Dialogue Summer 2012
Lifestyle Section Pages 54-57
In Touch with a Fashionable Wardrobe
By David Block, Ardmore, Pennsylvania
The fully sighted New York City fashion designer, Denise Lasprogata, has combined her passion for sewing and designing clothing with her desire to help blind and visually impaired people dress fashionably. Back in 1999, she patented a washable braille label, named D. LASPROGATA, which identified colors on garments and t-shirts.
In discussing her braille labels, Lasprogata said: “For those who are visually impaired, if they had known color before they lost their sight, then they’d be able to identify the color by reading the large print or by reading the braille. My first collection is inspired by the concept of braille and how it is that we experience the visual world of fashion not only through our eyes but also through our hands.”
Lasprogata’s labels bypass the battery operated, hand-held color identifiers for blind individuals. She explained, “The new color ID does not uphold braille literacy; mine does.”
The 38-year-old Lasprogata’s dedication to sewing, fashion and helping blind and sight-impaired individuals developed over 20 years ago.
Sewing: In Her Blood
Lasprogata’s maternal grandmother was a seamstress, along with her maternal great aunt. “My grandmother ran a small sewing school in her basement,” (at her home inUpper Darby,Pennsylvania) said Lasprogata. “All the women in my family sewed. My mother and my aunts sewed, too. They all got together on Sundays and sewed.”
One of her first visual memories was at age three when she hid in her grandmother’s cubby tables and watched everyone make gowns and garments from raw material. “I then learned the basics of sewing at a young age and saw the style through my grandmother’s hand,” said Lasprogata.
During her childhood, she had a speech impediment, which gave her a small taste of feeling disabled. This resulted from her falling off her bike at age four and breaking her front teeth. She wore fake teeth until her secondary teeth grew in. “My speech impediment was embarrassing,” said Lasprogata. “My friends sometimes joked about it, but no harm was done.” Ironically, at age 12, she fell off her bike again and her impediment dissipated immediately.
Teenage Tragedy Hits Home
In 1990, Lasprogata’s 17-year-old friend, Jody Sack, was in a serious car accident. “The car overturned,” said Jody’s mother Lois Sack. She added that her daughter lost all her vision in one eye and 80 percent in the other. “Some of Jody’s friends abandoned her because they were afraid to be with her, but Denise was loyal.”
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For Lasprogata, abandoning Jody was unfathomable. “We were like sisters.” Lasprogata sadly observed that her friend lost her independence to dress fashionably. “Jody had always been very fashionable,” said Lasprogata. “It was always very important to her to look her best.”
Both Lasprogata and Lois Sack said that Jody was a good dresser and was frustrated trying to find the right clothing that matched. Lasprogata wanted to help her friend regain her independence. This was the catalyst for her project to develop the brailles labels, which helped many others as well.
She also became involved in a project to help people with little or no sight gain an independent appreciation of art. In 1996, a year after Lasprogata graduated fromVanderbiltUniversity, the Barnes Foundation, located outside ofPhiladelphia, commissioned her to interpret selected pieces of the Barnes collection paintings into tactile plates. She said it was a deconstruction of Matisse processes of painting, so blind and visually impaired people could feel lines that they could tactility interpret, as well as feel the cut-outs that match the shapes and forms of the paintings.
Participants would touch a tactile graphic. When they felt the touch pad, the computer indicated the dimension or part of painting they were feeling; colors were indicated by symbol system, primarily circles of different sizes.
“The project allowed the person to have an outline of what the painting looked like and then be able to create or re-create that image,” Lasprogata said.
Lasprogata’s determination to help blind and sight impaired individuals appreciate art and to gain independence at dressing fashionably remained strong, even after Jody Sack died in 1998.
“Jody went to a rooftop party,” said her mother. “She took a misstep and fell.” She died shortly afterwards. “I’ll always be grateful to Denise for being a true friend to Jody.”
In 1999, Lasprogata launched her company and label, both christened with the same name, D. LASPROGATA, LLC. She did it by locating a substrate used for maps and diagrams for blind people that could withstand washing and drying. She patented her product and contacted label manufacturers to license it.
Lasprogata started with a T-shirt line that featured different sayings in braille. They were sold in Henri Bendel and other boutiques inNew York City.
In the early 2000s, PEOPLE Magazine wrote about Lasprogata’s labels and one of Stevie Wonder’s associates read the article and told him about it. According to Lasprogata, Stevie Wonder contacted her because he wanted to pick and choose to choose clothing without help from anyone, and her labels met that need.
In 2011, Lasprogata told MAIN LINE TODAY that the clothing she presents at trunk shows is “traditionally ladylike, with a little bit of edge—both refined and elegant, but comfortable and wearable, too. Each piece of the collection has a braille signature, sometimes hidden in the texture of the cloth or at other times quite evident in the beadwork. The collection is primarily geared for women who like fine ladies’ dresses, but all of it is based around the braille and the intention of bringing awareness to the sighted population as to the needs of the visually impaired population.”
To contact Denise Lasprogata, email her at [email protected]