Times Staff Writer

Los ANGELES designer Jenni Kayne doesn’t just want to be a household name -- she’s looking to be legendary. “I want to be the next great American sportswear designer, like Ralph Lauren,” says the 25-year-old, who launched her namesake collection in 2003, when she was barely out of her teens.

Kayne’s sky-high ambitions played into the decision to go for size when opening her first retail store, a rambling, loft-like space on Almont Drive in West Hollywood that opened Tuesday. Though she augments her ready-to-wear collection with new and vintage jewelry and inner wear from outside brands, the designer hopes the store’s 3,000 square feet will inspire her to stay on track to branch out into other fashion and lifestyle categories.

“It’s daunting to look at this space and think about having to fill it every season,” she says, “but the store will grow with me, and I want people to be able to come in and be able to totally understand my vision.”

Kayne has good reason for wanting to set the record straight on who she is. Since launching the collection, her affluent L.A. upbringing and circle of high-profile friends (including the Olsen twins) have prompted some to pigeonhole her as a socialite designer, but she’s quick to dismiss the characterization.

“My dad happens to be really good at what he does, and he has been successful,” she says of her investment manager father, Richard Kayne. “But my parents are not socialites, and I’m not a socialite. I’ve found articles online where they compare me to Nikki Hilton. I think she’s a really nice girl, but that’s not me.”


And as her collections have become increasingly more confident and sophisticated, the society-girl label has faded. For spring, she showed a jet-set collection full of easy, classic silhouettes: floor-length chiffon gowns with blousy, long sleeves; high-waisted metallic pencil skirts; boxy silk tops; and slouchy cuffed shorts.

She has also developed several signature pieces, including cropped biker-inspired leather jackets ($1,995) and apron tops -- flowing, minidress-length tunics in silk and cotton ($300 to $800 for beaded versions). The Kayne look is always downtown-polished but never overtly sexy.

“Sexy to me is not showing a lot of skin,” the designer says. “Or maybe an arm is sexy instead of cleavage.”

The boutique mirrors the collection’s understated-luxury feel. The entryway features white-painted brick walls, heavy cherry-wood doors and a massive glass globe for a light fixture. The expansive store window houses a stuffed leopard seated next to a mannequin clad in a dramatic yellow gown from the fall collection.

The walls and ski-chalet-like sloped ceilings are paneled in thin strips of cherry wood; the floors are stained concrete. Kayne’s collection hangs on the edges of the store, on brass-and-bamboo built-in racks. Sculptural pieces from her favorite jewelry designers, Tom Binns and Lena Wald, are displayed in glass-and-bamboo cases in the larger of the store’s two rooms, along with a well-edited cache of estate jewelry and vintage watches from Tiffany and Cartier.

Tables showcase a mix of strategic undergarments: Spanx body shapers, Wolford tights and Commando underwear. “I want women to be able to come in and get dressed from head to toe,” Kayne says.

The smaller back room features ballet flats and heels from Kayne’s shoe line (created in partnership with footwear company Report), fragrances from L’Artisan and stacks of coffee-table books spotlighting the works of artists who inspire the designer (Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gerhard Richter and Raymond Pettibon.) The dressing rooms are kitted out simply, with jute rugs, bamboo benches and mirrors that are illuminated from behind.

As Kayne ventures into new categories (baby clothes, candles and men’s wear are in development), the store’s stable of outside brands will dwindle. But building a fashion empire takes time, and Kayne says she’s happy to stay on the slow-but-steady path. “It’s obviously not going to happen overnight, but I would like to do every category,” she says. “And I don’t think many young designers feel that way.”