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Designer Natalia Fedner Talks Project Runway and LA's Best Vintage Spots

James White/Esquire

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Imagine trying to turn out a runway-ready gown in two days, knowing that the world is watching every move. Now crush the challenge using metal, knobs, and pulleys and you're getting closer to a day in the life of LA-based designer and inventor Natalia Fedner, whose epic mechanical dress on season one of Project Runway: Under The Gunn is still buzzworthy.

Fedner has a serious fashion pedigree (she worked for both Donna Karan and Marc Jacobs) and when she launched her eponymous label in 2014, the industry took notice. Known for her handwoven metal textiles and handspun yarn, done couture-style at her WeHo atelier, Fedner has gone on to dress the best in the business, including Jennifer Lopez, Lenny Kravitz (he wore her gold tank during the Super Bowl halftime show), Ciara, and the Kardashian/Jenner clan, with Kendall rocking the Rand Crop Sweater and Kim favoring the long-sleeved version.

"For fun" she likes to hack knitting machines and play with circuit boards (read: fierce), and Natalia took a break to talk to us about her proudest professional moment, what it was like to make that mechanical dress on TV, and where to shop the absolute best vintage in LA (we may need to add to our roundup).

Can you tell us a little about the experience of making the mechanical dress on Project Runway?

I was very excited for the opportunity to do something unconventional! My favorite part of designing is inventing and doing the unexpected. With a theme like steampunk, and two days to accomplish the project, this was my chance to do something unusual. My parents are both engineers, so you can say it’s in my blood. I remember sitting in the work room and trying to remember the "Simple Machines" lessons I had received as a sixth grader. I knew I needed some sort of a pulley mechanism combined with a crank and a spindle. I improvised with the parts we had, using a stove top knob as my crank, a screw to combine it with a spindle/pulley made from plastic, and some ribbon to use as the pulley rope. The model, Ana Christina, did a great job using the mechanism to raise and lower her outer skirt. That episode aired over 2 years ago, and I still get emails about that dress!

How does the LA style scene differ from NYC?

It is so different! In NYC everyone wears black all the time. Forget 50 Shades Of Grey, New Yorkers have 100 Shades Of Black! It's more about wearing interesting cuts and textures than showing skin. But I\in LA, we’re near the beach with great weather year round, and it permeates into the wardrobe—there’s lots of color and skin. Also, this is the town that Hollywood built, so you have a lot of very good-looking people whose careers depend on them staying very good-looking; you have a whole hiking and gym culture. People dress more casually. I remember when I first moved to LA, I had a closet full of black clothing and now I have more floral summer dresses than I can count.

When it comes to industry, the CFDA is based in NYC so fashion shows, major fashion events, and retail headquarters tend to be there, whereas almost all major awards ceremonies happen in LA, and there are a lot of them! So there are a lot of fantastic opportunities in LA to dress celebrities for red carpets.

What’s your proudest professional moment to date?

I would have to say making Lenny Kravitz a gold chain top for the Super Bowl last year when he performed with Katy Perry. I didn’t tell anyone, and I was so worried I was going to wake up and find out my fittings with Lenny had all just been a dream. I couldn’t even bring myself to watch the Super Bowl! I found out my dream was in fact a reality when my phone started buzzing—friends and family recognized my signature style and were calling to see if it was my design!

I had a very exciting thing that just happened this past week, but I’m not allowed to talk about it yet. I would say keep an eye on my Instagram, as I should be able to reveal it soon.

What are your favorite places to shop vintage in LA?

Okay I’m about to reveal some pretty big secrets. So don’t go buy up everything, leave some stuff for me.

For vintage fabric there is no place better than Rimmon Fabrics in West LA. It’s appointment only, ask for Ron (tell them you’re a friend of Natalia’s). They get designer ex-stock as well as buy outs from older fabric stores. Their buttons and notions are perfect if you’re looking for things that are really old! Besides the amazing selection, the prices are the lowest I’ve found in LA for designer fabrics. I buy a lot of my silks there because it lowers my company’s environmental footprint, and costs the same as buying from the wholesalers.

For clothes and shoes, I love It’s A Wrap. They have two locations, Burbank and Pico Robertson. The key with this store is you have to get on their mailing list, otherwise it’s $$$. They have these incredible blowout 75% off sales that they email you about. I’ve gotten lots of designer gowns there for under $30. About half the time the clothing still has its tags. It’s A Wrap, buys their clothes from the Hollywood studios, so if you ever wonder what happens to all the clothes you see on TV, in movies, well, a lot of it ends up there. They have vintage, costumes, and new clothes.

For shopping for a cause, I recommend the FIDM Scholarship Store downtown.  They have $1 a yard fabric, designer samples, and '90s vintage. The money raised by the store goes directly to help FIDM students with their tuition, and all the store staff are work-study students. A lot of California design houses like Bebe and BCBG donate to them, so you can get some really cute pieces and denim.

Off the beaten path, go to Hermosa Beach’s Granny Takes A Trip. They have some cool '70s and '80s gems. And for guys, they have a ton of vintage bowling and Hawaiian shirts. A great stop if you’re there beaching it up.

Describe the perfect LA Sunday.

BEACH. No contest. Break out those '90s rollerblades and blade between Hermosa and Manhattan Beach. Take a break and hop into the ocean, re-read a couple of chapters of The Great Gatsby, and just relax (maybe take a nice sun nap). Head to Umami burger on the Hermosa Pier or Mama D’s in Manhattan Beach. Grab a bottle of wine and bring some food down to the beach to watch the sunset with a friend or date. Then go for a skinny dip after the sun sets—do it—life is short!