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The close-knit partnership at Kit and Ace

Kit and Ace

Owners Shannon Wilson, left, and JJ Wilson pose for a portrait in Kit and Ace on Abbot Kinney in Venice.

(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

Ask Shannon Wilson what’s different about her new luxury athleisure brand Kit and Ace, and she’s clear.

“We call it ‘improving the perfect,’” she says of the brand’s proprietary luxury-meets-function fabric, a “technical cashmere” dubbed “qemir.”

“Cashmere itself is pretty amazing, but we wanted to make sure you could put it in the washer and dryer, and it’s gonna recover. You can roll things up, put ‘em in your suitcase, shake ‘em out, wrinkles are gone and off you go.”

Since its debut 18 months ago, the Vancouver, Canada-based brand has opened four dozen stores worldwide, spreading its knits and layering pieces from Australia to a pop-up in downtown L.A. to new stores on Abbot Kinney in Venice and Colorado Boulevard in Old Town Pasadena. The company is headed by Wilson and stepson J.J. — the wife and son of Lululemon founder Chip Wilson.

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Shannon Wilson, a former Lululemon designer, took the functionality, comfort and stretch of athletic clothing and channeled it into high-end street wear. Kit and Ace’s technically enhanced fibers reportedly won’t shrink, stretch out of shape or pill, and Wilson has gone so far as to visit the Mongolian hillsides where the wool is harvested. Such commitment to detail is in stark contrast to highly publicized fabrication flaws that dogged Lululemon in the months before its founder resigned as chairman.

What Kit and Ace does have in common with that billion-dollar brand is a keen focus on lifestyle. The partners say they cater to men and women who lead “full-contact lives” — on-the-go types who don’t slow down from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. J.J. Wilson envisions their customers as people who are “leading a super-busy, jam-packed day and want to wear something beautiful that also performs and functions like athletic apparel.”

A sign in the Venice storefront window lists a string of terms including “non-stop,” “round trip” and “long haul.” That pace may be a bit too hectic for the mellow denizens on the Venice drag, but the brand’s draped knit wraps and relaxed-fit trousers do seem right at home, style-wise.

The shop is filled with the fall collection’s basic crewnecks, henleys and casual pants, all in solid neutrals, shades of gray and the occasional pop of navy and plum. There are whisper-thin jerseys and even underwear rounding out the bulkier pieces made of qemir (pronounced “come here,” as if to invite hands to touch). Prices range from $68 for a women’s tank to $398 for a wearable blanket or men’s blazer. Kit and Ace strives for a West Coast aesthetic paired with Italian details. To that end, pieces are equal parts relaxed and fitted, with darts and zippers to contour the body and keep slouchiness at bay.

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By spring, Kit and Ace will go after Venice’s beach-going crowd with swimwear that can purportedly be worn straight from the beach to cocktails. There are also plans for “technical silk” and a jewelry line, including bracelets, cuff links, rings and ear studs.

The store’s minimal white and exposed brick decor keeps the visual focus on what J.J. Wilson calls “hyper-local” fixtures, including a Neptune Glassworks teardrop chandelier that catches the rays flooding in through a central skylight. There’s a mini-gallery space, an exterior wall mural and a video installation projecting vintage Venice footage. All showcase the work of area artists.

L.A.-based designer Stephen Kenn constructed the massive wooden table in the middle of the store; that’s where select local luminaries will break bread as part of a semi-regular Supper Club series. A similar table by Matters of Space is a focal point in the Pasadena store, which opened in mid-November. (An El Segundo store is set to open soon.)

When they’re not carving out a hip cultural niche for Kit and Ace’s otherwise staid knitwear, the Wilsons are tinkering with new fabrics and swiftly expanding across the globe (although they won’t comment on sales figures for the privately held company). This level of collaborative success between a stepmother and stepson is surprising to some.

“I know sometimes people find it a bit unusual,” Shannon Wilson says, “but it works for us. We’ve got a great shared aesthetic, and it allows us to go to our different areas of business [she’s design, he’s marketing and development], knowing that we’re aligned in the overall look.”

As for her husband’s involvement in the fast-growing business, Shannon Wilson says he’s merely a mentor. “I actually think he’s an amazing visionary, and I think he’s probably one of the best in the business when it comes to retail. I feel pretty fortunate that we’ve got him in our back pocket.”

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Kit and Ace Venice

Where: 1130 Abbot Kinney Blvd.

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When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday

Kit and Ace Pasadena

Where: 107 W. Colorado Blvd.

When: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday

Kit and Ace Los Angeles Pop-up

Where: 1308 Factory Place, Ste. 102.

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, through Jan. 1

Information for all: (844) 548-6223, www.kitandace.com

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image@latimes.com


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