fulfilling her customer’s needs and exploring the possibilities of expanding her business all over the world.

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