When I think of California style, Kendall Conrad, the woman and her brand of accessories, immediately come to mind. Her minimalist, slightly earthy, elegant yet relaxed aesthetic imbues everything she touches. Her three California stores are a testament to the appeal of her designs. Add to that, she is incredibly warm, gorgeous, and a good business woman (natch). One change I would like to see regarding her brand? That Kendall bring some of her California vibe to the East Coast. We could use it.
Here, Kendall tells TFI what inspires her, why she produces everything in CA, and what’s next.
When did you start Kendall Conrad and why? We started in 2010. I created a really small collection that I started to sell privately. It sold really well. My husband and partner, David, was like, ‘Hey, let’s do a store.’ I said, ‘Okay’ A space became available on Abbot Kinney in 2010, so we opened our first store. That did really well and two years later we opened our second store in the Brentwood Country Mart. And again two years later we opened in Santa Barbara. Then, meanwhile, our online store was happening, too. So technically we have four stores. We have wholesale accounts too.
What did you start with? I started with handbags. I had another company before, a wholesale company that I had partners with. This is my second handbag company. I didn’t want to do the same route so I upgraded it and went into more luxury leathers and exotics. Then with handbags, you cut a handbag and there are scraps. What can you do with the scraps? You go into smaller goods–wallets, makeup bags, belts, straps. Really try to use up every square inch of leather. That led to my leather cuffs.
Also, I was doing custom hardware in solid brass for my bags with this jewelry manufacturer. My jewelry manufacturer said, ‘Wait, there’s a ring for a bag. Why not do a ring for a hand?’ I thought, ‘Oh, yeah. That’s a good idea.’ It was just sort of a natural evolution. Also, the leather cuffs. I was playing around with the cuffs one time and I put one on my foot. I thought, ‘Hmmm, sandal.’ One thing led to another in every category.
Why accessories? I love accessories. I pretty much wear a uniform everyday; I don’t really want to think about clothes. It’s more about how do I decorate that? I’ll have a very plain sweater or jean or dress, and it’s like, ‘Okay, what do I want to put on my feet, my shoes, my neck, my shoulder?’ That’s where the accessories become ever-changing. I love mixing it up. It’s more playful and not such a big like, ‘Ugh, what am I going to wear?’
What are 3 words that would sort of describe the Kendall Conrad aesthetic? It’s classic with mojo. I mean, I could say minimal, tomboy, luxury, but really it’s classic with mojo.
What inspires you? Everything: Nature, film, photography, art, sculpture, movies. I would say overall “authenticity” in all of those categories. Travel. It all gets in there. Your life inspires you. My whole life—my kids, my childhood, everything–has inspired what comes out of my head.
Do you still make most of your collection in California? 100% is made in California. We’ve been working in California all these years and now I feel like we’re working with the very best. There are incredible resources in LA in terms of skill and quality.
Why is it important for you to produce in California? Why go overseas? Why make a terrible carbon footprint? Why ship? It’s all right here. I’m very much about sustainable life and working with what’s available around you. Luckily I’m here with all these skilled craftsman and they’re from all over the world. The jewelry makers, the bag makers, the sandal makers—it’s a United Nations.
Talk about your stores. Why did you want to have your own boutiques? With a store you’re creating an environment that is truly your brand and your story and you have that control over the display and aesthetic. My husband, David Cameron, is in charge of the look of all the stores. He’s so good. Then, you’ve got direct interaction with your customer base. It’s an amazing opportunity to get a real-time response. Each of our stores has a specific customer base that’s unique.
What are your bestsellers and what are your favorites? Our bestsellers are the backpack and the phone case of which we do all sizes. Then there’s certain styles that are bestsellers—the Cadiz’s, the Figueres. The Vida I and IIs and Vida Clutches are our newest styles and is doing really well. Bandoleras and Marlenas too.
My personal favorite is the iPhone Case with a wrist strap, it holds everything I need to go out with and keeps my hands free. My main bag is the Figueres. My dressier bag is a Vida II. I wear all of my leather cuffs, whether it’s the new Maja II cuff or the Pacha Wrist Wraps or the Caganchos or Vaquera. I design them for myself and I have a cuff on everyday. Then I mix in my jewelry. I don’t wear a lot of jewelry at once, but I always have hoop earrings which come in a variety of shapes and sizes. I always have a bracelet or a necklace. I wear The Thin Gold Cuff every day. Those are essentials.
What’s new? The Vida group is new. The Bandolera group is new. I love doing little families. I often revisit families that I’ve done before and just do another version of it. There are some very strong new jewelry statements. We did these Cycad Drop Earrings that were a tweak from an earlier collection. They kind of come upon me…I want a dropped earring, I want a strong statement earring.
What’s coming for spring? Spring/summer is our season because we’re such a California-based brand. It gets more beach-y, more about travel, more color. It’s fun to experiment with color. We’re working on a new sandal that I’m really excited about. But I usually start making spring in January; it’s a more honest way of doing it. It’s truer to what you really want when you want it. Otherwise I could say, ‘Oh, I’m going to do lime green and turquoise,’ and then get around to March and think, ‘I don’t want to wear that at all.’