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Kendall Conrad on Her Summer Bags and Love for Venice

Photo courtesy of Kendall Conrad
Photo courtesy of Kendall Conrad

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Kendall Conrad is a California girl through and through. The celebrity-favored accessories designer was born in San Francisco, raised in Santa Barbara and ruled Venice in the '80s and '90s. In 2010, she opened her first namesake boutique on Abbot Kinney Blvd, where she continues to lure trendsetters and fashion rags like Vogue into her luxe world of minimalist chic handbags and adornments. Here, Conrad walks us through her crisp summer collection (which is available in-store and online now) and explains just why Abbot Kinney is one of the most exciting streets in LA.

What inspired you to start designing?
"In 2000, I was pregnant with my second child and feeling hyper-creative. I had this overwhelming compulsion to create and design. In retrospect it was probably naive, but I just jumped in and rode the momentum of the ideas I was generating at the time and was determined to make it happen."

Were you always drawn to accessories?
"The genesis of the brand really came from my own need and what I felt was lacking in the marketplace. Back then, I had a difficult time finding a bag that I liked. There were so few that had clean lines and were logo-free. I felt motivated to create a simple tote (the Marisol) that was a bit bohemian and incorporated hand stitching. On a whim, I took it to a local saddle maker to execute and that design was the first of many. Friends began wanting a bag for their own and more ideas flowed, and so it went!"

What's the story behind your summer 2012 collection?
"When I started to design this summer collection, I went back to my roots for inspiration and reinvented some of my tried and trusted styles—my favorite classics. I also knew I wanted to emphasize white. I love the clean look of white! It is an inextricable part of summer life in California."

What type of changes did you make to some of the styles?
"I have been making the Playera for over 10 years but we tweaked it and made it a bit more luxe. The Filomena and the Nuevecita are both classic styles but I reinvented them using organic hemp, which is a new material for me. The Campo, a convertible bag that transforms to become a backpack is a new design and somewhat surprisingly, an instant bestseller. I suppose people gravitate to it (like I do) for its form and function!"

Love the backpack! What's your take on LA fashion, then and now?
"Much of fashion in LA is driven by lifestyle, which is a constant. There will always be a demand for comfort, but the industry has evolved beyond jeans, T-shirts and sweatpants. It has been interesting to see how Venice (specifically Abbot Kinney) has changed over the last five years to become an international hot spot, and in turn, how it has elevated LA’s fashion reputation. I lived in Venice in the '80s and '90s and there were very few restaurants or retail outlets. Now, there is a wonderful mix of funky and sophisticated, upscale stores. It has achieved a nice balance of high and low and it is definitely that eclectic mix that makes it one of the most exciting streets in LA."

Do you have anything else exciting coming down the pipeline?
"Yes! I am very excited about our new equestrian-inspired fall collection that will arrive in August. It is called the Lusitano Collection. I grew up riding horses—hunters and jumpers—during the school year and western in the summers at our family ranch in Northern California. Lusitanos are the magnificent horses the rejoneadores ride. My father was a Matador in Spain, and introduced me to the centuries-old tradition of tauromachia, and the exquisite craftsmanship that went into creating the rejoneadore’s accessories. I love the intricate stitching of hand crafted bridles, the simplicity and shape of leather cinches, saddles, and chaps. The solid brass hardware, napa leather and buttery nubuck can be found in my new collection in rich, musky hues of sable, taupe, charcoal, and black. Stay tuned!"
· Kendall Conrad [Official Site]
· Abbot Kinney Named "Coolest Block in America" [Racked]