FOR THE RECORD:
A real love of vintage clothing means more than an affinity for pretty prints and old-fashioned lines. It's a longing for other worlds and other lives, an understanding of the stories that a clingy 1950s dress or a felt hat from the 1920s can tell. When Milla Jovovich and Carmen Hawk—friends who first met as young models in Paris—began working on their 3-year-old line, Jovovich-Hawk, "We would go over to each other's houses and just dump these big trash bags on the floor full of vintage clothes," Hawk remembers. They spent hours sorting through the piles, wondering what they could add to the tales already told. A Victorian wedding gown, for example, might be cut up to become a puzzle-piece bustier dress. Along the way, Jovovich realized, "We like to dress up for each other. We like to inspire each other; it's what I love most about working together."
After gaining a reputation for girly-but-knowing floral-print dresses, their fall 2007 line travels a darker path. Designed at their tiny atelier in Hollywood, it draws inspiration from "everything from very classic Irving Penn to a Versailles whore in an alley in Paris." According to Jovovich, the collection, appropriately titled Le Petit Mort, is "very eclectic and passionate; it's a little brooding, a bit of another time." Both say it feels haunted, as if the clothes have a life of their own, echoing the haunted feeling that Hawk says drew her to Los Angeles from New York.
"You can also be incredibly lonely in L.A. if you don't have your own world happening," says Jovovich. "But we're definitely in our own element here. It doesn't wear us down and wear us out; it helps us keep our innocence, that magical life, that personal world. We both need that. It's so integral to who we are as artists and as women."
Miss Davenporte / Premiere Line
Describing how she first began working with partner Cristina Ehrlich, Estee Stanley says: "We met when we were both stylists. Our assistants were incompetent, and we decided to team up and get rid of them." The polished duo knew that they could do things better on their own, and that certainty marked the beginning of a burgeoning fashion empire.
When they couldn't find the classic skirts and dresses that they wanted for clients such as Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, the two decided to design the garments themselves and created Miss Davenporte. The vintage-inspired, year-old line was received with open arms at Ron Herman and has drawn the support of such stars as Jessica Biel and the Olsens, who were photographed wearing the loose, super-short gowns and black stockings.
And then Frederick's of Hollywood came knocking, asking Stanley and Ehrlich to come up with a line of shapewear. "They told us to think dream world, what we'd create if anything was possible," says Stanley. "We looked at clients like Eva Mendes and Jessica Biel; things are never cut for these kinds of figures." Though some might say that Mendes' and Biel's va-va-voom curves would look perfect in nearly anything, Stanley says, "It's horrible. Why should you not be able to wear a plunging neckline just because you have bigger breasts? And all these bras were as big as a car!" After nearly a year, the L.A. pair came up with the Premiere Line, a two-part kit in neat white cases that contains all the silicon gel tools you need to elevate and accentuate.
Promoting the line while still styling clients and designing Miss Davenporte is exhausting, but "we have a real rhythm together," says Ehrlich. "It keeps us creative and interested—we're both focused on the long term."
Sophie Buhai and Lisa Mayock design their 4-year-old collection, Vena Cava, in a converted can factory in Brooklyn. They may be deep in New York now, but the team hails from the same place: Los Angeles. Buhai and Mayock, both recent Parsons grads, grew up in Hancock Park and Pasadena, respectively. They met on a "blind friend date," shared some mashed potatoes and bonded over their mutual love of thrift-store shopping.
"There's no one else that I'd be able to do this with," says Mayock. "Part of that comes from having really similar backgrounds and references. Going to the same thrift stores, the same beautiful old movie theaters in downtown L.A. . . . shopping on Melrose and going to the Pasadena flea market."
After collaborating on several student projects, they put together a sophisticated, Art Deco-inspired line that immediately drew the attention of editors and buyers. Success may have come quickly, but the young entrepreneurs worked hard for it. Each collection is shaped by a long design process that involves hours of research at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute—this season, they studied '60s Balenciaga and old fishermen's outfits—endlessly sketching, hand-drawing their signature patterns and draping samples on each other.
Vena Cava, named after a vein that carries blood to the heart, is entirely self-financed, and the women also handle production and business matters. "It adds to our designs," says Buhai. "You know what's possible . . . and, sales-wise, what people are responding to." That pragmatism extended to their fall '07 collection. "It was inspired mainly by Hunter S. Thompson and Ernest Hemingway—they both have a great no-bull quality."
Kerry Johnston and Arianne Tunney don't want to create the next It bag. "We're not into the trendy, one-day-wonder thing," says Tunney. "We don't want to make something where, in six months, you might be embarrassed to be walking around with it." Johnston agrees: "A bag is an investment. We wanted ours to become even more beautiful five years from now."
They share more than an aversion to the over-embellished bags that show up on the skinny arms of young starlets. Both spent time as fashion editors in New York City—Tunney at Esquire and Johnston at Sportswear International—and both express their admiration for the work of high-end Italian houses such as Hermès and Il Bisonte. Endymion Leather, which was launched in September, is their attempt to update that classic sensibility and design a bag that they actually wanted to carry. "A lot of the bags we appreciate are the ones my mother had, my grandmother had," Tunney says.
After six months of serious research at Otis and the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, the L.A. duo began sketching different shapes, finally settling on an elegant, streamlined tote that would become their first design, the Neptune. The initial inspiration came from one of Tunney's father's belts, which was fastened with a piece of nautical hardware. Those influences are apparent in the navy blue leather Neptune, with its striped canvas-ticking interior and fishhook closure. The seafaring sensibility and family connections don't end there: The line itself is named after a wood schooner that belonged to Tunney's great-grandfather.
And Endymion? He was the mythical mortal whom the goddess Diana fell for—an enviable situation that the pair might identify with. At a recent photo shoot, says Tunney, "someone from Louis Vuitton stopped me and told me how much she loved the bag. I couldn't believe it—those are our icons!"