Inside The Renaissance Of Los Angeles' Design Scene

First image...
Clare V. wares on display...

City Of Design Angels

Not usually recognized as a design capital, LA is now heating up in that world

... Apolis' market bag ...
... and Hedley + Bennett's aprons.

By Tanvi Chheda
Photography by Joe Schmelzer

Originally appeared in July 2015 issue of Virtuoso Life; click here to browse entire issue.

Though it’s home to spectacular midcentury-modern architecture, Los Angeles isn’t usually recognized as a design capital. But that’s changing, with designers such as Tom Ford, Louis Vuitton, and Dior eschewing more-established fashion centers and holding their shows in the City of Angels this year. Local creative types such as jeweler Irene Neuwirth and fashion designer Juan Carlos Obando have already established themselves as favorites among design cognoscenti.

“While New York may be known for its fashion houses and runway shows, some of the industry’s most successful designers come from our own backyard, including Max Azria, Monique Lhuillier, Rodarte, and Rachel Zoe,” notes L.A.-based Virtuoso travel advisor Kelsey Nagie. “With the city’s great weather year-round and design elements from old Hollywood to midcentury, inspiration – whether it be for fashion, accessories, art, photography, or events – is essentially at any creative’s fingertips.” Here, a few local designers to check out on your next visit.

The Surfer’s Daughter
Heidi Merrick
Having grown up in the surf town of Carpinteria just south of Santa Barbara, Heidi Merrick, daughter of famous surfboard shaper Al Merrick, gets coastal style; her eponymous line has a breezy, unfussy aesthetic. Now
living in L.A.’s Silver Lake neighborhood, Merrick also draws from the freedom of expression in her artsy community. “There’s a freer form of dress here, a stronger sartorial focus than in the Westside or West Hollywood,” she says. “I can put a different twist on an evening dress and let it look more relaxed” – as exemplified in Merrick’s popular Windsor dress ($572), featuring a full-length tiered skirt and cutout back detail.

For her fall 2015 collection, she looked to the beach for inspiration, sketching the lines of the waves as they rolled in and incorporating them as tucks in her dresses and skirts ($273 to $830). Working with natural fabrics such as silk and texturized cotton, Merrick makes all her clothes in Los Angeles. She describes L.A. as “a mecca of design and forward thinking, and a place where you can establish and build yourself as opposed to fitting into the establishment. The world sees it, for sure. Does New York see it? I don’t think so, but who cares?” Sold at Althouse, 761 S. Main Street; 213/488-1374; or

The Handbag Lady
Clare V.
A cult favorite for her fold-over clutches, carryalls, and monogrammed totes, handbag designer Clare Vivier has made a name for herself combining French chic with California cool, resulting in handbags that are minimalist and utilitarian, yet plenty playful when it comes to colors and textures. Even better, the bags ($165 to $540) and Vivier’s full line of leather goods are all made in Los Angeles, with elements of the process, including leather cutting and monogramming, done entirely by hand. Like Merrick, Vivier lives and works in Silver Lake. “What I really like about L.A. is that we’re surrounded by a ton of really talented people, who are all extremely ambitious and hardworking,” she says. “Everyone is getting stuff done, but we’re not in New York, so it feels a bit outsider-ish to me in the best possible way, and we can use that to our advantage.” 

Whitewashed and light-flooded thanks to architect Barbara Bestor, Vivier’s flagship store along Sunset Boulevard feels right at home amid the area’s other architectural gems, such as Rudolph Schindler’s How House and John Lautner’s Silvertop. “L.A. has a history of great midcentury minimalist architecture, and our bags reflect a focus on materials and minimal design.” Vivier has added two more outposts across the city, in Santa Monica and West Hollywood, and also has a boutique in Manhattan’s NoLIta neighborhood. 3339 W. Sunset Boulevard; 323/665-2476;

Kitchen Crusader
Hedley + Bennett
Ellen Bennett is taking over L.A. restaurants, one apron at a time. A former line cook at upscale eateries such as Providence and B├Ąco Mercat, she was displeased with the quality of aprons in the city’s top kitchens – her pockets caught on pots and pan handles; ill-fitting straps cut into her neck. With no formal fashion training but plenty of entrepreneurial spirit, Bennett set out to design and make her own aprons with adjustable straps, brass hardware, reinforced pockets, and a one-inch fusible hem across the bottom to prevent curling.

These days, staff at restaurants across the country, including NYC’s Gramercy Tavern, Chicago’s Alinea, and Restaurant David Toutain in Paris, sport her durable canvas-and-Japanese-selvedge-denim aprons in a rainbow of bright hues with playful names such as Rhubarb, Canary, and Sweet Pea. “I’ll notice the color of the sky against the water,” she says of her palette inspiration, which also draws from childhood visits to her grandmother’s home in Mexico. She recently added a children’s collection, chef’s coats, and napkins to complement her aprons. Sold at Poketo, 820 E. 3rd Street; 213/537-0751; or

Band of Brothers
Partnering with local cooperatives from Uganda to Peru, menswear brand Apolis proves that fashion can be a force for doing good. Founded by Santa Barbara-born brothers Raan and Shea Parton in 2004, the company made its mark with its signature jute market bag, providing the Bangladeshi mothers who produce it with fair wages and even literacy classes for their children. Elsewhere, a nearly 100-year-old tailoring cooperative in Honduras crafts many of the label’s button-down shirts with 20 stitches per inch for lasting wear.

A few years ago, Apolis opened an airy boutique in downtown L.A.’s Arts District, where you can browse its full range of outerwear, including the consistently sold-out Wool Chore Jacket ($328), as well as organic tees ($38), chinos ($138), accessories, candles, and magazines. “The hope was to really build a community center, where we could host dinners and films and music, and be relevant to the neighborhood,” says Shea of the retail store. Raan, the creative director, who studied fine art before turning to fashion, acknowledges the city’s design boom. “The creative community of L.A. is unique; it’s a welcoming community in a global city. Designing our brand here during this time is really special – there’s a heightened awareness of L.A. right now.” 806 E. 3rd Street; 855/894-1559;

The Accidental Potter
Humble Ceramics
On a whim, Delphine Lippens took a six-week ceramics class with a friend and began making pieces with a simple, clean look, breaking many of the traditional rules of pottery along the way. “Ceramics are supposed to be lightweight; mine are not,” she says. “Your work is supposed to be thin; mine is thick. You’re supposed to always glaze the outside, and I don’t. I’m reinventing the process, but I didn’t know better.”

Happy mistake or not, Humble Ceramics’ contemporary aesthetic resonates with many, including Jeff Cerciello of the Brentwood Country Mart restaurant Farmshop, for whom she created an entire exclusive line. From serving plates to deep bowls to apple-seed-shaped jars ($24 to $400) ideal for pouring syrup or cream, all of the pieces are made at an 8,000-square-foot warehouse south of downtown. Sold at Lawson-Fenning, 6824 Melrose Avenue; 323/934-0048.

To work with a Virtuoso advisor on your next trip(s) – to Los Angeles or not – click below to connect.

How To Work With Advisors
Many Virtuoso travelers start out worried that an advisor will try to do everything. That's actually not the case, as this story shows.
Once-In-A-Lifetime Trips
When you take a trip designed to be "above and beyond," you want it done right. Traveler Lauren Doyle turned to Virtuoso as a result.
"A Wonderful New Life"
Steve and Paula Slavsky connected with an advisor one week into retirement. A whole new world (literally) opened up for them.

Will Advisors Cost More?

Think About "Price" vs. "Value"
Price is what you pay; value is what you get. That's a crucial difference. We want you, as a potential traveler, to understand the value of an advisor. Click below to learn a bit more.