Golden state of mind: LA’s new young designers
Fashion’s pioneers are heading for Los Angeles, where mountainous landscapes and sun-soaked beaches infuse their designs with a laidback Californian vibe.
BY Kari Young |
14 July 2012
New York is still one of the world’s leading fashion capitals, but in recent years a number of Los Angeles clothing designers have emerged as a creative force to be reckoned with. Although it would be easier to work in New York, these designers have a pioneering spirit that drives them not only to be based in the American West, but to create clothes women want to wear, influenced by the lives they themselves lead in this sun-drenched part of the world.
Clover Canyon (picture above)
Rozae Nichols, creative director
Clover Canyon’s headquarters are in downtown Los Angeles, next to the historic Orpheum Theatre. The creative director Rozae Nichols’s studio is filled with brightly coloured samples and fabrics with intricate patterns. She launched the label in 2011, with her business partner, Jon Paris, for women who appreciate clothes with an artsy feel.
Outside the office doors, visitors are greeted by a portrait of President Barack Obama. While it’s meant to be tongue in cheek, it’s emblematic of the company’s dedication to being ‘made in America’. In Nichols’s office are old framed insects such as an Ornate Goliath Beetle from Cameroon, a tarantula paperweight, and an antique light bulb. There are also homemade dolls wearing miniature versions of her designs, made by the seamstresses as a ritual at the end of every collection.
The name Clover Canyon is inspired by the rustic neighbourhood where she lives in the Hollywood Hills, Laurel Canyon, which was a haven for musicians in the heyday of California’s hippie culture. Nichols, 52, was born and brought up in Los Angeles, and the hills now represent something of a mountain retreat for her. ‘It’s a really inspiring place to live,’ she says. ‘Laurel Canyon is just this beautiful mountain top that’s a slice of nature.’
ome of their designs, from a selection (
Nichols has been designing textiles for 25 years, having studied at Pasadena’s prestigious Art Institute, and then worked for clothing companies in Los Angeles and Paris. ‘Clover Canyon is inspired by wanting to have a voice about California,’ she says. ‘The design technique and philosophy is born every day out of my observations of living here.’
Other influences come from the travels that she and her husband, Ian, have gone on. They recently went to the Chinati Foundation, the Texas art museum that was founded by Donald Judd, and to see Walter De Maria’s
, an art installation in New Mexico featuring 400 steel posts that light up during thunderstorms. She has also found inspiration closer to home, on trips up the California coast to San Luis Obispo and Monterey.
Nichols, who starts each day with yoga on the deck of her home, has always been passionate about making clothes locally. Everything is done on two floors of the building, one of which houses the factory.
Some pieces hanging in the large studio space conjure up the West Coast surfer lifestyle – bright, playful dresses made of neoprene, which Nichols likes for the sculptural element. The autumn/winter collection incorporates Spanish Rococo, South American landscapes, super-sized florals, Icelandic green valleys and life-sized portraits of horses. There’s a mix of cool jersey and new tailored printed skinny trousers and sharp jackets.
Clover Canyon is sold on Net-a-Porter. ‘The delightfulness of the prints and the colour, it’s so quintessentially American, the California spirit,’ she says. ‘That’s been really embraced by our London customers.’
J Brand ready to wear
Donald Oliver, design director
Right Donald Oliver with a model in J Brand ready to wear a/w: Aiah leather biker jacket, £1,188 (
); Clover silk sleeveless top in grey, £338, and Chloe silk trousers in grey, both from Harrods (as before), all available from August/September. Photo: Amanda Marsalis
J Brand was founded in 2004 as an upmarket jeans label. This spring the company launched a ready-to-wear line that is already proving popular at Liberty, Selfridges and Harrods. Key pieces for autumn/winter include leather jackets, suede and leather trousers, and a peacoat with contrasting leather panels.
When Donald Oliver, 45, became J Brand’s ready-to-wear design director last year, he moved to Los Angeles from New York, where he had worked for Calvin Klein, Vera Wang and Gap. He lives in the Westside, a part of town that is close to the beach, in a Marina del Rey townhouse, with a view of the Pacific Ocean one block away. ‘I grew up in Zimbabwe, which is a landlocked country, so living by the ocean has been a dream,’ he says.
On weekdays, before his 40-minute commute inland to J Brand’s offices in downtown Los Angeles, Oliver takes full advantage of his new-found beach lifestyle. ‘I love going out and having breakfast in the morning before work – a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal on the deck and just watch the waves crashing.’ He lives with his partner of 10 years, Thomas Muldoon, a consultant for the New York designer Yeohlee.
J Brand Cherish dress, £338, from Selfridges (0800-123400); Alberta peacoat, £848, from Harrods (020-7730 1234); Chelsea tuxedo, £405, and Charlene trousers, £252, both from Liberty (020-7734 1234)
While many Angelenos curse their long commutes, Oliver says, ‘I love going into the office. The drive gives me time to think about my day. I’m quite an early riser, so I’m in there at 8am and I start planning my day before my team get in so I’m pretty organised as to what I have to do. It’s a New York work ethic.’
The contrast between being a New York designer and a Los Angeles one has unexpectedly sparked ideas. ‘This laidback, easy attitude allows me to create and look at things openly, without any pressure,’ he says. ‘I love the cement high-rise rat race of New York, but I also, on the flip side, love the smell of the ocean, the constant sunshine in LA.’
Margaret Maldonado, creative director
L’Agence dress, £500, from Harvey Nichols (020-7235 5000); jacket, £490, from Liberty (020-7734 1234), and leather leggings, £795, from Harrods (020-7730 1234); top, £265, and shirt, £440, both from Liberty (as before)
L’Agence is housed in a quiet section of Hollywood, a block away from the studio where
I Love Lucy
was filmed in an area known more for its post-production facilities than for global clothing lines.
The exterior of the studio is unassuming, but the interior is humming with activity. Margaret Maldonado, 47, launched L’Agence in 2008. Her style is modern with classic silhouettes for all types of women to wear from day to night.
Maldonado is a Los Angeles native, having grown up in the Laurel Canyon area of the Hollywood Hills. Her friends were the children of Cheech and Chong (the 1970s hippie comedy duo), and Carole King. She later experienced the tail end of New York’s Studio 54 days, and the era remains an influence in her work.
Maldonado has a New York work ethic that belies her Hollywood roots, and she runs the brand with her husband, Mikko Koskinen, who is the CEO. They live off Sunset Boulevard, not far from where she grew up, in a house designed by Frank Gehry and once lived in by Al Pacino. Today she’s wearing her own line – blue jeans with patches from last autumn/winter, a chiffon blouse from spring and a pre-spring raw silk beige jacket.
Before launching L’Agence, she ran the lucrative Margaret Maldonado Agency (which she still runs), representing make-up artists, photographers and stylists, hence the name for her clothing line. When Maldonado isn’t at work, this self-professed hermit who enjoys hanging out with her husband and their two twentysomething sons, is hard-pressed to leave her little getaway in the hills. ‘I beat myself up that I should be more social,’ she says. ‘I should go out more, I should travel more. I’m always thinking about the line. I like making clothes, that’s what it boils down to.’
Maldonado wants women to feel feminine, but at the same time she appreciates menswear. ‘I wear a lot of men’s clothes,’ she says. ‘It’s an easy way of dressing. But not stuffy formal or uncomfortable.’
Maldonado’s collections are inspired by the two holidays she takes a year. The autumn/winter collection came from her visit to Switzerland, where she stayed at Badrutt’s Palace in St Moritz. ‘It’s that
feeling. There’s a lot of suedes, leathers, lots of patent-leather trims.’
L’Agence is sold at Dover Street Market, Net-a-Porter, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Liberty and Matches. ‘The UK and Europe were our biggest markets when we first started,’ she said. ‘I can remember being afraid to do certain colours for the UK because of the sun never being out. But the London market is fun. They will take more
of a fashion risk, they’ll put things together a little bit differently.’
Band of Outsiders
Scott Sternberg, founder, CEO and creative director
Scott Sternberg in Los Angeles. Photo: Amanda Marsalis
The name Band of Outsiders refers to the 1964 Jean-Luc Godard film
Bande à part
. It also aptly describes being a fashion designer outside New York’s fashion hub.
The founder and creative director, Scott Sternberg, who shoots his own campaigns and look books on old-school Polaroid cameras, moved to Los Angeles to make films after graduating from Washington University in 1997, where he studied economics and photography. His campaigns have starred the artist Ed Ruscha, and the actors Kirsten Dunst, James Marsden, Tom Felton and Rupert Grint. He photographed the actress Michelle Williams at the old Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the resting place for Rudolph Valentino and Douglas Fairbanks, which is across the street from the headquarters of Band of Outsiders.
There are 13 employees at the studio in Hollywood, handling design, product development and production, and four in New York, responsible for logistics and sales.
Stemberg’s designs for Band of Outsiders, from a selection (
Sternberg, 37, grew up in Ohio and as a child was dressed by his parents in Ralph Lauren’s preppy uniform of the 1980s. ‘There’s something ideal about that world,’ he says, of the classic notion of preppy. ‘But I love street prep, this aggressively reinterpreted prep.’ Launched in Los Angeles in 2004, the brand now encompasses a men’s collection with suits tailored in a 100-year-old factory in Brooklyn, New York, and range called ‘This Is not a Polo Shirt’, which evolved from polo shirts into athletics-inspired clothes. There are two lines for women: Boy, a boyish take on womenswear, and Girl, a more feminine one.
‘I always had an entrepreneurial bug and loved clothing,’ Sternberg says, sitting at his desk dressed in black with brown suede boat shoes from a collaboration with Sperry Top-Siders. ‘I wanted a brand, I wanted to make things, and it all came together.’
Sternberg lives in a modernist house in the hills of nearby Silver Lake. He often gets up early for a pilates class, and some days he is in the office at 6am. For him, ideas can come from any source. ‘I think a lot of what this brand is about is memory and nostalgia,’ he says. ‘I’m making preppy clothes that have been made for 100 years, so I don’t need to look very far for inspiration.’
Emily Faulstich and Kimberley Gordon, founders/co-designers
Emily Faulstich and Kimberley Gordon, both 29, met in summer camp when they were 12 and grew up in the beachside town of Santa Barbara.
They decided to start their company, Wildfox Couture (Faulstich’s mother came up with the name), in 2007 with Jimmy Sommers, a jazz musician, as the CEO. They set out to make T-shirts but have expanded into jewellery, sunglasses, swimwear and shoes; Wildfox Intimates will launch around November. Their collections are a blend of bohemian, vintage-inspired chic with California sun-drenched sensibilities. Both love pop music from their teen years such as Everclear, Goo Goo Dolls, Hole, the Cardigans and Garbage. Inspiration comes in everyday ways – one T-shirt collection came from a dream Gordon had. ‘You know how you end up dreaming what you’re doing?’ she says. ‘I dream about making paintings or graphics. One of them was of roses dripping with watercolour.’
The designers work in a cavernous loft of an office at Echo Park, a bohemian area that Gordon likens to east London or Brooklyn. Faulstich’s office has colour swatches on her wall as well as framed album covers of the Beach Boys’
and Joni Mitchell’s
Song to a Seagull
from her father’s collection. Gordon, who brings her Pomeranian, Stella, to work, has 1950s pin-up girls on one wall, as well as a Union flag knitted sweater (part of their ‘Grandma’s Closet’ resort collection, which is out in December), as well as several of her own watercolours.
Wildfox Couture lion tops, £240 (
The autumn/winter ‘Star Crossed Lovers’ collection features roses and cherubs, romantic graphics and love-filled phrases. ‘The line is really inspired by California,’ Gordon says. ‘We grew up with surfers and beach people, so it’s natural. In Santa Barbara, there’s a huge beach culture.’
Gordon’s British parents moved to Santa Barbara from East Grinstead when she was 11, and she is very much a Southern California girl. ‘I love American accents,’ she says. ‘I love California. I love how free and easy California girls are and I’m proud to have the accent.’
Faulstich loves London. ‘The people are so enthusiastic about the brand,’ she says. ‘You see the girls on the street wearing the shirts all the time. It’s really fun. It makes you feel inspired.’
Follow this link:
Golden state of mind: LA’s new young designers
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.