After revolutionizing maternity wear in the ’90s, fashion entrepreneur and Palm Beach resident Liz Lange‘s second act comes as the creative director and CEO of free-spirited ready-to-wear brand Figue. “I spend at least six months of the year in Palm Beach these days, and I live in Figue 24/7,” says Lange. “If I need it for Palm Beach, it must go in the line.”
As a member of New York’s Steinberg family, Lange—who is also the current owner of Grey Gardens—has always lived life in the public eye. In 2021, she was the subject of an eight-episode podcast by The New Yorker‘s Ariel Levy, a good friend of the designer’s with whom she spoke candidly about her fascinating family history, which premiered to rave reviews.
Here, Lange catches up with PALMER on her favorite Palm Beach pastimes, renovating Grey Gardens, and her influences as a designer.
How long have you been coming to Palm Beach? What’s your favorite Palm Beach memory?
I have been coming to Palm Beach for my entire life, but only as a visitor. In 2018 we bought a house there on a whim, figuring we wouldn’t use it enough and would probably end up selling it. I almost consider it our primary residence these days! I have fond memories of childhood visits to PB in the old days, particularly eating the mile-high coconut layer cake while sitting at the counter at Hamburger Heaven, dinners at Testa’s in their back “garden” featuring baked ziti, and the old beachside cabanas at The Breakers before they redid the pool area. When my children were little, They adored The Breakers and always seemed to make a pack of friends there, and those are wonderful memories too.
What’s your favorite pastime in Palm Beach?
I live on “the trail” and I like to start each day with a long trail walk. I throw on a Figue kaftan (nothing keeps me as cool or looks as good) and walk to the Royal and back. My favorite restaurant is actually our house, and I do a lot of entertaining at home, but I also love an outdoor lunch at Le Bilboquet or Sant Ambroeus.
How’s life in PB different from life in East Hampton?
Palm Beach feels more like Mayberry (aka a small town). I almost never take my car anywhere, and everyone lives within a very short walking and biking distance from each other. Our house is like a simple little vacation villa and life generally feels smaller and simpler in PB than it does in East Hampton—although I adore East Hampton.
How is Grey Gardens different today than it was in the documentary? Who helped you make these changes?
How long do you have? We did a gut restoration and renovation of it, restoring the house to its former glory years (the early days when the Beales first owned the house as their family summer cottage). We restored all the gardens, created a grass tennis court, a new pool house, a new garage, and various new gardens on the property, while also trying to pay homage to the original walled gardens and restoring those as well. We added an entire full floor basement level that has all the modern conveniences (screening room, wine cellar, gym, laundry room, extra bedrooms, etc.). I had a lot of help from a variety of taste makers: Jonathan Adler, Bories & Shearron, Deborah Nevins, Mark D. Sikes, Ferguson & Shamamian…
What inspired you to acquire Figue?
I was a long time Figue fan and had tons of Figue favorites in my wardrobe. I was at a time in my life, having sold my prior fashion brands, where I was trying to figure out my next career move and debating between whether I wanted to build a brand or buy a brand. When I heard that Figue was for sale it just seemed like the perfect opportunity. I know and understand the Figue customer as I am she.
How has the brand evolved since you acquired it?
I love Figue’s roots and they will always be a part of the Figue DNA, but I wanted to evolve it to suit the needs of the modern sophisticated woman. To me, that meant moving on from kaftans and dresses to a more global and greatly expanded collection of dresses, separates, sportswear, and knits that are as easy to wear with sneakers as they are with sandals, slides or stilettos. Clothing that easily make the transition from city to country, beach to boardroom. I find that we all live in so many places these days and we need a wardrobe that seamlessly fits into all of this.
You were a comparative literature major at Brown. What books have you been reading lately and which ones would you recommend?
I’m always reading something. I just finished The Last Kings of Shanghai by Jonathan Kaufman. It’s the fascinating history of the rival dynasties—the Kadoorie and Sassoon families—who helped shaped the future of modern China, Shanghai, and Hong Kong over the last two centuries.
Who are your biggest influences as a designer?
Definitely the scenery and light in Palm Beach and East Hampton. All the chic Truman Capote Swans, I loved how they dressed. And—it’s a cliche—but I do often think, what would Jackie wear? and when I’m not thinking that, I’m wondering what her equally chic sister, Lee, might have worn. And finally, Slim Aarons’ 1974 book of photographs called A Wonderful Time: Intimate Portrait of the Good Life is one of my all-time favorites.
And with Liz Lange Maternity?
I learned everything I know about business from that experience. A huge early lesson was that, before someone does something new, no one ever thinks it’s a good idea. So you want to be sensible but you need to follow your gut. I did that first by starting a collection of high-end made-to-order maternity clothing at a time when no one was talking about pregnancy, and again by partnering with Target for a less expensive line when no designers were doing that, and finally again after I sold it and decided to do a line of clothing for the Home Shopping Network. You can’t listen to all the naysayers.
With all you have on your plate, how were you able to create a podcast with an almost cult-like following, too?
Ha! Well, to be honest, I recorded that podcast the summer before acquiring Figue and I wasn’t busy at all. It was during lockdown. So time was one thing we did have. I had been thinking about writing a memoir. And one of my closest friends, the renowned New Yorker writer, Ariel Levy, wanted to assist me with it. But during covid she secured a gig with Sony to create a Podcast series featuring people who had led unexpected lives. She came to me with the idea—since we were in each other’s “pods” in East Hampton—of devoting an episode to my story, which perhaps could then lead to my memoir. However, when Sony heard our episode, they liked it so much they decided to do the entire series just on me! I was hesitant at first, but then realized that since I was planning to write my autobiography anyway, this would just be the oral form of that. I have to say that I have been flattered and shocked by its subsequent popularity.