Given that so many designers are tapping into the basics market (especially in the City of Angels), Lili Chemla of Liana Clothing infuses her fairy godmother-like magic into t-shirts, camisoles and socks. And thanks to her incredible talent, Chemla's Cinderella-esque approach to fashion has garnered buzz from Vogue, Who What Wear, Into the Gloss and Gigi Hadid.
Chemla and I chat about her love for glitter, deconstructing Hanes tees and how skipping fashion school has brought her to develop her love for fashion.
What brings you to design a clothing line that focuses on t-shirts and socks?
My uniform has always been a t-shirt, socks, and underwear (and sometimes pants). I'm constantly searching for the ideal set and although I've found some pretty good pieces--like a Hanes tee that was perfectly washed, or a pair of glittery socks, I never found those perfect ones. So I decided to make them myself.
The entire aesthetic of the line is very tomboyish, but girly. How did you develop it and where do you look for inspiration?
I feel like you've just described me--tomboyish but girly--so I guess that's the easiest answer. My own style and closet is where most of my inspiration comes from. My friends always joke about how I'm always so casual-- I wanted to make clothes I could be comfortable in, but that are also elevated enough that my friends could stop making fun of me.
Previously, you were at Staud before you branched out on your own. What have you learned from working with other people?
Staud is a close friend, so I was fortunate to shadow her for experience and learning on how a start-up brand works. In addition, watching my sister Alison develop her jewelry brand Alison Lou has been a huge part of my being able to create what I have. I've watched her brand grow immensely and have absorbed as much as I can from her. The most important thing I've learned is to love what you do and to have fun doing it.
Celebrities like Gigi Hadid and Emma Roberts rock your designs. For some designers, a lot of their stuff caters towards the celebrity crowd whereas some want to target the street urchin. Who is your muse? How does she embody the Liana brand?
Can't say if I have one in particular! If fun Instagram accounts that feature lots of vintage clothing, like @peppertan_ could be a muse, then I guess that would be mine. We aim to cater and flatter all sorts of girls with all different styles.
So many brands in Los Angeles are bringing out the basics whether it be jeans or tees. As an L.A.-based designer, what are some things that make Liana unique?
We're not your typical basics brand, which sets us apart from the rest. We fall somewhere in the middle. Our tops will always incorporate special and unusual materials like lurex, or velvet, or anything else we stumble upon and love. Promise.
I am quite surprised to learn that you are originally from NYC! Why have you decided to launch your line in the West Coast as opposed to your hometown?
That happened pretty organically, I moved out to LA after I graduated from school and have been here since. I'm always going to be a New Yorker though; it's just a matter of time until I expand the brand there as well.
Where did you go to school and what did you study? Have you felt that your studies were beneficial to helping you break into fashion?
I went to Bard College in upstate New York where I studied art history with a focus on contemporary photography. My studies were definitely beneficial to helping me break into fashion; constantly looking at old imagery and artwork really opened my eyes to the development of fashion over the years. However, it wasn't just my studies-- it was also the people I was surrounded by. Bard students really differentiate themselves by having unique senses of style, and we were all pushed to think outside of the box. It was that exposure that gave me the confidence to start Liana.
Prior to your launch, you started out by reconstructing Hanes tees. What is your favorite part of reconstructing a tee? What is the most unexpected moment you've experienced while experimenting?
Favorite part is tweaking to create the perfect fit. I love messing with the lengths, even if it's only half an inch. My most unexpected moment I've experienced is realizing that sometimes less really is more. Before I made my Fur Trim Pocket Tee, I tried the fur around the neck (removable with snaps) and also around the arms (a real Mrs. Claus moment). I realized that the smaller details are what make people focus more on the bigger picture and have been sticking to that.
What made you want to work with glitter and velvet?
Aside from being a '90s baby and growing up with Juicy Couture velour tracksuits, I wanted to create something that was hard to find anywhere else. Good quality glitter fabric is hard to come around. A lot of my vintage pulls have been glitter, but I hardly stumble upon new glitter designs. As for the velvet, I was pulled to it like a magnet. I went to a fabric store in Downtown Los Angeles before I started designing my first collection (it only sells dead-stock and vintage fabric) and found that baby blue vintage velvet fabric. I grabbed it and made one of my first designs with it. I've made it a tradition now to always go to that one fabric store for inspiration before I start designing any new collections. Always sad to see those special fabrics run out, but definitely still worth it.
Have you had any plans to expand Liana into a full collection of ready-to-wear?
Eventually I will expand into other categories. But in terms of a full collection of ready-to-wear I don't see that on the horizon soon. I plan to continue sticking to what I know, which is casual wear.
If you are to sell your line in stores, what's your dream retailer?
My dream retailer would probably be Harrods-- and I'm not just saying that because you guys are based in London.
So many of us are being told to wear what's "in" and keep away with what's "out" of style. Given that designers like yourself have the influence to create fashion, where do you stand on this?
Stay true to yourself. If you think something is in style, there's someone out there who's going to think so too.
If there is one Liana item that everyone must buy, what will it be and why?
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