Thanks to her longtime career as a Conde Nast Traveler photographer, Lisa Limer has become a citizen of the world, capturing scenes in 40 different countries spanning six continents. Now, through her Rhode Island-based clothing and accessory company Bela Monde, she imprints the essences of her journeys into silks, designing wearable art with a story. Using her photography as inspiration and its literal components in digital design, Limer translates the look and vibe of cities like Grenada, Istanbul, Dubai, Seoul, and Melbourne into fabric patterns which are then sewn by local seamstresses into sumptuous kaftans, slips, cover-ups, scarves, robes, and other loungewear.
An East Side native and photography major at RISD, Limer left Rhode Island the day she graduated and headed for New York City. At that time, she had already visited Haiti solo at 17 and taken a semester off undergraduate to live in Peru and “learn a lot from just being in a place” and “really getting involved” instead of simply reading about it. Her photography was her window to understanding and experiencing different cultures. The backing of Conde Nast “opened doors, and they give you a lot of resources, so I did portraiture, landscape, interiors – a bit of everything.”
After struggling for a while as a waitress in New York City, Limer saved up enough money to travel alone across Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil and met her husband along the way. They later moved to Madrid, where she used her New York City magazine connections to get photo shoots there. Eventually, Conde Nast Traveler decided to bring her on board as a photographer, sending her on 10-day trips to shoot in places like Sicily, Tunisia, Istanbul, Dubai, and Buenos Aires every six weeks or so.
After eight years in Madrid, Limer relocated her family, including two young children, home to Providence to care for her aging father Harry Limer, one of the founders of iconic Wayland Square boutique Reliable Gold. Unfortunately, he passed away within a month of her homecoming. Yet after all her travels, Limer realized “how wonderful it was to be back home. It felt so comforting.” She also felt that Providence, and particularly the house on Cushing Street they had found, would be a perfect place to raise her children – not to mention a far more affordable home base than New York City. She later moved to Williams Street with her current partner, a fellow artist.
In 2014, Conde Nast Traveler went through major changes, gutting its staff and installing new leadership. At the same time, the film format that Limer so loved was quickly being replaced by digital photography, which she found wasn’t her speed. But she started experimenting with some of the images themselves on the computer, cutting out parts and pasting them into other areas. The result: a series of patterns.
“In all my travels, I’ve always brought back a lot of textiles – it’s a way to bring back a culture,” Limer says. Through her wanderlust-inspired designs, she has sought to weave a story about the place in the photograph that inspired it; she invites Bela Monde’s clients to join her on her travels. Silk was chosen because it’s “very sensual, very luxurious to feel and touch and have on your body – and I realized that was all part of the experience.”
Her clean, sunny studio is located in an old mill building near the Pawtucket Armory. ”Yes, it’s still affordable to be an artist here,” she says. The silks are printed in North Carolina, and the garments are cut and sewn locally; it’s Limer’s way of bridging the global with the local. A 2016 Design Catalyst grant from DESIGNxRI was highly instrumental in launching the business.
Limer acknowledges that her experience was unique and timely, a fortunate time in magazine publishing, and she uses Bela Monde as a way to weave the “many layers of what I’ve learned: visual, social conscious, and history.” Through her designs, Limer offers her story to its wearers, a chance to “explore the world with what you wear.”