Throughout their careers, designers Clare Vivier, Anita Ko, and George Esquivel have been inspired by museum and gallery visits. So when LACMA invited them to participate in the spring 2014 Wear LACMA collection, there was little hesitation to jump in. Created by fashion advisor (and wife of LACMA director Michael Govan) Katherine Ross in 2012, Wear LACMA gives local fashion designers the opportunity to tour the museum's permanent collection and choose an artwork to use as a point of departure for their own creations. The collaboration is a fundraiser for the museum, and the resulting pieces are sold at the LACMA store and on NET-a-PORTER.com. While mostly priced out of reach for the average customer (the least expensive items, t-shirts by Vivier for $85, quickly sold out) the "Wear LACMA" collection does shine a light on a growing group of clothing and accessory designers who have chosen to live and work in Los Angeles. All three approached the project from a personal perspective.
"I'm drawn to French things, to graphic pieces with text in them," says Vivier, who is primarily known for her handbags. "I'm inspired by people I see on the street...kind of from afar. I'll see someone when I'm driving or walking and I can't really make out what they're wearing--I'll turn it into something that's inspiring--it's almost like an illustration."
Vivier learned to sew while growing up in Minnesota. After college in San Francisco she moved to Paris, worked at various jobs and met her husband, Thierry, a journalist for French television. She began to design when, after returning to the U.S., the desire arose for a more stylish bag for her laptop. Business took off in 2006. Today there are namesake stores in Silver Lake and Manhattan, with one opening soon in Santa Monica.
A French embroidered man's vest from the LACMA costume collection (circa 1789-94) sparked the idea for Vivier's graphically printed clutches, tote bags, and t-shirts. "That was the piece that stayed in my mind. A lot of R&D work went into how we could print on leather and canvas. We tried a lot of different colors," she explained.
"When I came around the corner I said, 'that's it!'" says Esquivel, recalling when he first saw Felipe Santiago Gutierrez's 1876 "Portrait of a Woman with a Marigold." The shoe designer had already decided to use something Latin American from LACMA's collection, "to speak to my heritage," and considered Diego Rivera. In the end he opted for something "less expected." The women's sandal and summer desert boot are his interpretation of the painting's colors and mood.
Born and raised in Orange County, Esquivel lives in Cypress with his wife and three kids and produces his handmade line of men's and women's oxfords, loafers, and boots out of a 3500-square foot workshop in Buena Park. "Half of my business is direct to customer and we also sell at stores like Barney's," he says. He is also the creative director for Tumi Luggage.
Esquivel's turbulent upbringing (a father in and out of jail and living in motels with his mother and four siblings) makes him an unlikely success story, but he has made it all work in his favor. "I gravitate towards beautiful things because I didn't have them as a kid," he says. After discovering shoe-making on a trip to Baja in the early 90's, he worked as an apprentice, began to attract clients and got his first retail account in 2002. "Growing up the way I did you don't know how to dream. But, here I am...Never did I know you could be paid for ideas."
Ko, a jewelry designer, "went in with an open heart and mind." But when she got to the Korean collection during her museum tour, it resonated with her due to her family roots in Korea. A reading table from the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910) and a 19th century porcelain bottle, both with bat-like motifs (a symbol of good fortune), gave her the starting point she needed to design ear cuffs, a ring, and earrings. Ko grew up in the Palisades and "started designing when I was 8. I was that kid who always made her own necklaces." After a few years at NYU she returned to Los Angeles and launched her business. "I was very lucky to have parents who were supportive. It's like anything. I learned through trial and error."
The first piece she designed was a simple circle diamond necklace. Small boutiques began to carry her pieces and celebrities started to wear them. "I love walking around LA--seeing all the cool girls and all the cool boys. I'm inspired by their aesthetic. I try to design organically when it comes to me, rather than be pressured into a season," she says. "Jewelry lovers come from every walk of life--every socioeconomic class. I love seeing how people express themselves."