A Northside ‘Find’
Lea Couture: Fluid, ethereal, sensual, refined, luxurious ... timeless
By Mary Beth Starzel
Probably it would have been more surprising had Lea Ditson not become one of the Bay Area’s major women’s fashion design talents.
Even when very young, she lived and created with textiles, approaching fabric with the intuitive assurance that what she wanted would appear. “It was just something innate for me. I’d look at something and say, ‘I could make that.’ I just never needed a book or pattern,” she says of her natural ability.
Her only sewing instruction was in a ninth-grade home economics class. By high school she was making girlfriends’ apparel, even her own homecoming queen dress and the dresses of her attendants – a natural talent that fortunately bloomed.
Now, stylish women of all ages are finding their way to San Anselmo and Lea Couture at 324 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard for Ditson’s softly structured, feminine pieces that flow and complement the wearer.
“I design with people in mind and from love of clothing so that there are pieces here that will work on every body type,” Lea says.
The noted writer Isabelle Allende is a frequent client and says Lea’s work is “Fluid, ethereal, sensual, refined, luxurious … Lea’s sense of color is amazing. She selects the fabrics with the eye of an artist, often layering transparent fabrics to create an original palette. Her designs are timeless.”
Awarded Best in Marin Custom Wedding Dress by Marin magazine, Lea has several collections in her store. The luxurious bridal gowns are a centerpiece, but complementing them is an array of contemporary mother-of-the-bride creations, often in layered chiffons with artistic draping and couturier fabrics gathered from around the world, especially Italy, France and Asia, Lea says. All the gowns double as formal wear for any occasion, too. Styles range from the simple to the haute couture, but are custom designed for the individual wearer.
Other collections are for travel, casual or dressy casual wear. Travelers find rayon knit jersey wear in styles that move and drape with a feminine flow, but also with comfort and ease of care. Casual and dressy-casual pieces are available in ready to wear or custom designed, as are all categories. “My goal is to make women look and feel as beautiful as they can be, because all women I work with, regardless of age, want to look in the mirror and be as beautiful as they can,” Lea says.
“My signature is that I ‘m not too hard edged or architectural, I’m more about flow and natural looks. I meet a person, and do not see the body first, but their spirit and personality and what they want to express,” Lea says.
Working now for 30 years as an acclaimed designer, Lea first came to San Francisco at the age of 23 and immediately met Sandra Sakata, owner of Obiko, an enormously famous boutique near Union Square in the 1970s. “That was my start, Sandra loving and appreciating my work and bringing me into Obiko when every designer wanted to be there,” she says.
“It was good for me because I had so much creative energy and it was rushing outward, like a dam breaking. It was almost a vertical trajectory. She was the one who gave me everything. She validated me and gave me confidence to become who I am,“ Lea recalls.
Obiko was taken into Bergdorf Goodman for many years until Sakata’s death in 1997.
“I can look at a person’s body and know where to start, but bodies have so many idiosyncrasies, beyond body types, that each person is unique in many ways. Further, it is not just about form, but how someone feels about the form or style or color, all of which must feel harmonious to the wearer. Being able to see this is something I’ve developed over the years, but I can read it really fast, “Lea says.
Lithe, lovely, and talented, Lea is at home with her glorious fabrics, but also with an eco-sustainable intent, not only by minimizing plastics and such, but using fabrics that are not creating more pollution. “The industry hasn’t gotten completely there, but the intention is to that awareness,” Lea says. Everything as beautiful as it can be.
Lea Couture: 324 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., San Anselmo; Wed.–Fri. 10:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.–5 p.m. or by appointment; 415-461-4804, www.leacouture.com
Mary Beth Starzel writes periodically for Northside San Francisco as a community resident.