Vanessa Bruno likes to say that she makes "easy clothes for difficult girls." But in the Parisian designer's world, "difficult" doesn't mean someone who must coordinate her outfit with an alcohol monitoring anklet but a woman with original taste who wants her clothes to reflect her individuality.
"For me, it's about personality," says Bruno, a lithe and vibrant former model who was in Los Angeles recently to celebrate the launch of her flagship U.S. boutique, opening Thursday on Melrose Avenue . "I've always had the feeling that you can be extremely sophisticated and beautiful but you don't want to look like the others.... I think girls are more intelligent than that now."
At a private dinner held in Bruno's honor — on her birthday, no less — at the Chateau Marmont, a steady stream of chic actresses, artists, designers and stylists filed into the candlelit garden, all wearing Vanessa Bruno and all looking unique. Rachel Bilson donned sassy stripes and a short black capelet, while Atlanta de Cadenet (daughter of Amanda de Cadenet and Duran Duran bassist John Taylor) threw a black ostrich feather bolero over a peach skirt with crochet lining. Designer Tara Subkoff's lacy white fringed ensemble can be described only as Victorian-tribal-flapper-esque, and the French actress, writer, director and recent mom Julie Delpy, who has been wearing Bruno's clothes for a decade, wore a more sedate white lace blouse and black skirt.
Already well known in creative, cosmopolitan circles for her wearable, luxe bohemian pieces ( Kirsten Dunst, Cate Blanchett and Vanessa Paradis are also fans), Bruno now sees an opportunity to bring a more original spirit to fussy Hollywood events.
"I'm very pleased; a lot of the girls are really excited about the brand coming here," says the designer, settling into a booth at the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel. She takes a sip of the green jasmine tea she brings wherever she goes and adds, "Sometimes when I look at actresses, how they are in real life and then when they go on the red carpet, I'm like, 'Hey girls, what happened? Who are you?!' "
It's Bruno's first time in Los Angeles, but not in America; she reminisces about traveling around the States with her mother as a child, wearing OshKosh overalls and clogs, and listening to Carole King's "Tapestry." "So even though I never came to L.A. physically, I'm familiar with it and I'm also influenced by it," she says. Opening her first U.S. store here was less a calculated decision about market research or New York versus L.A. than, simply, "a natural path."
Wearing a silk floral top over a black lace camisole with denim shorts, a buttonless gray cardigan and a snugly tailored black jacket whose peaked shoulders have a vaguely Deco flair, Bruno is her own best model and a perfect embodiment of her seasonless approach to the seasons. In her fall 2010 collection, a contemporary take on her "Nordic roots" (her mother was a Danish supermodel), she casually pairs silk chiffon with fur, wool flannel with gauze and delicate alpaca knits with leather, in earthy tones shot through with bursts of color and shimmer. All the looks are grounded by her coveted chunky shoes and boots — designed for the woman who, like Bruno, needs heels that are suited to bicycling as well as dinner parties.
Like her last two collections, this season is also celebrated with a short film collaboration between Bruno, filmmaker Stephanie di Gusto, and the actress and model Lou Doillon. In Summer's "La Bel Ete" (on view now at http://www.vanessabruno.fr), Doillon, a captivating mix of toughness and vulnerability, dances barefoot and cries over the playing of one-named pianist Gonzales; for fall, she roams a mystical landscape and sings a song she wrote herself.
A still of Doillon from this "visual poem" takes up one wall of Bruno's new store, whose creamy palette, high ceilings and brushed concrete floors set off haute Parisian pieces like a glass armoire and a Louis XVI chair found on Abbot Kinney. In addition to her ready-to-wear line, the boutique will also carry her diffusion line Athe, and a special L.A. edition of the roomy canvas-and-sequin Cabas totes she's now famous for.
"I think what I try to do is give a dream," says Bruno with a tilt of her platinum-haired head, "but at the end it has to come back to the reality of what we are every day."
8448 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. (323) 655-5300. 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. http://www.vanessabruno.fr