Designers Dish, NYFW Spring 2014 Edition: Mara Hoffman

Mara Hoffman ss14
Laforce + Stevens

We caught up with the cool, laid-back designer -- known for colorful prints -- to find out how to rock a hippie dress at a fancy party and not get weird stares.

Mara Hoffman has that totally zenned-out, peace-and-love vibe that you'd expect to find on a wave in Ventura or at a Topanga Canyon bonfire. But the Buffalo-born contemporary womens-wear designer is East Coast all the way, honing her penchant for trippy, proprietary prints at Manhattan's Parsons New School for Design before a study stint at Central Saint Martins in London and the ultimate launch of her namesake, NYC-based line in 2000. 

She's best known for swimwear (her gear won a coveted credit in this year's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue; Nina Dobrev is a fan) but also bright, flowy maxi dresses (worn by Freida Pinto and Jessica Alba) that are the stuff happy, modern hippies are made of. And she's built quite a business for herself, with her pieces on offer worldwide at the likes of Barneys, Elyse Walker and Harvey Nichols and Selfridges across the pond. 

As far as friends go, Hoffman's crew consists of other cool, laid-back souls: CFDA-winning jewelry designer Pamela Love and model/soon-to-be Style Network host Erin Wasson, both who happened to be front row at her spring 2014 New York Fashion Week show on Saturday afternoon along with actresses Jamie Chung and Perrey Reeves, L.A. indie musician Devendra Banhart and singers Kate Nash and Rozzie Crane. 

As Hoffman was commissioned to make her first-ever custom red carpet gown for the Oscars last year (for the girlfriend of Quentin Tarantino, film writer Lianne Spiderbaby -- herself dealing with a plagiarism scandal at the moment), we decided to catch up with the designer backstage before her Lincoln Center show to find out if we'd be seeing more of her flowing prints -- and the ridiculously cool Guatemalan belts and hair wraps she showed on the spring catwalk -- at dressy parties, soon. 

This collection feels like you took a surf trip to Guatemala and never looked back. 

There are a lot of Guatemalan references and there's South American references. But this is more happiness and prosperity, rainbow warrior, a bringer of peace … to be happy. 

Totally. There are enough colors on these racks to make even someone with seasonal affective disorder smile. It all feels very California casual. Say I want to look chill for a formal event. How do you translate the relaxed vibe?

I think it's how you accessorize it. I think there are pieces in this collection that can really work a red carpet (ed. note: there are). I feel like so many of the pieces in this collection, the girl is straight up sandals. But she can be heels, too (ed. note: On the runway, Hoffman paired many of her pieces with Kathryn Amberleigh's low-heel, suede strappy sandals that seriously left us drooling). So it's just how you interpret it. 

There are some intense -- in the best way -- woven tribal belts here. I'm imagining them sprucing up a plain black gown for something fancy. Is that weird? Can you wear things that look like they were sourced on a beach in Mexico somewhere fancy?

I do. It takes a certain personality. It's all about that, isn't it? The right person can pull anything off. 

It must have been cool doing your first Oscars gown this year. Is red carpet ware part of your future business plan? 

We have a few tricks up our sleeve in the formal area. In the next month or so, keep your eyes open. We'll be having some moments. 

Be sure to follow Mara's sweet Instagram feed (which includes pictures of her adorable toddler son, Joaquin) at @MaraHoffman.

While you're at it, follow us, too.