Flanked by giant Carrera marble planters shaped like skulls, designer Paula Thomas stands in the courtyard of the first stand-alone boutique for her upscale global fashion brand, Thomas Wylde.
"I love the dark and macabre, but I try to turn that into an aesthetic that is beautiful, alluring and abstract," says the British-born, Los Angeles-based Thomas, whose label merges a streetwise, rock 'n' roll vibe with feminine sophistication.
Located next to company headquarters in Culver City, the store opened on Feb. 20, simultaneously celebrating Thomas' 48th birthday and the debut of a made-in-L.A. home collection of Moroccan-style pillows ($600), reversible cashmere blankets ($1,800), chairs and daybeds ($2,200-$12,000). The loft-like space also showcases the brand's apparel and outerwear ($350-$11,000), footwear (from $600) and handbags ($2,200-$22,000).
Thomas launched her career at age 17 with a Bond girl cameo in the 1985 film "A View to a Kill." After more than 15 years of modeling and a stint as business partner to designer Julien Macdonald of Britain, Thomas moved to Los Angeles in 2003. She launched Thomas Wylde in 2006 with a 44-piece collection of leather jackets, cashmere knits, print silks, shoes and handbags. The brand gained instant recognition when its skull-print scarves were worn by actresses Sienna Miller and Lindsay Lohan.
"I did not intend to make the skull print so prominent, but it just took off, and it identified the brand immediately," Thomas says.
Celebrity clients include Miley Cyrus, Jane Fonda, Rihanna, Nicole Richie and Cameron Diaz, whom Thomas styled exclusively in the label for the Ridley Scott film "The Counselor."
The Korean-made apparel line has grown up over the last eight years, focusing on luxurious fabrications — silks, cashmeres, leathers and fur — and decorative flourishes, such as hand-sewn crystals and hand-studded nailhead detailing. Hard meets soft on fitted leather jackets with chiffon ruffles, sharply tailored sheath dresses edged with decorative zipper detailing and lacy skull-patterned knits. Versatile designs include leather jackets with zip-off sleeves and blouses with zip-out silk scarves.
"When someone starts following the collection, they [tend] to become a big fan and are always trying to add the special pieces to their wardrobe," says Jon Harris, owner of Gregory's boutiques, which have carried Thomas Wylde since its inception. "Most designers look to the past and reinterpret older styles and trends. Paula doesn't do that. She comes up with a clear new style and new trends and runs with them."
Thomas Wylde flies largely under the radar with no fashion shows, no advertising, no press mailings, no licensing and no current backers — unusual for a global fashion label sold in more than 120 stores and hanging next to luxury powerhouse brands such as Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen.
"The word 'luxury' gets bantered around a little bit too much these days, and I don't think people really fully understand what it means any more in fashion," says Thomas, explaining that her low-profile approach is intended to prevent knock-offs by fast-fashion retailers and create a quality brand experience.
"People want something other than the trendy, 'bag of the season' vibe; they want an experience," she says. "When they shop with us, they can meet me personally, have a glass of Champagne and learn about the collection. If they can't come to us, we can curate for them."
Thomas Wylde offers a by-invitation VIP membership club for top customers that includes previews of seasonal collections, access to limited-edition handbags, a 30% discount and a points-rewards system.
Given the 15-employee company's rapid expansion plans, Thomas is working with Vendome Global Partners to secure an investment partner. A fine jewelry collection ($500-$120,000) is scheduled to debut in July. E-commerce and a revamped website, with film clips and Thomas' styling tips, will launch on www.thomaswylde.com this fall. In early 2015, the company plans a 60- to 80-piece Wylde Denim collection ($120-$350) and licensed footwear; by 2016, licensed eyewear and fragrance will join the mix.
And shops in Miami, Paris and Tokyo are in the works too.
Where: 3237 S. La Cienega Blvd., Culver City
When: 10 a.m to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Information: (310) 559-5549, www.thomaswylde.com