Meet Nine Of The Most Talented Young Designers In L.A.

The fashion business is booming

by Natalie Rinn

Historically, Los Angeles has not been a center for fashion, but, in the last decade, an increasing number of creative entrepreneurs have moved to the city to work, with plenty of fashion designers among them. Many are transplants from New York and first sharpened their skills within that city's more rigid structure. But Los Angeles provides perks that New York does not, like space, both the physical kind and the kind in your head; time, because a better work-life balance exists, since the cost of living is lower; and finally, a different spirit of generosity. The designers we talked to—all of whom happened to be women—praised a willingness among their community to share the means, methods, and secrets of production in this still-developing design landscape.

From shoes and jewelry to jeans and work and travel wear, these L.A.-based ready to wear lines are pragmatic and minimal, but also stunning—and you will want to pay attention to them all. They often operate outside of the traditional fashion calendar, because L.A. allows designers to work on their own terms and timelines. And, while the fashion industry is not always good to the environment, these designers are thoughtful about their fabrics, where their pieces are produced, and who they hire to make them. More often than not, those decisions are possible because they live in Los Angeles. And, with so much creative headspace, their designs have been able to come fully into their own in L.A., a city whose expansiveness offers an open and inspiring place in which to create.

See what we mean in our spotlights on nine L.A. designers you'll want to know.

Charlotte Stone of Charlotte Stone

Known for: Vibrant color, the Gloria

Working in: Ventura

Pieces she is most excited about from her spring line: The Melle and the Effie, sourced from African prints, via the Netherlands

What was the start of your interest in fashion?

I moved to Los Angeles 18 years ago when I first decided to do shoes. I researched schools all over the world and decided on FIDM in Los Angeles. Afterward, I freelanced for a bunch of small brands and, for seven years, I designed for Joie, doing all of their shoes in multiple countries. I think, working for them and freelancing in general, spurred me to do [my own line]. I wanted to explore color, and in my experience working for big brands, they want their core business to be neutrals. There are always pops of color here and there, but they don’t take it seriously. So I wanted to explore color, texture, and use really good materials—Italian fabrics and leather. I didn’t want to compromise anymore. For three years I both freelanced and did my own line; this is the first year I’ve been completely on my own. My first big hit was The Gloria. Solange bought them and took them on her honeymoon and took pictures, and it was like, Huh, wow! I’ve done them every season, and they always sell like crazy.

What was your inspiration for your spring line?

I started with this weird art school thing, taking all these scraps and putting all these colors together. I made giant studs that look like those paint pots, and then I really wanted to bring in print, which I don’t normally do. I did four authentic Dutch wax prints. I was always drawn to African block prints, they’re so bright and bold and their stories are really interesting. The ones we bought are from Holland, and the Dutch took them to Africa and sold them to women, who totally took them on and put their own stories onto specific prints. There is one print with fans on it, and women who don’t want bad men in their lives wear fans so it blows the men away.

What does it mean to you to be a part of the fashion and design community in Los Angeles?

I feel like I’ve really just started to build a design community for myself. I was so crazed doing full-time freelance and also doing Charlotte Stone for the last three years that I didn’t make the time to reach out to peers or build those important relationships. This year changed everything though. I quit all my freelance work to solely focus on my line, and that’s when I started participating in every pop-up and local makers market that I could. I was able to connect with all these small business owners who were going through the same things I was, and we could commiserate and brainstorm ideas. The networking led to some big opportunities and collaborations, and now I have this great big support system of peers that can offer help or point me in the right direction and vice versa. Running an independent small business is not for the faint of heart, and knowing that I can pick up the phone and have, or give, some friendly advice is invaluable.

Kelsy Parkhouse of CARLEEN

Known for: Denim, vintage textiles, quilted coats

Working in: East Hollywood

Pieces she is most excited about from her spring line: Faded red denim, denim shift dress

How did you develop your aesthetic?

I’ve been finding my own treasures by going to flea markets with my mom and aunts since I was old enough to walk. I wasn’t just being dragged along, I really liked doing it. Then, when I was a student at Pratt and making my thesis collection, I wanted to use a lot of prints, but making 20 of your own prints as a student and getting those produced in some way and sampled is unrealistic. So, I was like, "Oh, I’ll look at vintage fabrics." That was my problem-solving way of getting great prints. And I also liked quilts. My mom’s house is filled with them. It was just a part of the landscape. So there are elements I carry from season to season, but then I play around within the margins. In time, I have learned that there is a balance in creating something simple enough to fit into your actual life and actual wardrobe, but interesting enough that it’s compelling and desirable.

How do you typically get inspiration for your new lines? 

When I’m designing a line, there are usually two things I do. First, I procrastinate a lot. I’ve stopped beating myself up about it because most of the procrastination turns into subconscious simmering, and whenever I finally do stop procrastinating, it comes out pretty quickly. Also, there is usually a piece of art or an artist that I am looking at and drawn to that typically anchors the collection. Something that I put in the Spring collection that was influenced by living in L.A. is a short little denim throw-on shift dress. That was a real hole in my personal wardrobe, moving from New York to L.A. I’m super-excited about the red denim I have in my collection, a very washed faded red for spring. It’s just perky enough.

What does it mean to you to be a part of the fashion and design community in Los Angeles? 

I feel so embraced by the design community here in L.A. I've only been here about nine months, but all the more established designers—and so many of my fellow transplants especially—have been so welcoming and open with their resources. The transition from New York to L.A. has gone more smoothly than I ever could have imagined.

Leigh Miller of Leigh Miller Jewelry 

Known for: Sculptural jewelry, a wax-cast ripple effect

Working from: Boyle Heights

Pieces she is most excited about for spring: KOMBU and Padina earrings

How did you get your start in jewelry?

I studied fashion at Otis School of Art and Design in Los Angeles. It was a very challenging program, and I came out with a really great portfolio. At the time, in 2003, L.A. was a different L.A. It didn’t have the culture in terms of art and food and all those things to hold my interest. I went out to New York and worked for J. Crew for four years and then Calvin Klein and a couple of other designers. I was doing more mundane corporate design work, and I wasn’t really feeling inspired. I started thinking about, with jewelry, the sky is the limit. It is wearable sculpture. I started kind of dabbling in jewelry and, around 2010, I met someone and moved to Rio, Brazil. I took jewelry design classes at a little atelier started by a renowned mid-century modern designer Caio Mourão. My relationship ended, and it made sense to move back to New York to a launch line because I had a good community of friends. After the launch in December 2014, a year or so later, things really started to take off, and it felt like the right time to move to L.A.

What was the inspiration for your line of jewelry? 

I really wanted to do something different—I played with wax and other materials and figured out what techniques would work. It was a combination of what I was exposed to in Brazil, and some of it has really topographic melted patterns. I did all of that by melting wax, and making a melted was cast, and that’s where that rippling effect comes from. I was really lucky that I stumbled on this technique because I haven’t seen anyone who has done that before. It’s been great to live in L.A. because I always sort of retreat to nature for inspiration for pieces. And it’s amazing to go to the ocean and sit on rocks and get peace of mind there and come up with ideas.

What does it mean to you to be a designer in Los Angeles? 

The design community in L.A. has been fantastic. A lot of designers have lived in New York, but there are a lot of incredibly talented, open-hearted and -minded women here. It feels very supportive and doesn’t feel competitive. Everyone embraces each other and appreciates each other and everyone has been very welcoming and kind and great. And in L.A., I can have a little bit more headspace to let my line really take off. I am able to afford to rent a nice-sized studio and have a nice-sized home for next to nothing, something I was not able to do in New York, and that, in turn, makes me a happier me, and [allows me to] create a more inspired product.

Laura Choi of Par en Par

Known For: Resort and travel wear

Works from: Downtown L.A.

Pieces she is most excited about for spring: The tie-waist culottes in khadi

How did you get your start in fashion?

I went to Wharton business school. But, as a teenager, I would read the pages of Glamour; everyone has moments where they think this is so fun, but I didn’t really consider it as a career. In business school retailing was my major, and I really fell in love with the business of retail. Fashion was just kind of a weird default part of it. I wanted to find outlets for creativity, and I started to explore that at FIT, taking evening design courses. Fast-forward five or six years, and I am designing my first collection, pulling out the same papers and looking at old sketches and going from there.

What was the inspiration for your line? 

Everyone in New York travels so much because you have to get out of there; my rule was once a month. Being from the West Coast originally, I craved going to warm weather places and wanted a wardrobe specifically for that—simple clothing designed for travelers like myself. How do I design something that is fluid and year-round? After I quit my job at Warby Parker in 2016, I went to the desert by myself, and I learned about being out there in the middle of nowhere. It was such an amazing experience, thinking about minimalist principles and what it is that you really do need to live and thrive and be creative. I think it’s really interesting, on a philosophical level, why women are drawn to the West, and the importance of solitude and space to develop into your own. My move to L.A. was part of that, and Par en Par is the most personal expression of that.

What does it mean to you to be a designer in Los Angeles? 

Coming off of nine years in New York, I have found that, in L.A., there is a whole other level of maker-mentality. There is a different kind of hunger here and a willingness for people to come and work with you. The access is so much deeper and real. New York is diverse and gritty, but because the cost of living is so high, I don’t think people are as willing to take a chance to just work and create, and that’s what L.A. provides.

Krista Fox of Town Clothes 

Known for: Matching sets, monochrome looks, flowing lines

Works from: Downtown L.A.

Pieces she is most excited about for spring: Tunic-length Salima dress with large sleeves in linen

How did you get your start in fashion? 

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a fashion designer. I learned how to sew by making doll clothes, but I never knew that it could be a job. An aunt I was super-close with said, "You should be a fashion designer." So that thought was in my head for years. Finally, in high school, I started taking sewing classes—I was the only person in class—and I studied fashion in community college. I graduated and went to CCA in San Francisco. I did my senior fashion show, and one of the judges owned a boutique in San Francisco, and he gravitated toward the line, and he and his sister ordered my collection to be in their store. I sewed and screen printed the whole collection. After that, I took a huge break from making stuff. I was worn out and I had this job in high-end retail, and the store owners taught me so much about the industry and design and quality and craftsmanship and seeing the customer perspective and what customers want. I started back up and moved to L.A. in 2013, when San Francisco was kind of pricing everyone out, and that’s when I started Town Clothes.

What was the inspiration for your line?

I want clothing to last a long time. I don’t want it to be trendy. I feel like that lends to things being wasteful, and I want my clothes to have a long-standing life, and be for women of all ages. Women in their 20s and 60s shop in my boutiques and they cater to both groups.

What does it mean to you to be designer in Los Angeles? 

It’s really exciting right now. A lot of really talented people are coming out of L.A. that are wanting to be a community, and that are positive and giving each other advice and help. Doing this is really hard, and it can be a mystery because no one wants to share with you their secrets, but here, so many people do share their secrets and are so helpful. I’ve made really good friends from being in this industry, so that makes me happy.

Whitney Bickers, owner and designer at Myrtle

Known for: Carrying all women-led lines, designing pieces for petite frames

Works from: Highland Park and Downtown L.A.

Pieces most excited about for spring: A versatile jumpsuit with an elastic waist, high shoulders, pockets, and a zip-front

How did you get your start in fashion?

I have always loved clothes since I was a kid. Both of my grandmas had fun with clothes and were really big on dressing up. But I wimped out of design school when I was a teenager; entrance exams required a portfolio, and it felt so out of reach to me. I went to USC film school, graduated, and worked with William Morris for five years, then got a job working at a production company. I wanted to produce movies—analogous to my store—that were female-led stories, or with female directors, and that’s not what I did at all. So I got to this point where I was really unhappy in entertainment, and giant male-centered projects were not where my heart was. I had one lightbulb-style epiphany to have a store, and the brands that should be in it, and the name came to me from the beginning [Bickers' great-great-grandmother’s name]. It symbolized longevity and had a feminine appeal and it is also a kind of flower. Then it took a year of researching and planning; I opened right before Christmas in 2011, and it has just been growing since.

What was the inspiration for the lines you carry, as well as your own? 

All of them have at least a woman involved; sometimes there are couples and design teams, but I like a visible female leader. I like there to be a true face of the brand; that’s something I respond to and my customer responds to a lot, as well. Last year, we started an in-house line. It is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I wish I had done my own pieces so much earlier, but it took that long for me to see what my customers want. The best designs come when you wish some specific thing existed on the market, and you can’t find it. That’s how my line came up. My style has changed after my toddler was born. I’ve always been a more dressed-up person, so while nursing it was hard to wear a dress and have a baby spitting up all over everything. I was wearing a uniform of jeans and t-shirts, and I hated it so much. I’m into really functional but pretty stuff. 

What does it mean to you to be a designer in Los Angeles?

I think the design community in Los Angeles is amazing, and, if it weren’t amazing, I wouldn’t be doing my line. It’s because designers I work with are so generous with their resources that I have been able to get this education. Honestly, it’s good for everyone. The local production here, they wanna be producing things, and it’s kind of great for all designers if we can share and make sure that people here have enough work to keep that kind of work going in L.A. We have so many designer markets, things like Echo Park Craft Fair and Renegade and Row. There are all these designers hanging out with each other, and it fosters a lot of creativity and a lot of cooperativeness.

Toni Walker of Fair Season Vintage

Known for: Vintage denim, work wear

Works from: East Hollywood

Pieces most excited about for spring: White jeans

How did you get your start in fashion? 

I’ve always been into clothes. Even as a kid, I would look forward to picking out outfits for school. Fashion and clothes were a personal passion, something that I loved, collecting vintage and going through my grandmother’s stuff, and my mom’s old stuff, but I never thought of it as a career. Going to college at 18, I thought I should do something practical—study political science or go to law school. I worked in the legal world for a couple of years, and I was a teacher the New York City public school system. But after that, I thought, I wanna do what I wanna do, and I wanna work with clothes. When I started, I opened an Etsy shop and tapped into the wholesale market of vintage dead stock. A couple of months after I launched, Urban Outfitters contacted me because they were starting a little vintage capsule project here in L.A., and they were looking for people to source for them. I started working with them while I was still in New York. But I had wanted to leave New York for probably at least two years; I lived in NY for nine years, and I wanted to get off the MTA map and needed to change. So I came out for six weeks and met a buyer that I had been working with, and I did an event with Urban and figured, Okay, I can figure out how to make a living here, and I moved.

What was the inspiration for your store? 

What I’m looking for is the thing that is not going to go out of style. I’m aware of trends and aware of what’s going on in the marketplace, but what I’m trying to offer is, you open your closet in the spring and find a lightweight tour jacket that is perfect at any time of the year, every year. Timeless stuff, like that Bill Cunningham jacket. I’m not a purist, but I don’t really like modern denim. I don’t like the fit, and I don’t like the material. Vintage denim is a sturdier fabric, and most modern jeans have Lycra or Spandex in them—and I’m not a fan of that. There are trends that I do like, but I do really try to keep it very classic. I love workwear because it’s so practical: You have a pocket where you need a pocket, the front pocket of your overalls fits your cell phone and keys. The clothes are making your life easier.

What does it mean to be a part of the design community in Los Angeles? 

I was so green in New York, but practically doing anything in New York is harder—finding vendors is harder, the price point is harder, the wholesale level is higher, and there is not as much product. The short amount of time I was sourcing on the East Coast, it was much more difficult than it is out here. It is really competitive getting into Brooklyn Flea or something like that. There is just such demand, and so many people are waiting for a couple of years. Then I came to L.A., and I hit the pavement running. I was doing the Melrose Flea market, I did everything. And, a lot of my friends in L.A. are either vintage seller friends or my vintage customers. I don’t really do market anymore, you burn out doing in-person markets, but it is so much fun. Your booth turns into all these young women, all talking about what’s going on in their love lives, and it’s just so much fun. It is such a great way to meet people and meet other cool women.

Aza Ziegler of Calle Del Mar 

Known for: Knitwear, washed-out colors, vintage California aesthetic

Works from: Echo Park

Pieces most excited about for spring: Loose-fitting wide-leg knit pants, bandeau top with matching swim bottom

How did you get your start in fashion? 

I grew up with a mom being like, ‘We can make it,’ so I kind of started just sewing. I was really into materials. My grandmother taught me how to knit, or mom would help me make things I would design. She has great style, and I loved playing dress-up in her closet. At 15 or 16, I decided I wanted to go to fashion school. I went to Pratt, and it was so challenging, but one of the best experiences of my life. All it is is exploration and hard work. You incubate ideas and make anything. When you get into the real world, you have to think, Will this color actually sell? At the time, though, I was designing with a little bit more of a wearable twist than a lot of people. I was thinking about how a collection could be produced, something that could be bought. So at the [thesis] show, I had a faculty panel and an industry panel. It was really positive, and that kind of made me be like, Okay, I guess, I could do this. After the show, I got a few emails within a week from a couple of stores. Looking back, I should have taken a step back. I didn’t have the production to back that up or a business plan, I just dove in and made a million mistakes. I don’t regret it, but somebody should have been like, "Calm down." But I went with the momentum and sold to a couple stores. I got really burnt out. That’s when I decided not to do seasons. I scaled back and had more direct communication with customers and figured out how to use a little money I made from stores to invest in making products to sell online.

What was the inspiration for your line? 

My first aesthetic was a lot of cut-and-sew, a lot of embellishment and skate-inspired streetwear. I had a vintage California palette—I was so homesick when I was doing my thesis. It was me dreaming up my home, and I’ve always loved effortless California style. Everyone throws on a t-shirt and looks great. I think there is a lot of envy in a not-trying-too-hard kind of look. And then, I always wanted to do knitwear, and I met this woman and convinced her to work with me. She is based in Los Angeles and a few knitters work out of her house. We just bonded immediately and moved entirely into knits.

What does it mean to be a part of the design community in Los Angeles? 

Don’t get me wrong, I loved New York, but it was really hard for me to break out of a structure that existed there in design, and here it didn’t feel like it. I didn’t feel like I was supposed to be producing seasons or that things were expected of me. I originally started going to L.A. to work on some sweatshirts, and I got a bunch of orders for this towel sweatshirt with a wave logo on it. I got it quoted, and it was so high in New York, and I was like, "I feel like this shouldn’t cost that much money to make." L.A. is the land of sweatshirts and t-shirts, and I found a factory in L.A. and met them, and it was a really positive experience. I brought it to a dye house, and there was so much possibility that I didn’t really know existed. There are so many factories in L.A., and a number of them are out of work because so many people aren’t producing here. But there are production capabilities. And also my brand felt like it resonated so much with being from California, and I felt proud of producing in California. So when I moved here, I had already moved my production here.

I was so pleasantly surprised by how many women in L.A. have their own brands and are selling direct-to-consumer, or have a single product that they’re wholesaling and designing in a way that works for them. I loved that. This is what I wanna be associated with. I’m really pleased with the mostly female brands that are coming out of L.A. and marching to the beat of their own drum.

Jesse Kamm of Jesse Kamm

Known for: High-waisted sailor pants, minimal utilitarian aesthetic, slow fashion

Works from: Mount Washington

Pieces she’s excited about for spring: The Gatherer top, overalls

What was the beginning of your interest in fashion?

When I landed in Los Angeles in the early 2000s, the constant refrain was: "You’re six feet tall and have big blue eyes, and you should be a model." And I thought, coming from the cornfields, that that would be a really great idea. Which, in the end, was not a great idea. I was sort of locked into my good Midwestern values and comfortable with who I was as a person, but it totally did the thing that you would expect: It made me feel like I was inadequate in some way. But I did get to travel the world and got exposed to a lot of things. So the one thing I got out of it, was this idea of making a look out of something you saw from history—whether it was an old movie or book.

I always wanted to learn how to sew. I started taking a class at LACC. I got this job three days a week working at Resurrection and learned about fashion through that little pathway. The girls who worked there with me... it was an amazing moment in time. We would do fashion reports for each other—Halston was my first report—and we just were very clearly all going to do our own creative thing. It was almost like a little think tank. So, as I was working there, I was taking my sewing class and started making clothes. I would get coffee and, standing behind me in line, they’d say, "Hey, where you’d get that dress? Could you make one for me?" I’d throw out a number for how much it would cost, and then I would have a customer. Then a stylist friend said I should make a book of pieces and he’ll bring it to Paris. From there, my very first order was from Colette, and that was the moment I just saw an opportunity and I took it.

What was the inspiration for your line? 

I grew up in a very rural community, and there was no fashion or sense of fashion whatsoever. My mom was a potter and my dad was musical and had very good style, and that sort of inadvertently affected me. I feel like they are responsible for my super minimally utilitarian aesthetic.

I think at that time, in the late '70s and early '80s, my parents were around a lot of really cool artisans. They all look like everybody in Silver Lake now—amazing mustaches and Japanese work clothes that served as their art studio outfits, and a lot of overalls and great L.L. Bean. That was just what people wore in my mind. So, for me, my aesthetic requires a clean line and has evolved over time. The success of my brand at this juncture and the level of success I’m having right now in my 30th year has everything to do with my having child. When I had Julien, I was still trying to make prints, but someone said, "You know, Jesse, you could let the prints go. You have a good understanding of color and texture, and you could explore that." There was a moment in 2010 where I said, "I’m gonna do it, try it," and it felt so good. It was like shedding an old heavy coat you had been forced to wear, and the only person forcing it was myself. Since Julien was born, the constant refrain in my mind is: trim the fat. That goes for adornment on pieces of clothing, a zipper, or a button, or pleat—if it’s not necessary, it has to go.

What does it mean to you to be a part of the design community in Los Angeles? 

I’ve been out here almost 19 years, and producing in L.A. for 13. It’s a great city to manufacture in; there are more brands who operate out of this country who are building their things overseas. But there is a huge opportunity to manufacture in L.A. And, personally, manufacturing here is a great point of pride. It can get very political, and I think there are many people of many different walks of life who work on this brand, and I’m so proud that all of these amazing hands who come from the U.S., from Europe, from Mexico, from El Salvador, from Guatemala, they have an opportunity to work and make a life for themselves and their families. And I am so disgusted by what’s happening with immigration, and I think we’re really lucky here in California, and I’m proud to be a part of the manufacturing here.