How Fashion Historian Laura Helms Earned Her Nickname “Laurakitty”
The sartorial curator named her pet clothing line after one of her cats, Marshmallow, but their inspiration on her career hardly stops there...
Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)
Fashion historian Laura McLaws Helms, aka @laurakitty, hasn’t always been a cat lady. A London native, she didn’t grow up around the feline set, but she remembers the fateful day when she first knew that she wanted a kitty in her life.
“I don’t even remember meeting a cat until I was maybe 10, and I spent the night at a friend’s house who had one,” says Helms, who now splits her time between Brooklyn and upstate New York. “I woke up and the cat was asleep on my chest and purring, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is amazing.’ That’s when I fell in love with cats.”
These days, the expert sartorial curator — don’t sleep on her excellent Instagram account @Laurakitty, a compendium of her encyclopedic knowledge of fashion and popular culture — has three cats who help her to live up to her nickname.
When did you get your first cat?
That’s Laser. He’s 21. He came into my life through an ex-boyfriend 15 years ago. He named him after Laser from the show American Gladiator. When I got rid of the ex-boyfriend, I kept him.
And you have two more cats, right?
There’s Peppermint who is my husband’s baby, so she lives upstate with him when he’s up there working. When we went upstate at the beginning of the pandemic, we found her living in a field. She turned out to be pregnant and gave birth to six kittens, so I took care of them and got them all homes, and then we adopted her. And then there’s Marshmallow. Five years ago when one of my other cats passed away suddenly, I started looking for a kitten, and luckily he came into my life. He’s the best.
Marshmallow is such a cute name. It’s also what you called the clothing line you started with your Lady Magazine co-founder Susan.
We named the clothing line after my cat! I’d always called anything cute, “Oh, my little marshmallow.” And then randomly I was trying to adopt and all of these cats weren’t working out for various reasons. I was trying to adopt one cat named Lily but she had worms. I kept calling to ask if she was feeling better and they finally said no, but maybe you’d be interested in her brother Marshmallow. And I was like, “Oh my god, yes!” That’s what I call everything — even my husband I’ll call Marshmallow. So it was meant to be.
Was your husband a cat person when you met him?
No. He’d grown up with his dad being allergic and he thought he was allergic as well, so he’d never hung out with a cat until he started spending time with me. When we first started dating I had Laser and Misha, my cat who passed away in early 2017. Misha was a little more standoffish with people but Laser likes anyone, so they were pretty okay with him.
Do you ever think you share anything in common with your cats, physically or personality-wise?
My husband thinks I’m so silly because I always hold up Marshmallow next to me and I’m like, “Don’t you see the resemblance?” I think it’s mostly when I wear my eye makeup in a cat-eye. He’s a Tabby, so he’s got the lines coming out from his eyes. Personality-wise, my cat Misha who passed away felt very much like an extension of me. We were just so similar. When I had her, those were sort of harder years in my life, and I always felt like I came out of that patch and then she passed away. She was my soul. I had a hard, weird 13 years that I worked through and then, once I’d worked out, she moved on to the next level.
Did your cats help soothe your anxiety during the pandemic?
They were definitely a huge comfort. On March 12th, when it seemed like things might be going weird, my husband drove me and Marshmallow and Laser upstate. I’d never traveled anywhere with them before or been in a car with them other than moving from apartment to apartment. So it was a big deal to drive over three hours with them and take them to a totally new place. I was very anxious and stressed out and they felt that and were particularly cuddly. They’ve definitely gotten better with the car — the first few times were stressful and they each have their own emotional situations — and they are now adapted to the fact that they have two homes.
How has it been working from home with them?
They like to sleep pretty much all day. I like to work on my couch; I lay down. And I usually always have at least one cat on me, sometimes two, which can be annoying sometimes because I have to constantly shuffle them around. Right now I’m sitting on the couch and I’m in between Marshmallow and Laser, and Peppermint is across the room and they’re all sleeping. The cat life is good.
You (and your fabulous Instagram) are an encyclopedia of vintage fashion and design and culture. Do you have any favorite vintage cat moments?
I do have shelves of vintage cat books. My particular favorite is by Oleg Cassini’s brother who was a gossip columnist. It’s called “Igor Cassini’s Blue Book of Social Cats,” which is just ridiculous. The images are by Walter Chandoha, a photographer who does cat photos. And the book is all these cat photos with quotes underneath that are supposed to be what a jetsetter would say. Like, there will be a cat sitting on a Shaker chair and the caption will say: Our country place is done entirely in early American. It’s really funny.
You have some amazing vintage collections. Are you also a collector of anything cat-related?
People do always want to give me cat things, and I had to put the kibosh on it at some point because I looked around the house and was like, “Oh my god; I’ve got way too many cat figurines.” I appreciate it, but I had to do a clear-out a few years ago. Recently, though, my friend Susan (my former business partner who I started Marshmallow with) was at a flea market and sent me a picture of this mid-century painting she found of a cat that looked exactly like Marshmallow. She got it for me and now it’s hanging in our living room upstate.
So people just see cat things and think of you...
I guess having your nickname be your favorite animal does help.
How did you get that nickname, by the way?
I got it in my late teens. I didn’t have a cat yet, but I really liked cats and I had started saying “meow” instead of “hello” to everyone. I started DJing when I was 20 and my DJ name was Laura Kitty, and that was it!
Do you think you’ll add to your cat brood?
We’re good at three. I do follow way too many adoption accounts, and I’m always seeing senior cats that get abandoned and I want to save them because I do feel so strongly about how amazing my senior cat is.
Besides adoption places, are there any other cat-related accounts you follow on Instagram?
I’m also obsessive about Pallas’s cats; they’re also called manuls. They’re a small wild cat and I’ve reposted videos of them in my stories. I love them and so I follow lots of other obsessive fans of Pallas’s cats as well.
That’s your Instagram rabbit hole, then.
My weird Instagram quirks are all about cats.
"I have put a gold chain bracelet around her neck as a collar for some photos, but she looks so perfect in just her spotty coat that I keep her au naturel."
“I just simply like the idea of cats and their specific things. Throwing in a cat is something that comes naturally now when I make an illustration.”
The Giu Giu designer on her Brussels Griffon’s favorite ’60s-inspired knitwear, Fashion Week duties, and habit of sitting on strange men’s feet.
The fashion icons on designing dog ready-to-wear and dressing the shortest supermodels on the planet — their rescue Dachshunds.
Fiorella Valdesolo is a writer, editor, brand and creative consultant. She’s worked with New York, Elle, The Wall Street Journal, T, Glamour, Vogue, Women's Health, Nylon, Style.com, Net-a-Porter, and Domino, among others. She is the cofounder and editor-in-chief of the independent food magazine Gather Journal and the author of Pretty: The Nylon Book of Beauty. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner Nate and daughter Aluna. Her dream interview remains Stevie Nicks.