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A Day Trip to SAbel designer Serena Abel's Silver Lake Studio

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Photos by Elizabeth Daniels

SAbel designer Serena Abel grew up watching her mother, an opera singer, get dressed up in gowns in her hometown of Potomac, Maryland and she credits that as the time she developed a fancy for looking different and standing out in a crowd. Although Abel enrolled in every art class she could growing up, nothing really clicked with her so she decided to channel her creativity through fashion. In 2011, she hit up the infamous Barneys warehouse sale where she ran across a piece of hand painted silk and fell in love. "It was one of those things that you see and it sticks in your mind," Abel said of the epiphany that led her to quit her day job and pursue her passion.

Abel's first step to becoming "SAbel Made" was finding someone to apprentice under. She met a lady in Laguna Beach who took her under her wing for six months and during that period of time she focused on her craft and learned everything she could about working with the dyes and fabric. "When you paint on silk there's no erasing," Abel explained. A short time later, in October 2012, Abel launched her line.

The designer, who was recently elected as an emerging designer by the LA Fashion Council, is in the process of setting up an online store but prefers to do business face-to-face with her customers. Each piece is handpainted, treated then cut and sewn by Abel herself, which is why she often works with a client's specific needs in mind. While her price point varies depending on complexity of the painting, a good average is around $300 for her popular sundress but already completed samples can be snatched up for even less.

We visited the young designer at her Silver Lake studio, which features a two-car garage, massive steamer and loads of dyes, silk and frames, "It's the perfect neighborhood for me," she said. While we were there, she walked us through her process and let us dabble in a little silk painting ourselves, it's not as easy as she makes it look!

Where do you find your inspiration?
"A lot of past experiences. Growing up, my dad would have us explore different national parks, so I was a huge nature girl. I pull from places I've been. Montana is one of the most inspirational places. I pull from images that are in my head from my past and take those colors or that feeling and put that into clothing. I'm really inspired by movement and feeling."

Describe your design process.
"There are two ways I design, I design conceptually and I design for clients. My conceptual is my artistic side. When I'm doing that I go out, see something I love, paint it in my own interpretation and letting the shape of the painting dictate what the piece becomes. Painting can take anywhere from two hours to 48 hours to weeks or months, after that comes three hours of steaming, then you have to wash the dye out of the fabric, press it, then start making the pattern."

If someone were to set up an appointment to come in and see you, what should they expect during their visit?
"It's just a fun experience. They'll paint a piece of fabric and get to know the artistic side of it. They can come in, see what I'm working on and painting at the moment, then we sit down and talk shapes and what they want. Some people come in and are so inspired that they say, 'I just want you to make me something.' They'll fill out a client form so I can get to know them and when they order something I have another form where I sketch out the design, include colors option and make other notes. I also take their measurements and we try on different shapes."

How long does it usually take you to complete a special order?
"I can get almost anything done in a week. There are two parts to the process, the painting and the cutting and sewing. They pick what kind of painting style they want and that dictates the time it takes to get it to them."

Why did you choose this location to set up shop?
"I love Silver Lake. I love the hills, I love the vibe, I love that a lot of people here are into homegrown and local and it's close to the Downtown LA Fashion District. Eventually, I would love to move to Venice. But I found this place with the two car garage and driveway and thought 'This could work.' Because of the design process, my studio needs are pretty great."

What are some of your favorite spots in the area?
"I love Mohawk Bend, it's a really great restaurant that used to be an old theater. I also love Sqirl on Virgil in the morning for brunch, I'm a huge brunch girl. Silver Lake Coffee is my go-to, I'll walk around the reservoir.
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