L.A. native Jenni Kayne finds success with her chic, minimalist-cool pieces

Clean lines, spare details and quiet glamour. Those are the cornerstones of L.A. designer Jenni Kayne’s 10-year-old brand, which has found a niche in the fashion world among women who are looking for a no-nonsense, modern day uniform with a colorful, California twist.

“I can’t believe it’s been 10 years,” said Kayne,a Beverly Hills native who is the daughter of investment manager Richard Kayne and philanthropist Suzanne Kayne. “I debuted my first collection at age 19, and now I’m 30 with two kids. Everyone has gotten to see my growing pains and my development into the person and the designer I am today.”

A former design assistant to Jennifer Nicholson, Kayne launched her label in 2003. One early collection, shown during Los Angeles Fashion Week, featured satin cone bras and mini-dresses dangling garters.

“I was hanging out with a lot of musicians,” she said on a recent afternoon at her West Hollywood boutique. “It was a different time.”


Today the collection, about $175 to $1,095, is more chic L.A. mom than rock ‘n’ roll chick, full of relaxed-yet-polished pieces that mix masculine and feminine elements: button-down silk shirts; tapered, pleat-front pants; lightly-structured blazers that are either boxy and short or elongated; and nubby knit, beach-appropriate sweaters, often incorporating lots of sunny color-blocking. The line is sold in Kayne’s namesake boutiques in West Hollywood and the Brentwood Country Mart, as well as a couple dozen other high-end stores around the world.

“The Jenni Kayne woman could be 25 or 60. She’s a woman who loves classic clothes that are easy and wearable — things you can throw on the floor and sit on the floor in,” the designer said.

“The styles are fashion forward, but still easy to wear at an accessible price point,” said Justin Warner, designer buyer for the website, which has been stocking Kayne’s line since 2007.

“She doesn’t follow trends, but at the same time the styles always look current,” said Stacy Smallwood, owner of Hampden Clothing in Charleston, S.C. “And her shoes have a cult following. We can’t keep them in stock.”

Indeed, a key part of Kayne’s success has been her signature, minimalist-cool, pointed-toe D’Orsay flats ($450 to $595), which launched two years ago and have since become the run-around-town footwear of choice for Jessica Alba, Emma Roberts, Rebecca Gayheart and others.

“We had them in three colors the first season, and they did well in our stores and at wholesale. Then a blogger in China wrote about them, and we got hundreds of calls from people ordering the shoes. We couldn’t keep up. The store couldn’t even function. And we said, ‘Wow, I think we hit the jackpot.’ So we blew them out in tons of colors and fabrics, and they are doing really well,” Kayne said.

Bags are on the horizon, too, probably for next year, she said — “One or two styles, not a full collection.”

Kayne has been working with her head designer Cesar Trujillo for eight years, and gives him credit for the brand’s color sense. “I wear neutrals most of the time myself, but I do love playing with color,” she said.

Together, they design four collections a year. In stores now, the pre-fall collection started with a floral print Trujillo painted himself.

PHOTOS: Jenni Kayne Resort 2014 Collection

Kayne recently returned from New York, where she presented her Resort 2014 collection, comprised of fluid tailored pieces, blouses and tanks with sharp pencil skirts, in black, navy, white, oxblood and khaki with flashes of hot pink and ethnic-inspired plaids. The looks were accessorized with ropes and ropes of bold gold chains by jewelry designer Lizzie Fortunato.

Kayne doesn’t do runway shows anymore, preferring instead to show her collections in low-key presentations.

“I don’t do this for ego, and I don’t have the drive anymore to be in New York trying to be seen,” she said. “I will go for a day or two, cast and style my show and come home. I feel guilty when I miss the first day of school because it’s fashion week. “

Although she won’t talk numbers, Kayne said her business is growing — enough so that she will open two more stores in September in Montecito, one for women’s clothing and accessories, and the other for tabletop, gifts and garden accessories. But she is in no rush to expand. She’s happy having an L.A.-centric brand.

Kayne’s boutiques also stock merchandise by other designers, including jewelry by All for the Mountain, candles by Cire Trudon, hats by Patricia Underwood, and bags by Clare Vivier. “When we first opened the store, I wanted to have everything a woman would need — shoes, clothes, handbags, jewelry, Spanx and Wolford tights. I also wanted you to be able to pick up a hostess gift, a candle or an amber ball, for example.”

But, you only have to look on Kayne’s popular lifestyle blog Rip+Tan, named after daugher Ripley, 2, and son Tanner, 4, to know that she has designs on branching into other product categories herself.

She updates the blog daily with posts on everything from how to throw a pirate-themed kids birthday party to how to wear stripes. “I’m the friend people come to ask stuff, like ‘I’m getting married, who do I use for flowers?’ Or, ‘Where do I get white linen table napkins?’ Or, ‘I’m having a baby, what do I register for?’ I don’t know why they come to me. I’m a Virgo, I’m organized, I guess I spend too much time on the Internet, and I like beautiful things,” she said. “As much as I loved giving advice all the time, I thought if I could put it all in this blog, I wouldn’t have to send out so many individual emails. And I’ve gotten so into it. I love it.”

She also has a kids’ street style blog called Ladys & Gents, launched with her friend, stylist and decorator Estee Stanley. “We got pregnant at the same time, and were both spending way too much time online shopping for kids clothes.” On the site, parents can upload photos of what their kids are wearing. “It’s meant to be inspirational for parents who like children’s fashion, not for children,” she said. “It’s anonymous. You don’t know the names of the kids or where they are. And we get submissions from as far away as Asia. It’s incredible.”

It’s no wonder Kayne is known for being an L.A. tastemaker as much as a designer. The June issue of W magazine profiles Kayne and her sisters, gallery-owner Maggie Kayne and academic Saree Kayne (a phD student in Anthropology at Stanford),calling them “L.A.'s coolest sister act” and describing Jenni as the “Tory Burch of L.A.” The Beverly Hills home the designer shares with her real estate agent husband Richard Ehrlich was featured in Architectural Digest (Ripley’s nursery, which is pictured, features framed Hermes scarves on the walls). And Martha Stewart Living recently ran a story about Kayne’s hyper-organized kitchen.

“I would love to be a younger Martha Stewart, not that I ever could be,” the designer said.

But don’t count her out just yet.

Kayne hosts a cooking class at her house each month and was en route to a flower arranging class after our meeting. Even her summer vacation will be a domestic pursuit.

She’s taking a month off to fix up a house in Lake Tahoe that was the family retreat when she was growing up. After 30 years, her parents sold it, but Jenni and her sisters recently bought it back. “It’s the kind of place where your kids can be outside and you can watch them through the window,” she said. “I’m excited to cook, take a breather and be a mom.”