NEW YORK — Call it the changing of the fashion guard. A number of interesting female designers have burst on the scene with casual clothing for the hip, fashion-conscious customer. Gela Nash-Taylor and Pamela Skaist-Levy, the former owners of Juicy Couture, debuted a new line, Skaist-Taylor, during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week featuring clothes with a '70s-style California vibe.
Bravo reality star and celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe showed a runway collection that also had a California rock star vibe, with velvet tuxedos and flowing gowns, while Tory Burch featured a polished fall collection with moody undertones that is sure to extend her burgeoning brand.
Now add Kelly Wearstler to the list.
"When I'm at work, I'm working. I don't chat on the phone with friends. I don't take lunch. I don't socialize during the day. It enables me to leave by 6:30 to have dinner with my family."
I admit I hadn't heard of Wearstler until Tootsies contemporary buyer Jennifer Cunningham raved about the designer's fresh casual look. So I decided to pop into her showroom before leaving New York.
Like the other designers mentioned here, Wearstler has an interesting back story. She made a splash on the interior design scene in the mid-1990s, redoing the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills for real estate developer Brad Korzen, whom she later married.
Her "retro-theatrical" interiors for Korzen's Viceroy Hotels and Resorts earned her a lot of attention, which she parlayed into a thriving career as a commercial and home interior designer. She followed that up with a number of best-selling design books, an appearance as a guest judge on Bravo's Top Design and a line of decorative home goods, bed sheets, rugs, fine china and wall treatments sold in top stores.
(Wearstler just put the Beverly Hills mansion she shares with her husband and two children on the market for $39 million. The 14,000-sq.-ft. estate was designed for movie stars William Powell and Carole Lombard in 1934.)
Last year, Wearstler launched a clothing line that quickly got noticed. It, too, has an edgy "California cool" vibe, although the look is more contemporary than some of her contemporaries. For fall, there's a nod to the '80s punk scene with muscle T-shirts in hand-dyed luxe cotton, unisex boyfriend shirts in a variety of colors, metallic leather mini dresses and surrealistic prints. She also has introduced jewel-tone jeans and leggings in a variety of colors. And nearly everything has her trademark logo featuring perforated details.
Her jewelry collection, which mixes metals, also is eye-catching. She got the idea of mixing metals from her home design business, she explained by email from southern California, which remains her home base.
CultureMap: A lot of people know you as an interior designer but not as a fashion designer. What link do you see between the two?
Kelly Wearstler: Designing a ready-to-wear collection felt like a natural extension for me. I've always loved fashion; it's been a huge source of inspiration for me in my interiors and vice versa. For example, a print in the collection could have been inspired by a wall covering. I've loved working with fabrics, metals and stones for years in my interior design projects. Translating the use of those materials into clothing and accessories has been a fluid process.
CM: Your clothing line has been described as "edgy California cool." What does that mean?
KW: California has a great laidback sensibility that I love. I try to incorporate that into the clothes. I don't like anything to feel too fussy. I just want to make clothes that are feminine, edgy and wearable.
CM: You feature lots of color, which Texans love. California-based designers seem to understand that; New York designers don't. Why is that?
KW: Color provokes an emotional connection. California is a much more relaxed and free-spirited and New York more traditional and intense. Maybe that is why we gravitate toward color more in California.
CM: What's new in your collection for fall?
KW: I introduced a line of colorwashed denim, which I'm super excited about, and a collection of knits.
CM: You're a busy person. How do you find time to do all your interior design work and fashion work, too?
KW: My days are super-organized and I stay focused on whatever it is I'm doing. When I'm at work, I'm working. I don't chat on the phone with friends. I don't take lunch. I don't socialize during the day. It enables me to leave by 6:30 to have dinner with my family. When I'm with my boys, I'm focused on them.
CM: What's in the future for the Kelly Wearstler line?
KW: I’d love to expand into more categories, but for now I'm focused on designing my first holiday collection.