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Cool California artists and Mexican pottery patterns inspire Wolk Morais' latest collection

Wolk Morais presented its latest men’s and women’s collections in West Hollywood Tuesday night, marking another chapter in the label’s long-running love affair with all things SoCal.

Backstage before the show, designers Brian Wolk and Claude Morais said they took inspiration from the painters of what they like to call the “California Cool” movement of the mid-20th century. “We looked at painters and jazz musicians and all these people who were kind of rebelling [against] the rigidity of the East Coast, yet there’s still a sense of formalism about their work,” Wolk said. (One of their inspirational starting points was the exhibition "Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury” by curator Elizabeth Armstrong.

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“We delved into fine arts and we looked at a lot of women painters — Helen Lundeberg, being one of the main ones. Also, women painters who migrated to L.A. like Tamara de Lempicka who came here,” he continued. “There’s a strong sense of architecture and geometry in their paintings, so that kind of informed us; we designed all the dresses and the suits as if we were kind of building sculptures and paintings.”

The duo also cited California crafts, including Heath Ceramics and the geometric patterns of Mexican-style pottery, as influences.

Color-wise, the runway was awash in lots of black and white, boldly patterned pieces as well as color-blocked dresses and jackets in shades of navy blue, bright red, burgundy and gold, which Morais attributed to L.A.’s effect on the New York transplants. “I think our brains have changed since we’ve lived here,” he said. “I think the colors all look different now.”

Standout pieces in the eye-catching collection included unisex jacquard suits, particularly those sporting black and white zigzags or a red, blue and gold medallion pattern; a black and white polka-dotted vegan leather mini-dress; and a color-blocked pink, red and burgundy maxi-dress. A less formal feel came by way of athletic mesh tank tops emblazoned with the Wolk Morais logo and horizontally striped turtlenecks, T-shirts and trousers.

Designers Claude Morais, left, and Brian Wolk in front of Fred Segal Sunset, where their Wolk Morais shop-in-shop opened June 26.
Designers Claude Morais, left, and Brian Wolk in front of Fred Segal Sunset, where their Wolk Morais shop-in-shop opened June 26. (Emma McIntyre / Getty Images for Wolk Morais)

The designers have staged runway shows at venues all over the L.A. area — the roof of the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel, the gardens of Yamashiro restaurant and a West Hollywood cocktail lounge among them — the choice of the Jeremy Hotel on Sunset Boulevard had resonance not because of its sweeping view of the city (though it did have that), but because it was a cuff-button’s toss away from the Fred Segal flagship, also on Sunset Boulevard, where a Wolk Morais shop-in-shop opened for business earlier the same day. Currently stocked with standouts from Collection 6 (which was shown in January), it marks the first bricks-and-mortar retail presence for the brand, which until now has sold its wares through e-commerce, trunk shows and private orders.

“We’re really excited about [Fred Segal],” Wolk said. “We’ll be doing monthly shipments to them as well as doing some special things for them that aren’t on the runway.” Wolk said that pieces from the just-revealed Collection 7 would drop at the retailer in September. Wolk Morais prefers to number its collections in an effort to be less season-specific, but that delivery date lines up with other brands’ resort collections.

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